On the blog we're going to hear from the jurors of the Fall Line Fifty about their favorite submissions. We're kicking it off with Meghan's picks.
COME AGAIN WHEN YOU CAN'T STAY SO LONG by Tara Wray
This book immediately caught my eye when books started pouring in for the competition. The graphic text cover grabbed my attention, and as I looked through it I was struck by the crafts(wo)manship it took to create. Flipping through it haphazardly, I knew I would have to sit down and really delve into it at some point. And once I did, I was not disappointed. It's a beautiful vessel to tell a poignant story about family many people can relate. It's also a great example of weaving text into a picture book in a powerful way.
Meghan: Why did you decide to make Come Again When You Can't Stay So Long?
My aunt contacted me in 2013 when my Grandma was 86-years-old and said that Grandma wasn’t doing well. She had fallen and her health was declining. My aunt said matter of factly that if I wanted to see her again I should do it sooner rather than later. So I went to Kansas to see her. I didn’t necessarily know that I was making a book when I went, but I knew that I would make pictures. My natural inclination when seeing family is to document it (as I did in my 2006 documentary film “Manhattan, Kansas,” which was about reuniting with my mentally ill mother after a long period of estrangement). Being behind a camera is a way to protect myself in difficult situations.
The visit was heightened because I was viewing it through the lens of “this might be the last time you’re going to see your Grandma, you’d better make the most of it” and it turned out it was. She died this past March, at home, surrounded by family. I was not able to be there but I said goodbye over the phone and I have plans to visit her grave and pay my respects this year. And make pictures about it.
Meghan: Is this your first photobook? Tell me about some of the challenges you encountered while making it.
I made a small photobook in 2013 called Each One Wonderful, about New York City Dogs, and I did a zine before Come Again When You Can’t Stay So Long, but this was the first time I sewed pages myself and incorporated letterpress elements into the mix. It was much more hands on. I considered design and text in relation to images in a way that I hadn’t before.
The biggest challenge came in the form of pushback from family. Some people thought I made this photobook to financially exploit my Grandma, which is impossibly wrong on so many levels. For better or worse, family is at the heart of my long-form documentary work--and will continue to be. My aim is to make honest pictures.
Meghan: You mentioned the letterpress and hand sewing in Q2. Can you tell me how you made this book?
I knew from the start that I wanted to make a book that was also a handmade object. To that end, I had the signatures printed unbound, and then did a chain link stitch to join them together with the endpapers. I letterpressed the covers on a Vandercook SP20 under the guidance of Sarah Smith at the Book Arts Workshop at Dartmouth--an open studio that teaches letterpress and relief printing techniques. I used 100-year-old wooden type for the title. I mixed the inks to get the orange just right. Then I had a halftone cut made from a digital image so I could add a picture to the inside back part of the cover. The bookmark with the blurb is also letterpressed.
Meghan: You are also a filmmaker, and studied documentary filmmaking at NYU. What led you to photography?
I’ve always taken pictures. I loved disposable cameras as a kid; the excitement of sending film away to be developed and then getting back these perfectly fleshed out moments in time. I really started thinking more deeply about photography around 2010, about the time I was falling out of love with filmmaking. I just started shooting everything around me with a crappy Kodak digital camera. I had a great deal of naive passion about it. I took a ton of terrible pictures, some that I thought were good. I started getting into the work of Alec Soth, Sally Mann, Judith Joy Ross, Susan Lipper, the WPA photographers, etc., and began to understand where my impulse to document was coming from and that other people had it too.
Meghan: What are some of your favorite photobooks?
These are ones I can re-read over and over again: Margaret Bourke White’s Portrait of Myself; Got to Go by Rosalind Fox Solomon; Diane Arbus: A Chronology, by Elisabeth Sussman and Doon Arbus (it’s unbelievably detailed, though I could’ve done without the post-mortem coroner's report that ends the book); Larry Sultan’s Pictures from Home; The Photographer’s Eye by John Szarkowski; The Restless Decade, John Guttman’s Photographs of the Thirties. Recently I got a lot out of Jörg Colberg’s Understanding Photobooks. Then there’s people I know either IRL or from the web that are making photobooks I really admire: Nathan Pearce is a zine making machine; Tammy Mercure is a mentor; Carrie Elizabeth Thompson’s Notes From My Therapist is a brave and beautiful autobiographical work.
I’m first drawn to the work of a photographer and then I want to know everything about how they made it. The Likes of Us: America in the Eyes of the Farm Security Administration is a great resource for the stories behind the stories of the iconic images of Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange, et al. And I once found a mint condition signed copy of Lee Friedlander’s Flowers and Trees at a thrift shop. It had a signed print inside!
Meghan: What are you currently working on?
I’m doing a weekly interview series with photographers for Vice called Doin’ Work. I ask everyone the same questions and wind up with vastly different answers--a photocentric version of the Proust Questionnaire. I love that it gives me an excuse to start a dialogue with people whose work I admire. I’m also interviewing underrepresented women in photography for BUST Magazine. Then I’m curating a photo series called Some Days Just Are, where I pair up two photographers and have them each make one photo from 9am - 9pm on a selected day. I combine the images from both participants into a photo essay; I hope the work will shine a light on the ways in which we're interconnected as humans, and how time is our common denominator. I’m also putting together a new book of my own work called Too Tired For Sunshine. It’s a collection of photographs made in Vermont between 2011–2016.
For more of Tara Wray's work, please visit her website.
Some Sheep by Judith Erwes
When this small book came in with a bright colored sheep on the cover, I knew it was going to be a good one. Maybe it's because my two year old has an affinity for sheep right now. In any case, it's a beautiful little book of bright colored close-up sheep portraits. It doesn't make any claims to be something it's not... It's just some sheep. And I love that about it.
For more of Judith Erwes's work, please visit her website.
Icelandic Blue by Jacinda Russell
Matching paint samples with images from a trip to Iceland, Jacinda weaves together a story through colors. It is thoughtfully sequenced. The pairings of house paints with those colors in real life are intriguing and surprising. And it's small, slim form is the perfect vessel for the content.
For more of Jacinda Russell's work, please visit her website.