I had the pleasure one afternoon of meeting Kevin Messina who publishes artists books under the Silas Finch imprint. Kevin was generous enough to spend some time showing me the Orchard series of books, each by Raymond Meeks and a different artist. Deborah Luster, Wes Mills and Mark Steinmetz have been collaborators.
I came across these books on my visit to Les Rencontres d’Arles in 2012. Among the plethora of books on display (I had to return over several days to browse them all), these ones stood out first and foremost for their distinctive design which was refreshing and made the experience of viewing them a delight.
I contacted Kevin in New York and he invited me over to check out the books. He explained that unlike most commercially printed books, these were laboriously made by hand rather than machine. Meeks collaborates with bookmaker Rory Sparks to sew and bind the books which are printed, I was surprised to learn, on a Xerox laser printer. In fact, these books are actually Meeks’ idea of what a zine should be. These efforts reflect what makes these publications special – there’s a raw, almost irreverent, approach to their construction yet an attention to detail and quality that sets them apart from the typical zine and from glossier books.
Each book is sold in three tiers, with each successive tier being a more elaborate and pricier iteration of the previous one. To give you a sense of how elaborate, the third and most expensive tier of Idyll by Meeks and Mark Steinmetz comes with a print that has its own stand, altogether housed in a handmade wooden box. This may seem overkill even by the most ardent of photobook collectors but there’s an economic reason behind this: the more expensive tiers give Silas Finch the chance to recoup costs which would be harder to do if it put out just the book.
Beyond the economics of the publishing business, the work itself isn’t easily characterized. The books are very different and each is special in it’s own way, reflecting the collaborating artist’s influence. For instance, in Not Seen, Not Said, there are tipped-in drawings by Wes Mills.
What they do have in common is a different and perhaps unorthodox way of weaving together a narrative or atmosphere with words, photographs and non-photographs. Hopefully, we’ll get to see one of these books in the ICP library soon.