Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Making a Book - Danielle Mericle

First it was the glimpse of an albino deer hiding behind the bushes, a small flash of white in the distance which left me going back many times to those images, wondering if I was daydreaming or the creature really appeared in front of the camera (and my eyes). Then it was the photograph of caring hands delicately touching the worn-out pages of an old book, the text almost erased by the action of time, the volume almost collapsing under its own weight.

Danielle Mericle
is an artist who tries to represent how elusive is the act of framing what is in front of us, using photography to show things that are almost impossible to grasp. The evidence of what light records in a photograph becomes the mirror of our fantasies and of what we remember - or rather what we want or don't want to remember.

I asked Danielle to share some of her thoughts about bookmaking, both about her own work and about her publishing venture A-Jump Books, which releases her own artist's books and those of some other really interesting artists.

Enjoy the read!

Spread from Archive, by Danielle Mericle, A-Jump Books, 2010

Making a Book - Text by Danielle Mericle

I grew up in a town with limited access to museums and galleries, remotely located in the desert of the southwestern United States. There was no Internet then, and local interest in the arts had yet to be revived. Hence from an early age my experience of art was most often from perusing books in the bookstore. As an art student in college I was in a similar predicament, and soon came to have a deep appreciation for the accessibility, portability, and longevity of the book format. As a lover of books, I toyed with various book projects in my own work, but was stunted by the craftiness of what was then considered “book-making”- sewing, binding, etc without as much emphasis on content. So I went about making photographs for exhibitions, and put aside my aspirations to make books until I “hit it big” and had my very own high-end monograph.

Books continued to interest me greatly however, especially artist’s books- those works that were conceived of and took their form in the book format. In 2005 my partner Ron Jude had a book project in mind (Alpine Star) that he shopped around to various publishers- basically he was told that this was an “artist’s book” and to simply self-publish. After investigating press options and learning more about the capabilities of InDesign, we realized that we should in fact simply publish the book ourselves. And so A-Jump Books was born. Our intention was to produce books that fell within the “artist book” mold, but of higher quality than much of what was available at the time (this has changed significantly in the past five years).

A-Jump Books titles

In 2006 I started a project that would later become
Seneca Ghosts. At the time I was working heavily in both photography and video- playing still images off of fixed frame video pieces of varying duration in a gallery setting. When I started shooting for Seneca Ghosts, I envisioned it operating in a similar way. Midway through the project, I began wondering if this project might not be better suited to the book form. The work demanded a temporal aspect that was difficult to achieve in an exhibition—repeating motifs, moments of pause and repose - all to convey a sense of the fallacy of memory. I began playing with sequencing- struggling to find the right amount of information to share while not giving away the whole story. (I firmly believe that most successful photography retains an inherent mystery.)

Seneca Ghost, by Danielle Mericle, 2008

After months of shooting and resequencing, I settled on the final version and set to work getting it printed and designed. I wanted something modest in size and scale on uncoated paper, to allow for an intimacy of experience that was compelling yet also strangely distant. In short, the book design should mimic the conceptual underpinning of the work itself- speaking to our limited ability to access and understand the world through memory, direct experience, and, by extension, photography. What resulted was aligned with my original intentions, and on a practical level cost me no more than a full-scale exhibition of the work would have.

Front cover of
Seneca Ghost, by Danielle Mericle, A-Jump Books, 2008
Front cover of
Archive, by Danielle Mericle, A-Jump Books, 2010

My most recent book,
Archive, came about in a more organic fashion. I was traveling in Peru for my job at Cornell University Library, and didn’t realize until midway through the trip that the images I was capturing on my point-and-shoot resonated for me on a deeper level. The content was very consistent with many of my artistic interests- looking at the complex intersections of history, power and knowledge. At that point I began shooting more voraciously, and with clear intent. With Seneca Ghosts under my belt I had no question that this would be a book project. The sequencing was extremely important on Archive - I was taking very disparate subjects and interweaving them so as to create new associations and meanings- yet it had to retain a modicum of legibility less I lose my audience. Ultimately I ended up going through two major revisions-each about a year apart from one another (I took a significant break from the project and came back to it after the birth of my son). I also had a very clear sense of the design of the book- I knew I wanted it to mimic a more literary format, and that it should be hardcover to echo the books I photographed in the archive. Ultimately we modeled the design on a W.G. Sebald book I found on my shelf, and, working with Oddi Press in Iceland, determined the appropriate paper stock and book cloth color.

Spreads from
Archive, by Danielle Mericle, A-Jump Books, 2010

I am now working on a new book project, this time for a different publisher. This will be my first experience working with someone other than A-Jump, and I’m excited to operate in a collaborative fashion with people I’m less familiar with. Meanwhile A-Jump Books is starting to expand outwards and is working with more artists. Last year we completed a piece with Dan Torop, a New York based photographer whose work we really love; and this year we will be producing two new books, one with Portland based photographer Shawn Records and another with Ithaca based photographer/writer Nick Muellner (with whom we’ve worked before).

Spread and front cover from
Skydiving, by Dan Torop, A-Jump Books, 2010

Books continue to excite me as much as they ever have, and I’m finding that my thinking now is geared toward the book form, with exhibitions feeling tangential to the process.

All images © Danielle Mericle/A-Jump Books

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