Pablo Lerma: Greenfield and forensic imagination


What are archives meant to do? Materials held in suspension for eternity, they hover between the inert death of purpose and a potential for future measurement. Like embalmed body parts in an Egyptian tomb meant to transport ritual order from the past to our world. Do we understand it entirely? Like an annoying child we need to ask Why?

The misstep between past and present may be our one moment of grace with this stuff. In the official dimension of archives, the archive is a monster of administration, out of human hands. In the Orson Welles film Citizen Kane (RKO, 1941), the archive of Kane’s guardian is a parody of stuffy rules, offering little to no retrospective insight into Kane’s life.

Walter Parks Thatcher Citizen Kane

screen grab: in the archive of Walter Parks Thatcher, Citizen Kane, dir, Orson Welles, 1941

The measurements with which archives are constructed are intended to rule the house, as it were, and be firm with the sureness of eternity. Such inflexibility wears poorly over time, however: perhaps that is why archives are often difficult to reach, to conceal the poorness and oversights of their service to memory.

This can be seen in the Harun Farocki film Images of the World and the Inscription of War, 1988: Allied World War II aerial photographs in Germany were intended to locate an I.G. Farben chemical plant. In mapping of the plant, the nearby Auschwitz concentration camp was also identified, but overlooked until noticed by CIA image analyst specialists in the 1970s. The archive is about control, management and organization.

Farocki 1

from Images of the World and the Transcription of War, dir. Harun Farocki, 1988

Farocki 2

from Images of the World and the Transcription of War, dir. Harun Farocki, 1988


Archival form could be said to haunt the artistic use of photography. Is this related to the Kantian idea of disinterest as a component of aesthetic judgement, proof of its objectivity outside of the tastes and distinctions of flawed, individual bodies? In the US, an understanding of formalist photographic truth informs practices from Paul Strand’s portfolio in Camera Work in 1917 up to John Szarkowski’s years as curator at the Museum of Modern Art. The institutional shaping at MoMA had begun with Lincoln Kirstein and Julien Levy in the 1930s, with the valorization of Walker Evans as the existential photographer-artist par excellence, and the acquisition in 1968 of the bulk of the estate of Eugene Atget, through photographer Berenice Abbott. The ideal is both vernacular and formal.

In the realms of conceptual, pop and minimal art, the model of photographers/teachers Bernd and Hilla Becher in Dusseldorf also floated a technocratic model through the art world, with a vision of vision, as it were, of the machine replacing the eye, through repetition and seriality.  The relative poorness of materials and the lack of expression in  this vision could be addressed through the book projects of Ed Ruscha, for example, and other books that used commercial and amateur (i.e. “non-artistic”) sources, such as Michael Lesy’s Wisconsin Death Trip, Mike Mandel’s Evidence, and the many works of Hans-Peter Feldmann. Appropriating archives could violate a sense of innate linearity to the photograph. Such a disruption would not be found in classicizing black-and-white formalist photography, which emphasized a valorized Artist/Vision and Fine Print. Misuse (as it were) of archives utilized cheap reproduction, lowbrow appropriation and suspect authorship.


Pablo Lerma’s Greenfield is built from a discarded collection of photographic negatives and prints from a defunct studio in Greenfield, MA, kept in manila envelopes with perfunctory notations. This forms the basis of the image component of the book. Lerma outsources images to a variety of peer artists and writers to spin text from the images, of which nothing is known beyond the notations on the envelopes.

Divided into two components, the physically smaller volume of writing is spiral bound on top of the larger image archive, a structural echo of the recent publication of Jo Ann Walters Wood River and Blue Pool (Ithaca: ITI, 2018).

To call this collection an archive is inexact in terms of its purpose. Beyond geography, any continuity throughout the groupings is, as far as we can tell, by chance. There’s no statecraft involved, only the structure of capitalist production and waste. Could that be an actual structure. In Lerma’s book the images have a smooth dullness which functions as a visual logic that allows all to be looked as as one. It is very easy if not downright pleasant to look at. But what does that mean?



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Resource Guide: Home

“Home is where the heart is”

“Home is where the hatred is”

The notion of Home is complicated. Today we are featuring some of our favorite books that examine our relationship to “home.” Longing to be back, the home we all share, finding a new home, returning home, dysfunctional homes, and love.

AMC² Issue 5: Notes From Home
By Timothy Prus & Ed Jones
London : Archive of Modern Conflict, 2012
TR179.5.A273 . N68 2014 (RARE)

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The Archive of Modern Conflict is an archive that collects vernacular photography, originally related to images related to conflict and war but has broadened their scope to include all vernacular photographs. Their semi-regular journal will ask an artist or collective to mine the collection and present a certain theme. Issue 5 of AMC² coincided with a 2013 exhibition of real photo postcards chosen from the collection by Timothy Prus and Ed Jones. Each postcard is from a summer holiday and the English east coast, during the first half of the 20th century.  The special edition, wrapped in a pink candy-striped bag mimics something that may have held a boardwalk treat. In addition to sending images of the travelers back home or images of where they are staying, each image in the book features the text written to their loved ones on the facing page. These notes hint at a longing for home, and also the regret of their absence from home during their retreat.

For images: Publishers website

100 New York Mysteries
By Aaron Krach
New York : Aaron Krach, 2012
TR179.5.K7334.N49 2012 (RARE)

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“I moved to New York from Los Angeles and fell instantly in love with The City. I’d visited to Paris and Rome, Chicago and Miami, but New York was The City. And it felt like home. The city also looked and felt alive, offering mysterious bits of beautifulness everywhere I looked. In 2003, I started taking pictures of steam coming out of the streets and sidewalks. I was mildly obsessed. We didn’t have steam like this in L.A. so I set out to capture every permutation of it: seeping, spewing, erupting, leaking, blowing, and more. This book has no words. It’s a silent movie turned into a novel, a very personal story about something that is truly fantastic.” – Artist’s Website 

For Images:

Pictures From Home
Larry Sultan
New York : Abrams, 1992
TR681.F28.S85 1992 (RARE)

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An iconic photobook, Larry’ Sultan’s “Pictures From Home” captures Sultan’s visits to his parents’ home in Southern California throughout the 1980s. He shares these moments via color images from both his camera and stills from Super-8 home movies while text provides a kind of conversation for the viewer.

For Images:

Life Is Elsewhere
Sohrab Hura.
New Delhi, India : Self Published (Ugly Dog) ; 2015.
TR179.5.H873.L54 2014 (RARE)

Look It’s Getting Sunny Outside!
Sohrab Hura.
New Delhi, India : Self Published (Ugly Dog) ; 2018.
TR179.5 .H873.L66 2018 (RARE)

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Making work about family is complicated, and in Sohrab Hura’s two books Life is elsewhere and Look It’s getting sunny outside!!!, he gives us a visceral look into his own. At face value, both books (which were published three years apart) might seem like a progression from darkness to light, a transitioning out of dysfunction, but upon closer inspection, we familiarize ourselves with Hura’s penchant for paradoxes.

Read more of Erika Morillo’s exploration of these books here:

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Close To Home: An American Album
D.J. Waldie
Los Angeles : J. Paul Getty Museum, c. 2004.
TR592.5.C56 2004

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Close to Home: An American Album” presents glimpses into everyday American life during the 1940-1960s through a collection of vernacular photography.  Although the identity of those in the images is unknown, they are at the same time universal.

For Images: 




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Instagram takeover: VOID

Publisher Highlight: VOID

In an effort to collaborate with some of the publishers and artists in the ICP library’s collection, we started an Instagram takeover series to highlight exciting works that represent the vanguard in photobooks. Our first takeover was by the Greece-based publisher VOID, a non-profit organization focused on alternative publishing, exhibitions, and education engaging in a series of projects around photography and other visual arts. Their team of 3 composed by João Linneu, Myrto Steirou & Sylvia Sachini is passionately working together to promote photography since October 2016. Here we share some highlights from their takeover last month.

We are taken by VOID’s penchant for the obscure and their aesthetic which seems to always teeter between life and death.

‘Mayflies’ by Dimitra Dede, first published by Void in the form of a zine in 2016,’ dramatizes the creative process of mourning. After the loss of her mother, the artist experiences the interruption of her own timeline on one end while having to fulfill her own role as a mother to the other end.

Both the photography and design in VOID’s publications are highly experimental; the materials used seem to be an extension of the emotional content in the photographs or aspects of the physical landscape: “For ‘Except the Clouds’ we wanted a paper with a very rough feeling to remind the streets of Athens.”

In ‘Beyond the Mirror’ a high quality extra white paper was used to make justice to the contrasty black and white photos:


A central element to VOID’s ethos is also the handmade nature of their bookmaking practice. For example, ‘Meat’ by Olivier Pin-Fat, is a completely handmade book printed using 5 different printing techniques in more than 8 different types of paper (including kitchen paper). “ It took us more than two years to finish binding 250 copies of 300+ pages one by one by hand.”

VOID’s approach to photobooks transcends the photographs they showcase; the labor-intensive, handmade quality of each publication seems like an integral part of the photographic body of work itself, with the photographs, materials and bookmaking process working in unison to elucidate a larger concept.

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Check out these great puzzles from our collections blog!

Fans in a Flashbulb

Unidentified Photographer, [Gold Miners], ca. 1850 (2008.116.1)

This daguerreotype of gold miners, mining for gold 170 years ago, transformed, like an alchemical miracle, into a playable puzzle is here.

Unidentified Photographer, [Two Unidentified Men], ca. 1860 (2.2001)

This ambrotype of a pair of unidentified men as a playable puzzle is here.

Unidentified Photographer, [Two Unidentified Women], ca. 1842 (2007.74.1)

This daguerreotype of two unidentified women as a playable puzzle is here.

Unidentified Photographer, [Unidentified Girl with Statuette], ca. 1850 (2009.22.1)

This daguerreotype of an an unidentified girl and statuette as a playable puzzle is here.

Eadweard J. Muybridge (1830-1904), LeCount Bros. & Mansur’s Stationery Establishment, ca. 1873 (947.2005)

This stereoview of Mansur’s Stationery Establishment as a devilishly difficult playable puzzle here.

Carleton Watkins (1829-1916), From the “Best general View,” Mariposa Trail, Yosemite Valley, Mariposa…

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Japanese Photo Book Monday #1

Good morning to readers of Monsters & Madonnas: The ICP Library Blog. Today we are beginning a new “column” of blog posts following our ongoing Instagram series Japanese Photo Book Monday. Many of the books we will cover are part of the 10×10 Japanese Photobooks collection, and we originally wrote them up as part of a presentation about the collection given by our librarian Emily Dunne at Fototeca Latinoamericana last summer. Check back on Mondays for additional installments of the column as you add to your already undoubtedly extensive quarantine reading list. From all of us at the library – we hope everyone is staying safe and staying healthy.

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Takayuki Ogawa – New York Is

NEW YORK IS documents Takayuki Ogawa’s 1968 visit to New York City. His images call to mind the best of the best of classic black and white American photography – Robert Frank, Diane Arbus, Harry Callahan, and Roy Decarava. Ogawa traveled to Wall Street, Harlem, Central Park, and photographed soldiers, children, hippies, businessmen, beach bums, concerts, and art galleries. The American flag is a dominant visual anchor and appears countless times in Ogawa’s images. Veering from street photography to abstraction, Ogawa disappears a skyscraper into a white sky, a subway crowd into a black floor, and an American flag at a nationalist demonstration into the void.

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Yuichi Hibi – 127

Shot in 1994, the year Rudy Giuliani was elected mayor of New York, 127 collects Yuichi Hibi’s portraits of the then-rapidly disappearing “dark underbelly” of the city. As reminiscent of Weegee and Arbus as of Midnight Cowboy, Hibi’s high contrast black and white images capture hard yet vacant stares – many of the sitters do not seem to be aware that they are being photographed. Hibi makes no effort to whitewash the people he photographs, in some ways he is attempting to stop or even turn back the clock by way of his camera.

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Kunie Sugiura – Artists and Scientists

A landmark work in the long and twisting career of Kunie Sugiura, ARTISTS AND SCIENTISTS was made in the early 2000s and images leading artists and scientists in silhouette as massive photograms, often with props. What Sugiura is after here is not so much the superficial contours of a person’s face, but some piece of the model’s soul that is transmitted by gesture and presence. Take for instance the “portrait” of Daido Moriyama. Sugiura pictures him twice: once in white on black, again in black on white. In both images, he simply holds a camera with the lens extended. He appears hunched and almost looks to be giving the camera to some unseen subject standing just out of the frame in front of him. He mediates the world around him by way of his camera, it is his gift both to and from what he photographs. By eliminating the traditional signifiers of portraiture and adding her own, Sugiura emphasizes the work of those she photographs – their work being what she is concerned with in the first place.

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Tintypes for Coloring

Fans in a Flashbulb

Unidentified Photographer, [Butcher], ca. 1875 (2007.54.4)

A PDF of this easy on the eye butcher is here.

Unidentified Photographer, [Apple Vendor], ca. 1875 (2007.54.20)

A PDF of this fecund apple vendor is here.

Unidentified Photographer, [Iceman], ca. 1875 (2007.54.9)

A PDF of this cool iceman is here.

Unidentified Photographer, [Blacksmith], ca. 1860 (77.2004)

A PDF of this beguiling blacksmith is here.

Fred Weese, [Farrier], June 20, 1886 (81.2004)

A PDF of this far-out farrier is here.

Unidentified Photographer, [Unidentified Man with Camera], ca. 1875 (2008.57.5)

A PDF of this bookish photographer is here.

Unidentified Photographer, [House Painter], ca. 1875 (2008.81.52)

A PDF of this out of this world painter is here.

Six tintypes, portraits of workers “working,” with us workers “working from home” in mind. Please download, print…

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We Reign Supreme

During ICP’s temporary closure, Community Day will continue to take place online through virtual programming for all ages including workshops, storytimes, curated reading lists, and digital educational resources. Visitors can also access audio guides of ICP’s current exhibitions in up to 10 languages through Gesso, and see more ways they can engage with ICP from anywhere.  Register here: Community Day, March 28 


Al Pereira, Queen Latifah on the set of Fly Girl, New York City, 1991.

In honor of Women’s Herstory Month, visitors of all ages are welcome to join us for We Reign Supreme: Crown-making & Self-honoring Workshop inspired by Contact High: A Visual History of Hip-Hop. Participants will look at the symbolic use of crowns across cultures and artistic disciplines and design their own paper crown to be photographed in using Fuji Instax cameras. Feel free to come in your own crown—it can be anything from your hair or a headwrap to a special hat; you decide!

March “We Reign Supreme” Recommendations: 

Byzantine Contempo by Tawny Chatmon

byzantine contempo | tawnychatmon

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Tawny Chatmon, from Byzantine Contempo

In this body of work, Tawny Chatmon examines issues of race and rethinks African American portraiture by shifting the focus from oppression to the wealth of memories, beliefs, and traditions black children can inherit. Chatmon uses a multilayered approach, embellishing her regal portraits of black children and women with paint, 24-karat gold leaf, collage, and digital illustrations.


Tawny Chatmon, Beloved, from The Awakening, 2018

In these interventions, Chatmon often places a crown or headpiece on her subjects, which serves as a reference to both ancient Byzantine portraiture and modern, natural hairstyles adopted by many Black individuals – afros, twists, locks, and barbershop cuts all appear in Chatmon’s portraits.

Inheritance feels very relevant in Chatmon’s work – her commentary on the politics of blackness, specifically the meaning and implications of raising a black child in America, are always at the forefront of her portraiture.

Crowns: Portraits of Black Women in Church Hats by Michael Cunningham and Craig Marberry

Crowns: A Brief History of Church Hats – Photo Essays


Michael Cunningham, From Crowns, 2000

For many religious individuals, God is King and is to be honored and respected in the way one lives their personal and spiritual life. Among various denominations, there is a long-standing tradition that women should not enter a house of worship without their heads covered, a tradition has been adopted and come into its own within the African-American community. 


Released in 2000, Cunningham and Marberry’s Crowns: Portraits of Black Women in Church Hats showcases the glamour, history and social status of the church hat through personal stories and images. The book makes clear that a church hat’s purpose is not a simple head covering, but rather a statement – a status symbol – to be worn with pride and adorned with eye-catching fabrics and materials. A crown can give the wearer an added boost in confidence or, sometimes, evoke in others the less-sanctified feeling of envy. ([New York, NY]: Doubleday, 2000)


Anonymous, John Edmonds

John Edmonds: Anonymous

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John Edmonds, Phantom, 2017.

In his 2017 Light Work show, “Anonymous,” John Edmonds displays photographs of figures in hoodies and du-rags facing away from his camera. In the first series of images, Edmonds uses the anonymity granted by the hood as a vector to explore questions of otherness and preconceptions of the viewer. As summed up by Light Work, “We can quickly read this suite of images as a statement on the unjust death of Trayvon Martin and how individuals of color face issues of racism, safety, and injustice in systemic ways.”

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John Edmonds, Untitled (Hood 11), 2016



These images are taken outdoors in public places with Edmonds’s own hoodies. Edmonds’s du-rag photographs show the ascension into a powerful and beautiful kind of divinity that can come from a shared cultural form. Similarly faceless, this second set of images reimagines the anonymity of headwear to become a form of shared, positive identity that can stand in opposition to depersonalization. 


King of Arms  by Rashaad Newsome


This 2015 film is presented as a video with a custom frame that includes a hand-carved wooden crown. The piece focuses on a parade-like procession led by a marching band and second-line dancers. The film encompasses and synthesizes seemingly disparate cultural touchstones such as ballroom voguing, icons of heraldry, Mardi Gras imagery, and hip-hop iconography.

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Rashaad Newsome, still from King of Arms, 2015

The procession takes place on the streets of New Orleans and culminates at the New Orleans Museum of Art, where Newsome arrives in an adorned Lamborgini, outfitted in a Baroque costume and is crowned before all. This was the first in an ongoing series, with future Balls held in Miami and Bushwick.


Somnyama Ngonyama– Hail the Dark Lioness by Zanele Muholi

Somnyama Ngonyama – Hail the Dark Lioness




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Zanele Muholi, Somnyama Ngonyama– Hail the Dark Lioness; Aperture, 2018


Through a series of black and white performative self-portraits, Zanele Muholi addresses the politics of race and representation of black women throughout the history of photography. In Somnyama Ngonyama– Hail the Dark Lioness, published by Aperture in 2018, she covers herself with black paint, further accentuating her blackness; in her own words: “I’m reclaiming my blackness, which I feel is continuously performed by the privileged other.”

Muholi commands respect to herself and black women in history, in part by making herself a crown out of elements surrounding her, some of which are laden with meaning about domestic work and servitude, like clothespins, brillo pads, and rags. Other times she makes her crown out of fibers akin to animal hair, blonde hair or a white bedsheet reminiscent of a veil, questioning how these visual elements intersect with the attitudes towards black women and their position in contemporary photography.

TR140 .M841 2018

Collages by Lorna Simpson  

Lorna Simpson Studio, Collages


Lorna Simpson’s collage series began in 2011, with each series describing the magazine from which the images were sourced.


Lorna Simpson, Like a Rock, 2014, detail

The first of this series, Ebony, decontextualizes individual faces from the African American fashion magazine, situating them amidst a background of hair, crows, and other images from nature created with expressive watercolors that almost resemble galaxies.


Lorna Simpson, Riunite & Ice #23, 2018

In other collages, Simpson creates headdresses from geological formations, clouds, and other naturally-occurring phenomena. Simpson’s series continues with other vintage magazines including Jet and Aspen, with some of the later series also incorporating fragments of text and experimentation with different scales. (Chronical Books, 2018)


Couple, Harlem by James Van Der Zee

James Van Der Zee. Couple, Harlem. 1932

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James Van Der Zee, Couple, Harlem, 1932

The Harlem Renaissance is remembered at least in part by the impeccable personal style of some of its key figures, two of which can be seen above in James Van Der Zee’s 1932 portrait of an elegant, upper-class couple. 


Herman Leonard, Duke Ellington, Paris, 1958

Edward Ellington would embody this sense of regal formality from a young age, having received his moniker and title of “Duke” as a child in Washington D.C., long before he moved to New York City and become associated with the Renaissance.

Ellington would compose many tunes about Harlem, notably “Echoes of Harlem” as a showcase for trumpeter Charles Melvin “Cootie” Williams. 

Miles Davis, who is sometimes referred to as “The Prince of Darkness”, composed 1974’s “He Loved Him Madly” as a tribute to Ellington just one month after he passed away.



Lester “Prez” Young, NYC by Herman Leonard

Lester “Prez” Young, NYC


Herman Leonard, Lester “Prez” Young, NYC, 1948

Although quite different in personality from the understated and suave Ellington, the fiery Charles “Baron” Mingus would come to be seen by many as Ellington’s successor due to their shared use of large ensembles and flirtation with classical composition.


One of Mingus’s most well-known tunes is Goodbye Pork Pie Hat, an elegy to then-recently deceased saxophonist Lester “Prez” Young, who was known for his distinctive broad-brimmed version of the hat, and whose nickname was given to him by Billie Holiday.

Both Mingus and Young are among the musicians seen in Art Kane’s 1958 “A Great Day In Harlem” one year before Young’s death. Check out this page, where you can explore who all the musicians are.


New York Stories: Great Day In Harlem

Art Kane’s famous photo of jazz greats, titled “Harlem 1958”; approved for one-time use only. MUST CREDIT: Photograph by Art Kane – courtesy Art Kane Archive NOTE: this is a downsized low-res photo for web use


Queens Ann. P.S. Belly Cut Off  by Mariken Wessels 

Mariken Wessels: Queen Ann. P.S. Belly cut out

anybody’s image could become everybody’s image: an interview with Mariken Wessels


In her book Queen Ann. P.S. Belly Cut Off, Wessels explores the collection of photographs of a friend’s mother, Ann. Ann often makes interventions with her portraits by painting scarves or headwraps that conceal her chin, implying that she isn’t pleased with her appearance in the photographs and has adjusted them accordingly.

However, body image issues aside, Ann’s interventions in her portraits are beautiful; Ann has a recognizable style, and is extremely funny. She writes in a caption of a particularly elaborate painted headwrap: “Zeker ergens voel ik mij een “Koningin” (“In a way, I really feel like a “Queen”).  (Amsterdam, The Netherlands.: Alauda Publications, 2010) 

TR179.5.W47 .Q44 2010


Compiled by the ICP Library on the occasion of
March Reading (and watching and listening!) Recommendations

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Notes on Queering the Collection(s) @ the ICP Library

Queering the Collection, 2019, a collaboration between GenderFail and the ICP Library
  1. from the publisher

“Throughout 2018, the ICP Library collectively produced more than six in-house library installations and events considering representation in libraries at large. The success of this initiative resulted in an increase of the ICP Library’s holdings of queer, gender non-binary imagemakers, and artists of color.

“To celebrate the enriching dynamics of Queering the Collection and further bridge the gap between representation and collecting, the ICP Library collaborated with Be Oakley of GenderFail, along with Christopher Clary, Patricia Silva, and many other participating artists, curators, and bookmakers, to highlight these projects in a publication scheduled for release in March 2019.

“The Queering the Collection publication features an introduction by Paul Soulellis, founder of Library of the Printed Web, along with interviews with participating artists and imagemakers, photographs, and in-depth accounts of the events. Queering the Collection is designed and printed by GenderFail.

“Queering the Collection is the culminating publication based on the Queering the Collection program, a collaboration between GenderFail and the International Center of Photography Library. Queering the Collection is a series exhibitions, programs and events that presented a variety of curatorial perspectives on contemporary investigations of gender through archives, libraries, and collections.”

2. As far as I know, there was never an official collections policy for the Library at ICP. It grew fitfully over the early years uptown at 1130 Fifth Ave (1974-2001) through donations and occasional purchases, willed into existence through the zealousness and perseverance of Deputy Director and former Head of Education Phillip S. Block, who, ahead of the curve, understood the importance of photo books as cultural markers, as dynamic, creative things. Generous gifts from colleagues of founder Cornell Capa such as Jacob Deschin and David Douglas Duncan, and the general interests of Capa shaped around what he termed “concerned photography” generated a sizable collection of books related to photojournalism and documentary work, but the library was also reflective of all who entered the institutional doors. Uptown the vertiginous stacks were overseen by Lucia Siskin, a flamboyant artist and raconteur, who carried on a tradition of the library as an informal hub, a microcosm of ICP’s mandate as a “center” for many, for whom Lucia offered conversation and a willingness to expand the collection when needs were stated. Unfortunately the library was not helped by the architecture of the original building, the former home of Willard Straight and Dorothy Payne Whitney on Fifth Ave, where it filled three small rooms, two of which were storage.

Despite the fiscal austerity of its support, albeit stoked with a vision to the future and the deep commitment of Phil Block, when ICP moved to 43rd Street in 2001, it had a library of over 20,000 titles, along with hundreds of artist’s files, none of them cataloged. The move to a new space also brought on staff ICP’s first official librarian, Deirdre Donohue, who brought in subsequently a team of catalogers and archivists, assisted by an enthusiastic, diverse group of donors, volunteers, and students.

The move to the space in midtown and the extensive electronic cataloging of the collection coincided with the impact of digital technologies in publishing and a shift towards artisanal, small-scale production. Coterminous with the obsolescence of conventional print publication was an interest in books and book forms by artists, collectors, and dealers.

The creation of this market by dealers and collectors facilitated production stripped of great profit, but, as if in compensation, it encouraged the clubby spheres of cognoscenti. For artists and photographers, the sheer access of books, the simplified means of production, and the impulse to look at more, going backwards to go forwards, transformed the plebian library into a cultural fulcrum, wider than the limited aesthetic scope of a fine art museum. The intense eclecticism of the scope of the ICP Library collection and the deep enthusiasms of its staff and patrons brought an energy beyond cost. Book-making became part of school curriculum and a new focus on artist’s books enriched the collection. Donations, including a large group of Korean photobooks, and additions such as the complete set of Joachim Schmid‘s series Other People’s Pictures, along with the always growing library of books by alumni, are among the traces that remain from this engaged and shifting community.

Beyond initial workshops in desktop publishing, curricula developed through the artist and publisher Victor Sira in the then-new MFA program run by Nayland Blake, who also included coursework addressing archive and library research through Deirdre Donohue and collections curator Ed Earle; along with continuing education production classes taught by Christina Labey and Jason Burstein at Conveyor Studio. Library archivist Matthew Carson was a founding member of 10X10 Photobooks, bringing the work of that organization into an ongoing and overlapping relationship with the ICP Library.

3. This is a circuitous map of how the experiments instigated by GenderFail, involving collections, events, and the physical plant of the library itself, could find a temporary autonomous zone in the ICP Library.

As per current Librarian Emily Dunne, “it is crucial to remember H. R. Ranganathan’s five laws of library science:

  • Books are for use.
  • Every person their book.
  • Every book its reader.
  • Save the time of the reader.
  • The library is a growing organism.
“. . . She’s an OLD MAID!” [working at a library] from It’s a Wonderful Life, dir. Frank Capra, 1947

Posted in archival collections, artists' books, Book events, Christopher Clary, collections, Cornell Capa Papers, global village, ICP alumni, ICP Archives, ICP Library, International, Library alumni, memory, New Acquisitions, nostalgia, parataxis, publishing, queer, self-publishing, Unpacking the collection, vernacular photography, Vertical files, Visual Research, web browsing, Window Exhibit | Leave a comment

An Angsty Red Cat Waiting for the End of Time

It is refreshing to see  photobooks from India that do not present the usual orientalist tropes – the bright reds, the sadhus in saffron, the ash covered faces, the Kumbh, the Ganges, Rajasthan and a funeral pyre by a river. Most of these tropes are not false, they do exist. But there is another way to see India, through the eyes of contemporary working photographers from there. Their point of view is as much a response to the environment as it is a representation of it. The Red Cat and Other Stories by Ritesh UttamchandaniEnd of Time by Ronny Sen and Angst by Soham Gupta are three such bodies of work that are honest in their response to their environments and what they see.

Bombay is a state of mind and Mumbai is a city. Ritesh’s book The Red Cat and Other Stories, I reckon, is made in Bombay and photographed in Mumbai. In form, it is a white colored square-shaped book with an exposed coptic bound spine. The book is not housed in any protective cover and over time its white cover will stain and scruff. This is very much the experience one will have as one moves through and lives in the megapolis that is Mumbai. This is not a coffee table book on Mumbai, which makes it fantastic. This is a storybook, where the elements in the images are the words and the image is the sentence. Laid out beautifully in a meticulous edit, this body of work narrates a short story of urbs prima in Indis. It is not a fast-flip through, but a slow read novel –  a love story perhaps, one that Ritesh shares with his hometown and one he invites you into.

In reading the Sindhi folklore of the Laal Billi, one may take away a message of compassion with one’s environment, of how that what you seek may be right where you are, not elsewhere. You know what they say, if you think the grass is greener on the other side, it is time for you to tend to your own lawn. Did I mention that this is a fun book? It is, those back alley golfers, the street-savvy workout enthusiasts and the two Ronalds who escaped McDonald’s to watch existential TV! In this city, where life is a grind and unbearable for many, Ritesh provides a hint of a smile.


The opening image of Ronny Sen’s End of Timespeaks straight to the title of this book and also to a sentence in the book that reads, “Jharia was once a green forest”. End of Time published by Nazar Foundation follows the success of his project The Endwhich won him the 2016 Getty Images Instagram Grant. This is an apocalyptic story set in a contemporary coal mine town in India and photographed exclusively on Ronny’s phone. This tight set book, the pages of which are housed between two thick cardboard pieces, comes enclosed in a plastic case. As I turn the pages of this photo-book, I feel a perverse desire to witness the suffering in and of this scarred environment. Apocalyptic is a word that is very center and present in this body of work, and perhaps the existence of this scenario in our current time is what gives rise to this desire. To say that the environment is dramatic is, putting it mildly, the images consequently are fairly dramatic too. One may say Ronny’s images in this book are literal in how they speak about the rape of Jharia. There is decay, destruction, smog dust and dirt on every page, the message is constant and relentless. A ruined temple and broken mosque and residential complexes that are as soot-laden as the lungs of those who reside there. One may ask if the photographer is being too cynical, or one may say that Ronny has a high standard for accepting and then representing the honesty of a situation. Either way, End of Time is a photo-book from India that I recommend taking a look at.


Soham Gupta’s Angst, is a dramatic photo-book that is made up of four chapters/sections/ stories, each one separate from the other, but equally dramatic in their sense of tragedy, with characters that might appear in your strange dreams and nightmares. There is, however, a tenderness and endearment in the souls depicted within its pages. Angst also brings up questions: Who is that human with his face hanging off his face? Where did that naked round fat man come from, where is he going? Why were we not invited to that glitter party, where we possibly would have met her? Was there ever a party or is that glitter the only shine in an otherwise squalor of a life? Angst is a fictionalized body of work and it was written at night – the images here are staged after Soham would engage the subjects in conversations, which give the base to the stories presented in the book. While all of this work was photographed in Kolkata, there is little in the book to anchor us to the city. There is a heavy emotional weight to this book – it is not one that you can go through in a single sitting. My experience of reading this was like reading a fantastic hybrid of a graphic novel – one with live action photographs instead of drawings. You finish one chapter or a few pages of one, set the book aside and then go back to it again. Shortlisted for the Paris Photo-Aperture Foundation First Photo-book Award and Shortlisted for the Photo-Text Book Award at Les Rencontres d’Arles, France; Angst is published by Akina Books. There are also 100, made by hand, by Alex Bocchetto editions of this book.

It has been close to a month that I have been sitting with these books and I have to say I am not entirely done with them. All three of these books pull me back in, to look, re-look – they bring me home. They also change the visual zip code on India that we have been subject to this far. If you are at some point considering a visit to India, take a look at these books. Most of what you will see here will not be part of your tour itinerary.

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The Photobook is an Art Object.

We are pleased to introduce a post by Rahul Majumdar

‘A photobook is an autonomous art form, comparable with a piece of sculpture, a play or a film.  The photographs lose their own photographic character as things ‘in themselves’ and become parts, translated into printing ink, of a dramatic event called a book’  -Ralph Prins, in conversation with Cas Oorthuys in 1969, quoted in Mattie Boom and Rik Suermondt, Photography Between Covers: The Dutch Documentary Photobook After 1945, Fragment Uitgeverij, Amsterdam, 1989, p 12; in turn quoted in the Introduction to The Photobook: A History Volume I, Martin Parr and Gary Badger 

Photobooks that stand as unique art objects, commanding their own space, take the coming together of photography, writing, design, and sculptural skills. They bring a definite tactility to the viewing experience that moves far ahead of simply turning pages; making the viewing experience physical activity and true discovery. Here are six photo books that move beyond the sum total of the images they hold and occupy a space as little temples built to house those images in.

As soon as you consider the photobook as an art object, one has to tip their hat to the years-long experimentation that Dayanita Singh has worked at to shape out new book design formats. (The ICP library holds a book dummy of Sent A Letter.)

Museum Bhavan and Sent A Letter, both beautiful and incredibly well-received works of art have been written about extensively. We’d like to draw your attention to a smaller, less complex (in physical form) and beautiful piece of work, Blue Book (one of two color books Dayanita has made). At about 4.5” x 6”, Blue Book, is a collection of industrial landscapes; each photo is presented as a postcard that one could actually tear out of the binding to send out (currently available anywhere between $114 – $400, I’m not sure how many of us will actually send all of the postcards out, there is something deeply spiritual about this exercise though).

Lucy Helton’s Transmission, a photobook in the form of a scroll, and created by sending the images through a fax machine is another gem. Cased inside a thick cardboard cylinder, Transmission is nine panoramic images that are held together by Japanese clip binding. Lucy describes this body of work: “at once deeply personal and dystopia, my work imagines the future earth as a scarred, damaged, fragile landscape“. Her choice to thermal print on facsimile paper speaks directly to the ‘delicate’ and urgent subject of our environment, as the paper itself is meant to be ephemeral and will begin to disintegrate at an advanced pace.


The fantastically odd shaped In Other People’s Bathrooms, by Alexine Chanel was published by The Green Box Kunst Editionen to coincide with a 2008 exhibition by the same name. As the name suggests, this is “a photo adventure by Alexine Chanel”. Presented like a huge collection of paint swatches, under 15 “families” (sic) such as Hit, High, Patterns, Contact, Hide, Mess, Clean, Pet, Jet, Charge, Orbit, Flood, Monster, Cream and Naked, Alexine’s photobook asks the viewer to consider the bathroom as a “laboratory”; a space that allows for the playing out of multiple scenes.


The Pictoral Key to the Tarot is the genesis point of Bea Nettles Mountain Dream Tarot: A Deck of 78 Photographic Cards. A line drawing in that book inspired Bea to make a self-portrait as The Queen of Stars, and the next morning she woke up with an idea that occurred to her in her dream: to ask people to pose for her photographic tarot card deck. That is where the ‘dream’ in the title of her photo object comes from. It took Bea five years to photograph this project. The 1975 edition consisted of 78 cards of hand-colored photographic paper enclosed within two sheets of frosted mylar. The more recent 2001 edition (presented here) has been scanned from those original prints.

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On the Road, by Bert Teunissen is an excellent piece of work that emerges from the “in-between” spaces. Working on Domestic Landscapes put Bert on the road and behind the wheel often. From this point of view, staying in the car, perhaps one hand on the wheel and the other holding up an Olympus Pen camera, Bert created this travelogue printed on newsprint and presented as a daily-paper with a black ribbon tied around it.


There is a beautiful and mysterious box, Resonance by Minny Lee. It consists of a box, the inner base of which is a photo grid of the covers of literature focused on essays and metaphysics. The book holds three scrolls and a thin stitch bound booklet. The scrolls themselves have content and pages from other books, printed edge-to-edge giving them a continuous and seamless feel. The contents make for an investment of time to read and understand, but the form of this object belies this fact by how feather-light it is. In an interview ( Minny says, A book consists of a sequence of pages and therefore it is a time-based medium. I can intend to lead the viewer in a certain way by sequencing and designing the book but each viewer will experience and react to the book differently due to their diverse backgrounds and histories.” Resonance, as a photobook, allows for ample room for play, for discovery and experience.  

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