Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Making a Book - 'Conditions', by Andrés Marroquin Winkelmann

As many of you probably already know, Conditions is the first book by Andrés Marroquin Winkelmann, and it also marks the debut of Meier und Müller (there's only a few copies left of the book, find info here), the publishing house Andrés has recently founded with Jörg M Colberg.

Having in mind to start a blog section devoted to illustrate the art of book-making, a few weeks ago I asked Andrés to write a text about the genesis of Conditions, which is the first of a series of contributions on the process of creating a photobook that will come in the following months.

I could have written myself a review of the book, but I had the feeling that a chronicle of all the thoughts, ideas, intuitions and mistakes it takes to finally bring a photographic volume to light would have been somehow more interesting than my two cents on the project.

Conditions is a special object, a concept trying to change a few things in the way we can interact with a photobook; it is also a delicate story, made of moments and feelings so thin it takes nothing to sweep them away. That's why maybe its fragile images are concealed behind the firm black gate that closes the book in itself. I'll let Andrés himself open it to show us what's inside.

CONDITIONS, by Andrés Marroquin Winkelmann

The first time Conditions was presented as a book to a wider audience was at the Ostkreuz School graduation exhibition in Berlin in late 2008. The design was simple: the images were printed in two sizes and presented in a rather straightforward fashion. For this first version of the book, I primarily focused on the rhythm and sequencing of the images in order to create a consistent personal narrative, which, I felt, worked OK.

In general, finding the suitable presentation of a body of work takes a long time. I always try several variations, with different papers, frames, sizes, to finally decide how to arrange photographs on the wall. With time, I’ve learned how to deal with this as a whole, so that the main idea of the project is reflected in its presentation, be it as book or in a show. I still remember how weeks after my graduate show I was re-designing the book. There was something that simply was not right, yet.

The conjuncture took place about a year ago. My ideas about books were changing, and I realized I had many books which I would only come back to once or maybe twice after buying them. There were only a few books that really drew me in deeply, and they were still exciting every time I looked at them. Even though there are many books with very strong contents, I had the feeling that often the book format wasn’t being used right. The photobook market has grown so rapidly over the past few years that it seems that often, just having a book out seems to be what matters for photographers. The production of a book is nowadays so straightforward that many photographers replace their portfolio with a book. However, I think that the purpose of producing a book should not be convenience. There are actually only very few publishers who really try to work hand in hand with the photographers to produce books that fit the work.

I met Jörg (Colberg) for the first time about five years ago at ICP in New York City. We met almost every time I came back to the States after that, and we slowly we realized we had more in common than just our taste in music. We became friends, and we happened to understand each other not only on a “photography” level but also on a personal one. He has been my “partner in crime” ever since. Our ideas about photobook making are very similar; and after checking whether we really were in the same boat, we decided to found Meier und Müller.

In the beginning, I wasn’t so sure about making Conditions the first book of our publishing project. But Jörg pushed me to redesign the book to reveal the ideas behind the series. Without telling me what to do, he helped me understand the connection between form and contents - all of the sudden, everything was crystal clear.

The earliest designs I tried were very gimmicky. I did not want the book (or the series) being carried by the design, I did not want the design to be just a trick to make the work interesting. After some tests, and after having looked at older dummies I decided to experiment with the parameters of the book format, pushing the boundaries. I started to center on ideas concerning self-determination, the decisions we made, still make, and those we did not dare to make.

Investigating identity is the main idea behind the project. The way Conditions in the end was conceived as a book allows the viewer to question and study her or his own identity in a very natural way. The book itself help the viewer to deal with perceptions, with how we look at people and how we would like to look at them.

After months of intensive (and to be honest, often very painful) work Conditions was born. I went to New York to meet Adam Bartos, who shared with us his experience and vision and who also took care of the editing.

The book has been out for two months now, and the editions are almost sold out. The press has been very positive, and we are very happy about that. Currently, Jörg and myself are working on upcoming projects, and we couldn’t be more motivated to push this venture into the next level. Making photobooks is a lot of work, it’s hard, but when everything finally comes together, it’s just a thrill that’s very hard to describe.

All images © Andrés Marroquin Winkelmann/Meier und Müller

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