Unseen Dummy Award juror Matthew Carson is a librarian and archivist at the International Center of Photography (ICP) in New York. He is also a committee members for the Contemporary Artists’ Book Conference at the New York Art Book Fair and a co-founder of 10×10 Photobook Organization. In 2013, he was a curator for the book component of the ICP Triennial: A Different Kind of Order. As a photography enthusiast and bibliomaniac, he is the editor and a writer for the ICP library blog. He talks to Unseen about teaching photobooks and the symbiotic relationship between books and photography.
What inspired you to start 10×10 Photobook? Please explain a little more about the concept.
It was the summer 2012 when three New Yorkers in conversation – myself Olga Yatskevitch and Russet Lederman – decided to join forces and create an ‘entity’ to take the energy of photobook sharing to our larger community. It worked. The response has been great.
Our mission is to keep it simple and create reading rooms which allow for ‘hands-on/in person sharing’ of photobooks with a general audience. We like to think democratically. We have produced print publications, online discussion spaces and articles to further share information about photobooks. We also like to be an entertaining force for the photobook world.
What does your role at Contemporary Artists’ Book Conference entail?
The committee programs educational events related to artists’ books in conjunction with the NYABF (New York Art Book Fair) and each year we produce a book in collaboration with a book artist as a fundraiser for the conference. It is a lot of fun to work with such a super smart group and I really learn a lot from it. This September I am organising a session at the conference on Photography & Writing with Brad Zellar (LBM) and Nicholas Muelner.
Why photobooks? What is it that draws you to art books?
Photography and the book are made for each other. Photography has many forms and one of the most creative of these forms is the photographic publication. The photobook can be many different things from a simple essay, a visual poem or sketchbook to a full-blown encyclopedia. I am drawn to it all.
What do you look for in a photobook?
There are so many ways of making a photobook and so many different types. I like all them. What is intriguing for me is that the making of books is very much part of a photo based artist’s process and practice. I often look for the unusual and the experimental (although I still have a great love for the classic photobook). I like to see things that make me think and surprise me, but also allow the visual imagery to shine through.
What is the angle you take as editor when you write for the ICP library blog?
ICP is a center; a school and a museum and a lot more. Therefore we have a very broad community and I try to encourage as many folks from our community as possible to participate by writing something for the blog. We have teenage interns who have selected their favourite books and we have serious academic colleagues writing in-depth articles. There are great interviews with the strange and the brilliant creators and makers of photobooks and everything in-between. The main idea is to have multiple voices expressing their interest in photography and photobooks.
Why do you think photobooks are so important? Do you think that the push to digitalise material has changed their significance?
Photography is made for the book. Photography is at its most successful in a book. In a sense there really is no such thing as photography. It is a series of technological processes that have evolved over time and they are always changing. Digital is just one of the latest processes. What ‘digital’ means for the photobook is a greater abundance of materials and self-published materials.
As a librarian and archivist, what do you think the future holds for photobooks?
The future for photobooks is cheaper technologies for production and even greater innovation from the creators. New inks, new papers and new ways to design and create. There is a lot of potential. It is very exciting.
Can you name one of your first purchases?
Not sure it was my first, but one of my earliest and for me one of the most memorable and important was Robert Frank's The Lines of My Hand. It was a real ‘behind the scenes’ look at the photographer and the process of creativity. Diaristic, intimate and honest. It was a very exciting and meaningful photobook for me. It wasn’t like all the other books of great photographers I had seen at that point. It was really something special.
Thanks Matthew, we look forward to welcoming you at Unseen.