Tuesday, January 7, 2014

2014 New Years Resolutions!

After my somewhat grumbly post about photo books, I thought I would take a few minutes and do my annual rundown of my New Year's resolutions. The reason I make these public is that it's a way to keep myself accountable and also maybe inspire a few people to take on a project they have been wanting to accomplish. Unlike most folks, I work to make my resolutions as concrete and accomplishable as possible - more like a 12 month to-do list than a flailing grab toward enlightenment.

1) Go to a coffee shop once a week. This isn't because I'm lacking caffeine at home, but rather because my art situation has been growing in complexity and increasingly I get ensnared by menial office tasks and distractions if I'm at my computer. Finding ways and places to unplug is a big goal for the new year.

2) Go to more art shows. I honestly find going out and meandering random galleries in LA a bit of chore. I usually don't find stuff I like very much... Parking is hard... The art world snobs annoy me... I could be in my studio working. etc, etc, etc. They are all just excuses.

3) Cook my own beans. Odd, I know, but I'm a pretty avid home cook and I'm sick of using inevitably bland canned beans in my otherwise resplendent recipes. Time to buckle down and make my own. It's cheaper anyway, and the only tricky part is planning to turn on the stove a few hours ahead.

4) Shoot more of my Ren Faire garbage can images. Damn. I guess I'm going to have to go wander around and drink beer and watch the madness of the Faire unfold in the warm summer sun of California. Clearly the hardest of my resolutions this year.

5) Learn Illustrator and In Design better. I'm using these tools more and more for various reasons and all that's keeping from being comfortable is buying a couple books and spending a few afternoons of shame of being bad at it.

6) Get my art mailing list going. As the social media world fragments & mutates, it seems as though the trusty e-mail list has become the best way to make sure the people most interested in my art get a chance to hear about what I'm doing.

7) Move some of my record budget toward photo books. I love buying records, partially because it's a way I connect with many of my friends. But unfortunately on an artist's budget you have to make choices, and while photo books aren't as much of a shared interest they are critical to my understanding and growth of my art.

8) Redo my art website. As many of my long-term projects come to completion the need for this is getting worse and worse. Especially if I start seriously self-publishing photo books, I'll need a much nicer hub for that.

9) Learn Japanese cooking. A long ways back I found a weird but useful method to expand my cooking repertoire: Get a really awesome cookbook and make a pact with yourself that each week you'll open the book to a random page and make whatever you flip to. Doesn't matter if it's desert, a whole roast fish, a stock or whatever - you do it. A great way to make yourself interact with the fullness of a cuisine and not just cherry pick the comfortable stuff.

10) Play through my backlog of video games. I'm not one of those hoarders that have hundreds of games in their pile of shame, but I've got a solid dozen games, some of them quite manageable (like Stanley Parable) that get pushed aside in my manic rush to complete my League Of Legends art project.

11) Hit my deadlines better for Video Game Tourism. Pretty self explanatory. I don't actually have deadlines, but I've been aiming for one a month. It hasn't exactly ended up working out that way.

12) Try to get other people's art on my walls. I'm sick of seeing my own work in my living room. Want to trade? Let's talk!

13) Make wine vinegar. I've been meaning to learn how to do this because most commercial wine vinegar sucks and is massively overpriced. Also, I've been meaning to make more of my gifts to friends and this is a perfect thing to give out.

14) Create at least one proper book maquette. A big task, but one that I need to do.

15) Publish at least one book on Blurb. Possibly could do this in preparation for the proper maquette. I have tons of medium-sized projects that would work perfectly in this form.

16) Print and send out a cool mailer to galleries that have liked my work in the past. Maybe something like a mini-magazine of new work?

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Apartment Homes Show Jan 4 - 30, 2014

Hey everyone! I have a new show going up to start the New Year. It's a second show of new work from the Apartment Homes project at the Blue Whale. Hanging the thirteen pieces today so drop some one of these nights in the next few weeks to see the show along with some amazing live music. Up until late in January.  
Blue Whale
123 Astronaut E S Onizuka St #301Los Angeles, CA 90012
Open From 8PM every night except Monday. 

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Hoarding Shadows: The Best Photo Books Of 2013

I love the end of the year. There are three main reasons for loving the run-up to January 1: The first, which I'll cover in more detail in my forthcoming 2014 resolutions post, is that I love the mental state of starting over that comes with the dawning of a new year. Second, at the New Year's party I attend, everyone breaks out their reserve stock of rare beers, but you probably don't care about that. Third, I get to read a slew of amazing articles and blog posts in which savvy people talk about their favorite music and books of the year. This is great for me, since, hey, I'm a full time artist and being buried in the studio so much, I miss things. I've already bought a whole bunch of albums and added some interesting books to my reading list. 

Yet, one set of lists is bothering me. I'm a photographer, and I love photo books, so of course I seek out the lists of best photo books. I collect obscure contemporary black metal, experimental and jazz vinyl, so I'm used to dealing with the vagrancies of tracking down self published and import work. But as I clicked through the menagerie of tomes I noticed a disheartening trend. In this article I want to take a look at the 2013 best of list (http://blog.photoeye.com/2013/12/the-best-books-of-2013.html) created by PhotoEye, one of America's premier photo book bookstores. I don't want to call them out specifically, since they are an amazing store filled with smart and dedicated staff but the reason I want to use their list is because it is very representative of which books are showing up on these lists (that is, it's filled with the photo book equivalents of Deafheaven's Sunbather album). 

The first book on the list, Rasen Kaigan/Album by Lieko Shiga had me pulling out my credit card to buy it, but it was not available from their store. There are 6 copies on Amazon going for the low low price of $245.00 to $485.00… Let's just assume that's one of those stupid Amazon bot pricing issues (such a futuristic problem to have!) and move on. Cool, the next book has a couple of copies of the in stock for $75.00, but Amazon is out of stock and already the price is creeping up past $124.00. Book three - out of stock, but there are two used copies floating on Amazon for $80.00. Unless you want a first printing which would run you $240.00. Book four - well, that's not available on Amazon OR at PhotoEye. Next book, only two used copies, going for $373.00 and $445.00 respectively. 

Let's just skip to the chase: This isn't some weird Amazon bot-pricing issue. Additionally, just to be clear that I'm not pitting a mega-corporation against an indie bookseller, PhotoEye partners with Amazon, and co-lists these prices. But more importantly, my concern is availability: Of the 27 books in PhotoEye's best of the year list, only 6 are available to buy new at their store. 5 I could find direct from their respective publishers, mostly in Europe, some of which were possibly unavailable (I had to rely on Google translate to let me know if they were in stock or not). 6 aren't available to buy at either PhotoEye or Amazon. Of the last 10, which are available on the secondary market, their average price for the cheapest copy available is $219.21! 

Let's push aside the secondary market speculation/inflation/bubble issue for a moment (which is still a very valid conversation in this economy where the middle class's presence in fine art is disappearing) and talk about this list, and it's brethren across the internet, just from a perspective of being a fan and wanting to check out the best work that came out in the last 12 months. 

If this were Pitchfork's Top 100 albums of 2013 it would break down as: 22 albums would be available. 19 would be available as imports with all the hassle and fees associated. 37 albums could be found in highly limited supply on the secondary market for two to ten times their initial asking price. The final 22 wouldn't be available anywhere. This isn't a list of "greatest of all time," this is a list of the best stuff since the last college football season ended. Put in to terms of music, hopefully you can begin to see how insanely exclusive, opaque and reclusive the photo book world has become. For reference, of the 100 albums on the Pitchfork list, 100 are available in complete versions, usually in multiple formats; the same is true of the New York Times 2013 notable book list.

Despite the bluster and hype, when you break down this community in to these weird numbers, it begins to speak volumes about the possible unhealthiness of the photo book in its marketplace ecosystem. I'm part of the group that believes that the art of the photo book is experiencing an exciting and fearlessly creative period of maturation. Working in photo book form is crucial for a number of my projects. But I get anxious when I stop and think about what might happen to my art in this hyper-rarified landscape.

If only a tiny, self-selected population of speculators, sycophants and the wealthy ever see these magnificent objects, what does it mean for the possible ability of the art to affect the world? I mean, most artists who aren't already famous (sorry Alec Soth, I actually really like your book reviews) certainly aren't seeing these books. The same can be said for most fans of art, since these books aren't ever displayed in a physical space like a $100,000 painting might appear in a gallery or at least a fair to be gawked at briefly. 

So is the photo book field just a new set of luxury items for the rich?  Are these just objects that will disappear in to the collector-mists (in acid free archival wrap like a body bag) the moment they come in the mail? Are they just fodder for online markets and auctions the way that silly colored vinyl releases from bands like Uncle Acid are used to drive publisher headlines and speculator bankrolls? Are photo books just some cute old-timesy product like a tin photo at an amusement park or a hand-blown glass ornament? Are they just a flashy symbolic gesture of taste for the Vice magazine kids? Basically, as someone deeply invested in making these sorts of objects, I'm thinking out loud if this just a boom based on NOT seeing; a boom based on hoarding shadows? 

I don't have answers to these questions, of course, but I honestly do believe in the amazing work coming from the artists that are making these books. Well, from what I've seen of their work in bits online and various prints at galleries, not of course, from the books themselves.


It was obvious to me when I wrote the article that I wasn't accusing PhotoEye of anything negative but I'm not sure if that came through as well as it should. To be as clear as possible, PhotoEye should be commended if anything. First, they actually had most of this data out in open. I had been thinking of writing this article about a half dozen other, earlier, lists but I couldn't quite get a concrete handle on the topic. Second, and most important, you can really tell this is a list of books they loved. I mean, PhotoEye is a store and they only stock 22% of their recommended titles! They could easily have made a very reasonable editorial decision to fill their list with in-stock titles to bolster their sales.