Next up in our interview series with the Unseen Dummy Award jurors, we speak to Russet Lederman, a writer, editor, co-founder of 10x10 Photobooks and co-editor of The Gould Collection. A specialist in Japanese photobooks and much more, we ask her what sets the artform apart from western practices and what criteria she finds most important in her photobook dummy evaluations.
What are the aims and activities of 10x10 Photobooks?
10x10 Photobooks is a non-profit organisation based in New York City with the mission to foster engagement with the global photobook community through an appreciation, dissemination and understanding of photobooks. Founded in 2012, we offer an ongoing multi-platform series of public photobook events, including reading rooms, salons, publications, online communities and partnerships with arts organisations and institutions. The driving force behind 10x10 is sharing photobooks within an inclusive community — this means ongoing discussions that include both the photobook nerd and the novice.
Your expertise lies primarily in the field of Japanese photography, whilst your private collection also has a focus on Japanese photobooks. Could you outline what attracts you to Japanese publishing?
I have to give credit to my husband Jeff Gutterman for my interest in Japanese photobooks. In 2001, he walked into Andrew Roth’s gallery in New York City to be shown a copy of Japan: A Photo Theatre / Nippon Gekijō Shashinchō (1968), Daido Moriyama’s first book. From that point onward, we dove deep into the waters of Japanese photobook collecting, and have never looked back. For us, the attraction is the “book as object.” The design, images and printing of a book from Japan are so carefully considered. It is not just the photographs, but also the smell, the texture… everything about a Japanese photobook coalesces into a sublime object of beauty.
How does Japanese publishing differ from the Western photobook practices?
In discussing books prior to 2000, there definitely is a distinctive quality that sets Japanese photobooks apart from their western counterparts. The Vivo collective (late 1950s-early 1960s) and the Provoke photographers of the late 1960 through the mid-1970s sought a radical rethinking of prevailing photographic conventions. With the release of the short-lived Provoke publication (1968-69), photographers like Moriyama, Yutaka Takanashi and Takuma Nakahira created a new photographic language that transcended the limitations of the written word.
However, Japanese photobooks were not published within a vacuum. Although there was no Internet or Instagram in the 1960s and 70s, Japanese and western photographers shared their books with one another. Eikoh Hosoe was responsible for helping publish the Japanese version of Ed van der Elken’s Sweet Life (Japanese edition, 1968) and Daido Moriyama often mentions the influence of William Klein’s Life is Good & Good for you in New York (1956).
In the interview that will be published in Unseen Magazine, you talk in detail about the most recent initiative of 10x10 Photobooks How We See: Photobooks by Women - a collection of 100 photographic publications by women chosen by 10 female experts from all over the globe. What things did you learn about the photobook world whilst working on this project?
We started the project with a suspicion that women’s contributions to photobook-making were being vastly under-represented in comparison to their male peers. Unfortunately, our suspicions were confirmed. We found that photobooks by women account for only 10.5% of the entries in the six major “books on books” photobook anthologies, only 16.2% of the online inventories of major photobook publishers, and only 28.6% of the winners of “first book” and “dummy” competitions. We also reviewed 10x10’s practices, as we felt we also needed to “own up” to these sad facts. We found that our three previous publications only included 22.9% photobooks by women. This research will hopefully make all of us think before we recommend books for prizes or initiate publishing projects. Our goal with How We See has been to expand the dialogue so that inclusion, not just of women, but of everyone, is a future mandate of the photobook community.
What criteria are important for you when evaluating a photobook dummy?
That is an incredibly difficult question. For a photobook to work, all its elements need to respond to one another in support of the book’s main focus. It has to be a conceptual whole. That can mean many different ideas, formats and designs.
Thank you, Russet!
More information about the Unseen Dummy Award 2018 can be found here.