self published

FL 50 - Juror Pick from Elliot

unremarkable by Ruth Adams


I was immediately drawn to Ruth Adams' unremarkable for its understated size and long pages bearing nothing but clean, single rows of Polaroid self portraits. It's an emotional and personal experience to read this book and see the progress of the stark portraits day after day as Adams endures all of milestones of cancer treatment. With nothing but portraits on the page, Adams' pain, defeat, hope, tedium, joy, and sense of humor are inescapable. After seeing a photograph of an installation view of these photos hanging on a gallery wall, I was curious to hear more about the project of turning this into a photobook. Here is Ruth Adams talking a little bit about unremarkable.

 - Elliot McNally, Special Collections Librarian, ACA Library, SCAD Atlanta


Elliot: It was interesting to see the date range of this project. What brought you to turn this series into a book 10 years later in 2012?

In the life of a cancer survivor there are different milestones. For most types of cancer, 5-years out of treatment marks the point where the chance of recurrence goes way down. For me, 10 years out of treatment was one step further, it was the point where I got "divorced" from my oncologist, i.e. my chance of recurrence was so low that I no longer needed to be followed by a Lymphoma specialist. I was considered - Cured! 

That milestone coincided with a movie/photo exhibition that I helped to bring to the University of Kentucky Hospital, another cancer project 'Not as I Pictured' done by my good friend and photographer, John Kaplan. The confluence of all of that helped to convince the hospital to invest in making a small run of books that we could give out to cancer patients and caregivers at the exhibition.

Elliot: This project works so well in book format. It transforms it into such an intimate and captivating experience for the reader, and is so different from the installation view that seems so overwhelming to take in all at once. Intellectually I knew what the outcome would be at the end of the story, but I was so engrossed by the range of emotion and empowerment as the series progressed linearly. I was overcome with excitement and relief when your hair started growing back, and I don't think I would've had the same experience seeing it on the wall. Could you talk a little bit about how and why you chose this long format, size, paper, etc. for the book?

First, I would like to say thank you for expressing your experience of the book. It is so wonderful to hear how people respond to the unremarkable journey.

When I was diagnosed with cancer, as a visual person, I immediately looked for images that would show me the journey that I was going to go through. Unfortunately, most photo essays about cancer do not have a happy ending. So one of the driving forces behind unremarkable was to show the journey back to health, as I was planning on making it through. The goal for me in creating the book was to make it something that was easily digestible by someone waiting in a doctor's office, chemo suite or waiting room, so the size had to be small. I felt like the repetition of images was necessary to show the relationship between the days and the subtle changes that happen over time so I picked 7 per page, representing a week (although as there are days missing the weeks aren't "real").

Elliot: I think this is such a great example of a "democratic multiple." Do you feel like this project as a book has been able to reach a wider audience beyond the gallery installation? What has the reaction from the community been like? 

The reaction to the book has been overwhelmingly positive but the print run for this book was very small so distribution was not very wide. My goal for this book was, and still is, to get it into cancer centers all around the country. But I would like it to be for free, so I hope to someday be able to raise money for a larger print run and distribution, etc.

Elliot: Are you hooked on the book? Is book making a part of your larger art practice? 

I have produced several handmade artist books over my career and absolutely love the practice of bookmaking. I have more recently started creating more traditional photo monographs using online publishing software and love being able to have a finished piece to share once I feel a project has reached a conclusion. My own practice fluctuates from 19th century printing, like Platinum/Palladium to cell phone imagery, so different projects make sense as different types of books. But the short answer, yes, I believe I will always continue the practice of creating a linear journey through my images by using the book format.

Elliot: What are you currently working on?

After cancer, one tends to take a close look at one's life (and art practice) and I was no exception. Most of my artwork since unremarkable has been based around the overarching ideas of Awareness, Presence, and Meditation. The series 'Meditating: Eye's Wide' stems from my struggle to stay Present to my experiences while also attempting to make imagery. 'The Mythology of Mushrooms' is my homage to one of the most ephemeral and yet most powerful plants on earth, and my tactic for slowing myself down and Noticing while walking in the woods (or my backyard). And 'That's the Ohm' is my endeavor to stay connected to the Present by photographing the immeasurable beauty capturable through my car's moonroof.

To view more work by Ruth Adams please visit her website


FL 50 - Juror Pick from Teresa

Messages, Visions and Dreams by Mark Caceres

I am a big fan of accordion fold books and am always on the lookout for ones that take advantage of this structure to tell their story. Messages, Visions, and Dreams by Mark Caceres is a terrific example utilizing strong, shadowy images printed in a super-deep black on both sides of the page (a must). Read on to find out more about Mark’s process and inspiration for creating this textless photobook.  

-Teresa Burk, Head Librarian, ACA Library, SCAD Atlanta

Teresa: Tell me a little about the project, was it always conceived as a book? Print process, paper choice, editioned?

One day I drove by a small church near my home and noticed members of the congregation outside dressed in long white vestments which reminded me of African religious practices I had seen in Brazil. I introduced myself to the pastor and asked if I could photograph during the services. I photographed periodically at the weekly Sabbath services during 2014 and 2015. Initially, I had no idea how the project would develop and I certainly did not have any clear conception of presenting the work in book form. I only knew that I wanted to make images that were not grounded in the reality of the events taking place in the church. In other words, I tried to steer clear of a traditional photojournalistic narrative. As the project evolved, I focused on this question: How do we find meaning in the chaos of life when rational thought does not provide answers? The title Messages, Visions and Dreams came from the name of the part of the Sabbath service in which members of the congregation recount dreams or visions for the pastor to interpret.

Only in 2016 did I begin to think seriously about creating a book after having some brief conversations with David Carol and Eliot Dudik at the Slow Exposures Festival.

The printing choices were made pragmatically. I wanted the print quality to be similar to my inkjet prints with very deep blacks and an ethereal quality in the images, so I chose a double sided matte paper stock from Red River Paper and printed the panels myself on an Epson photo printer. Since the book is essentially still a maquette, it is not currently editioned.

Teresa: How did you decide on the accordion format? Was it challenging to print? Anything you would do differently?

I chose an accordion format because I wanted one side of images somewhat grounded in reality and the other side more mysterious and surreal. I wanted the viewer to move from a fixed and somewhat recognizable reality and then gradually travel deeper and deeper into the realm of the subconscious.

The printing was challenging in terms of having full bleed images whose borders conform exactly to the creases of the accordion on both sides. Controlling the skew of the paper as it printed was the biggest challenge, but the placement of the seams (each book consists of three long sheets of paper glued together) was also problematic.

The book in its current form will need some tweaking. I may apply a protective spray to the panels to minimize scratching and smudging of the ink and paper and possibly select a different paper stock for the cover since the present paper I’ve used for the cover doesn’t crease cleanly. An elastic band to hold the book flat may also be used.

Teresa: Did you show the book to the congregation? What was their reaction?

 The book is a very recent creation and still a work in progress, so the congregation has not seen it yet. I have, however, given them prints of photos made while working on the project. The prints were received positively, but they were seen primarily as a literal document of church activities.

Teresa: How does this photo book fit into your artistic/photo practice?

Books are my favorite way to view photography, not only because of their tactile quality, but because the artist can control the sequence in which the photos are viewed and create a visual syntax through the pacing and arrangement of the images. The judicious addition of text also can add depth of meaning and context.

Since I am drawn to images that are puzzling and open to multiple interpretations, the design of the photobook gives clues that the viewer can use to create some sort of narrative.

Teresa: Is book making a new direction for you? If so, what would you like pursue next or what are you working on now?

Yes, book making is something new for me and I see this project as a way to present my work more coherently and thoughtfully. The process of editing, designing, sequencing, choosing materials, and construction is endlessly fascinating and gives me a greater appreciation for photography as an art form.

In terms of photo books, I plan to continue refining Messages, Visions and Dreams and then produce a small number of books, perhaps 50. I am also currently working with one of my mentors, noted photographer Jeff Jacobson, on a book with the working title Dreaming America. The book will require a few more years of shooting and will feature color images made throughout the United States. The project will explore themes of politics, race, religion, and nationalism. A short edit can be viewed on my website.

Teresa: What are some photobooks that have influenced you?

Many of the photobooks that have influenced me the most were created by my mentors. Bazan Cuba by Italian photographer Ernesto Bazan is by far the most thought provoking and poetic photographic exploration of life in Cuba after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Chip Simone’s book Chroma presents seductive color images framed in surprising compositional forms. Another book I return to often is Jeff Jacobson’s Melting Point, which presents the state of our world through his mastery of the surreal and the ironic. All of these books have thoughtful sequencing and appealing design which strengthens the impact of the work.

Messages, Visions and Dreams was influenced primarily by three photobooks. The accordion structure of the book owes much to Laura El-Tantawy’s Post-Script. The presentation of enigmatic, monochrome images with deep blacks in Astres Noirs by Katrin Koenning and Sarker Protik was a great inspiration, as was Far Cry by Portuguese photographer Paulo Nozolino.

FL 50 - Juror Picks from Meghan

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. 


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