The new installment of the 'Making a Book' series features a text by Dutch artist Judith van IJken, who kindly agreed to share her thoughts about books and photography starting from the innovative concept of her latest project Mimicry. In her text she also recalls a few early projects she made in China, where several themes like storytelling, the sequencing of the photographs or the process of shaping the physical object of a book started to arise and prepared the road for what she created in the following years.
Enjoy the read.
- Making a book, by Judith van IJken
When looking at photo books I think it’s interesting to divide them into two categories. The first category consists of the books that I consider work more or less like a museum. The most important purpose of the book and the design are to underline and show the photographs in the best way possible. The second category consists of the photo books that can be considered to be a work in itself. In these books the design and the characteristics of a book plays an important role in the book as a whole. The three elements; photographs, design and characteristics of the book as a medium need to work closely together.
Mimicry is the title of the book that I made last year. The book consists of portraits of people aged approximately thirty years old wearing a piece of clothing that one of their parents used to wear when they had the same age, together with a old photograph of their parents wearing the specific item. When working on the project I had difficulty figuring out how to present these photographs together. When the old and the new photograph would be presented on a spread next to each other I felt the emphasis would lie to much upon the new photograph being a reaction on the old photograph. My aim was for the photographs to have more of a relation together. I wanted them to work together to emphasize the relationship between the two generations. Then somebody told me to talk to graphic designer SYB.
SYB is a very good graphic designer who’s designs very much use the characteristics of the book as a medium. This collaboration led to the specific design of Mimicry. The book now has short pages and fold-over pages. When opening a spread at first the short page or the fold-over page partly covers the other photograph and visually a relationship appears between the two photos. This was exactly what I was looking for.
I asked the philosopher Bas Haring if he wanted to write a text about the subject of Mimicry. It was important for me that the text wouldn’t be about the book but that it would be a text about the subject. When looking at the book now I am very happy to see how these three elements, the photographs, the design and the text all seem to have their own position and that they all seem to work together.
In den vreemde
A couple of years ago I made two little books. They are called In den vreemde and Verloren Ruimte. I made these two books when I lived in China for a period of time. I lived in a gated community in Xiamen and the gated community was a new phenomenon for me to experience. I was surprised to notice how predictable days inside a gated community were. In this same period I found a couple of very old little Chinese photo books in a little shop. These books would show a whole movie but in still photographs. I decided to take these little books as a starting point for a ‘moviebook’ of my own gated community. It would be a walk through the area and the photographs in the little book would take the viewer along. For me it was more about the way the photographs would follow each other than about the single photographs and how the predictability would come across.
Writing this text about Mimicry and photobooks I realize that when making In den vreemde I was in a way also thinking about a way how the characteristics of the book (the following pages) and the photographs could work together.
'There was a fly in my camera. It must have crawled in when I changed the film. I opened the camera to get it out. When I looked through the viewfinder it was still there. Clever place, I remember thinking. I didn't see him again. Not even in the photographs.'
- Judith van IJken
All images © Judith van IJken