A Black and White World

In my final blog post, I wish to compare both Kara Walker’s book Freedom: A Fable and David Douglas Duncan’s photography book Iprotest!. Personally, both books were thoroughly enjoyable to look through and were very powerful. I also enjoy the fact that despite many aesthetic differences between both books, the works of both Walker and David Duncan make a statement about our society. They capture our attention as the reader and tell us a story, using imagery and text, about the world we live in and the social issues that we must recognize.

Kara Walker’s Freedom: A Fable is a narrative about a young black woman named “N-” who is recently set free after the Civil War. Since most of Walker’s work is based on themes of power, race, repression, history and sexuality, Walker uses the form of the book as a way to channel her commentary on African American history. The book describes the journey of a black woman and her desire to go back home to Africa, a place where having dark skin doesn’t matter, after being abused by her white owner. Walker’s typical large-scale silhouettes of African American women visibly inspire the illustrations of the book. Normally, Kara Walker displays her silhouettes by building circular spaces within a gallery with both an entrance and exit. The viewer is then able to walk into the gallery space and is surrounded by her huge black images that consume them. In comparison, Walker’s book Freedom: A Fable seems to be put together with a similar concept in mind- making her book small in size but intricate to pull the reader closer and closer to its pages making the experience grasping. Walker also incorporates the craft of pop-ups within each page spread which leap off the white pages of the book. This technique makes the physical relationship between the artist and the book as overwhelming as the Walker’s construction of the gallery space but in far more personal way.

Walker’s delicate craft of silhouettes embedded in her artist book addresses different racial stereotypes. For example, some of the pop ups within the pages use representations of slaves alongside southern belles or gentlemen in acts of violence. Unlike Duncan’s book whose detailed photography stimulates certain emotions, the outlines of Walker’s silhouettes do most of the talking. Their illustrative characteristics animate the text that lies on the white pages underneath, allowing both the images and text to work together. Therefore, the words are brought to life by the images, which I find powerful. Finally, Walker constructs her pop ups in such a way that she makes her the outlines of her images as detailed and realistic as possible. In order to do so she adds layers and depth to the pop-ups giving them photographic characteristics.

David Douglas Duncan’s Iprotest! works in a similar way as Freedom: A fable. The book consists of both text and image however the photographs remain flat on the surface of the page spread rather than popping out. Being an American photojournalist, Duncan uses his photographs from the Vietnam War to construct a book that conveys the horror of being at war. He alternates between combinations of singular black and white photographs to a series of photographs positioned beside one another to keep the viewer interested. Like Walker’s contrast between bright white pages and black pop ups, Duncan’s photographs consist of high contrast levels that almost separate the black elements of the photograph from the white. This gives the photographs a “pop-up” effect linking Duncan’s work directly to Walker’s artist book. Duncan also embeds differently composed photographs, some being portraits and others landscapes. The details of each photograph are deeply focused and intricate that they strongly convey the effects of war on American soldiers to the viewer.

Daniel Douglas Duncan also incorporates text in his photography book, but uses it differently. Unlike Walker, who weaves her text through the white gaps that are formed by her pop-up silhouettes, Duncan discusses the meaning of his photographs at the beginning of the book and allows his shots independently take over the main body of the book and speak for themselves. Therefore, the text at the beginning of the book acts as though it is setting the stage for the readers while the photographs illustrate the story. Since Duncan’s photographs are powerfully composed, a written explanation of each one isn’t as necessary as it is for Kara Walker’s artist book!

Photography books have always caught my attention. I strongly feel as though photographs displayed on their own can be very powerful but when put together in the book can tell a story better than words can. Because I have a huge fascination with photojournalism, David Duncan’s photographs caught my attention immediately.. Similarly, since Kara Walker’s pop up silhouettes looked as though they were inspired by photographic elements (such as realism) that were put into a book form. I had never seen her work on display in a gallery and felt lucky to experience it at a personal level, which drew me into the narrative that Walker put together. In conclusion, both works moved me. Through Freedom: A fable Walker was able to discuss the issues of being an African American. In comparison, Daniel Douglas Duncan’s Iprotest! was able to illustrate the life of soldiers at war and how much war affects them.



kara 2  Freedom a Fable (Pop-up example)Walker_Fable-13 Freedom a Fable (Illustrative outlines)Karawalkerb E.g of Kara Walker’s Gallery Exhibitions lf Freedom a Fable (Pop up as depth)url Iprotest- (Deep contrast level-pop up effect)ea3bfc8551c936704cfbff2abd46de89 00c8851beeea67364f88e32942593906 Iprotest (Soldiers)

unnamed Iprotest- (Layout example)

Zweig and Drucker

In Critical Issues/Exemplary Words Johanna Drucker states, “when I look at a book for the first time, I want to know (though it usually shows immediately in the work) whether the artist who made it has made books before, understands the form they are working with, and has the combination of intellectual and artistic skills to pull it off”. Most of the books in book set 5 and 6 personally seem to match these criteria. However, Drucker continues to argue that the phrase “’I am a book artist’ is subject to unholy abuse”. In Janet Zweig’s All Dressed up with no place to go she argues that “rare books from the past, more often than not, are valued by librarians for their content and their place in the history of ideas, not merely for their bindings. Why must the criteria change when the same librarians collect contemporary work?”

Wordswordswords by Edwin Schlossberg and Veinte Poemas de Amor y Una Cancion Desperada by Pablo Neruda are the books that I looked at from each book set. However, as I observed them up close for the second time (keeping Johanna Drucker and Janet Zweig’s criteria of a successful artist book in the back of my mind) I concluded that Schlossberg’s work may not be considered as effective as Pablo Neruda’s love poems.

Wordswordswords was a book that immediately caught my attention. Why? Because of its shimmering pages and diverse use of materials. As we all know by now, I am drawn to contemporary works that stand out for their vivid colors and use of mixed media. Experiencing each page one by one was a fun journey, but some of the materials used as pages made it hard to read the words printed on them and therefore that slowed down my pace. It was clear that the book wanted to play with the relationship between words and material. However, as both Drucker and Zweig stress, the right combination of artistic and conceptual skills is key to developing a good artist book. Edwin Schlossberg’s artist book may be aesthetically beautiful to look at as each page works beautifully with the one that lies underneath it, however, conceptually, does it hold content that is informative or legitimately meaningful? Not really. Is it a book that I would come back to again and again? Not really. Most importantly, ‘does it move my understanding from one place to another?’ not really. The balance is clearly off. Therefore, an artist book that I found personally compelling is one that would not be strongly considered a successful artist book in the eyes of Drucker and Zweig.

Veinte Poemas de Amor y Una Cancion Desperada by Pablo Neruda was another book that drew me in pretty quickly, because of its bright green and yellow cover. As I opened the book and turned the delicate, translucent pages, the shapes on each page fell together and formed silhouettes of a person’s face. The book already consisted of a strong use of mixed media. Additionally, the poetry within the book was put together in a flap like structure allowing each flap to grow a little bigger as the reader progressed from one poem to the next. This artist book managed to hold my attention by giving me elements to interact with but at the same time made my experience of the Neruda’s love poetry intimate and quiet. The dual visibility of the book as a whole and each individual flap made the book structure unique and interesting. This book form moved me. It took me on a journey that I would not mind going on again. It made me feel as though Neruda wrote the poetry specifically for me (the reader). Neruda added surprises to the book whilst I turned the pages keeping me captivated to continue forward. Neruda wanted his poetry to be read and experienced in a certain way and (with the help of Kim Keever and Gunnar Kaldeway of course) came up with a strong execution of the interplay between text and image. Would Johanna Drucker and Janet Zweig approve of this as a convincing artist book? I believe so.

In conclusion, both book set five and book set six consisted of books that I found to be aesthetically very compelling and engaging, however by following specific criteria, only a few would be considered different and worth collecting. However, I have to say, personally while I agree that an artist book must strike a good balance visually and mean something legitimate, I believe that if it is good enough to be remembered or referenced, regardless of the criteria, it is considered successful.

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Jazz Vs. A Toute Epreuve

When looking at artist’s books the most important question that comes to mind is whether or not the collaboration between author, artist and publisher is successful or not. I chose to look at both Jazz by Henri Matisse and A Toute Epreuve by Paul Eluard because I felt as though both books were put together beautifully and embodied effective, beautiful combinations of text and image. The combination of text and image was used differently in both artist books, which made experiencing each one refreshing and uniquely stimulating.

In the English translation of the artist’s book Jazz by Sophie Hawkes, Henri Matisse states, “This time I’d like to introduce my color prints under the most favorable of conditions. For this reason I must separate them by intervals of a different character (text)…These pages, therefore will serve only to accompany my colors, just as asters help in the composition of a bouquet of more important flowers. Thus their role is purely visual”. Henri Matisse, the artist behind the text and the images uses scale to achieve his goal of using text as a character to accompany his color prints. His book is large and consists of big, hand written text, which was eventually translated lithographically before publication. This factor gives the book a very personal reading experience. The scale of the text is big enough to allow the white of the paper to shine between each of its characters and spaces creating a visual pause for the reader. Additionally, the blank pages that are interspersed in the book act like pauses, allowing the reader to breathe before being introduced to the stunning paper collages that follow.  Each collage that we are introduced to consists of amazingly vibrant color because of a technical process called pochoir (a stencil technique). This process gives the prints a striking, velvet, and dense selection of color that makes the art beautiful to look at. As a viewer we then understand immediately the importance of having ‘pauses’ between each image.

It is important to note that Matisse made his images first and then wrote the text of the book. The text is used solely to serve as intervals between each collage. The decorative relationship between the large characters of writing and characters of the color prints allows the text and image to work together to successfully take the viewer on a magnificent journey.

The creation of A Toute Epreuve was very different from Jazz. Unlike Jazz, which was principally created by Matisse and then published Teriade, A Toute Epreuve was a joint collaboration between Eluard’s poetry, Joan Miro’s surreal mixed media prints and finally published by Gerald Cramer. Did the three individuals produce a stunning artist book? They sure did.

The book begins with a small visual spark before its main title, which is a different visual display from Jazz (which starts with a glimpse of Matisse’s handwritten title). Similarly to Jazz, A Toute Epreuve uses a choreographed set of pauses to give the viewer a pace to view the images and read the text. However, instead of the text serving as intervals for the images, the images serve as breathers for the text. The color prints are not as bold as Matisse’s pochoirs, they are much softer and lighter. Additionally, the images are scattered all over the pages and float around while the text fills in some of the empty gaps that the images create.

Despite these floating images, the text is strategically placed in positions on the page that make it very noticeable. Cramer knew that the positioning of text was key to making sure the images don’t distract the viewer. The size and boldness of the text varies throughout the book to help guide the viewer from start to finish. In Anne Hyde Greet’s “Miro, Eluard and Cramer: A Toute Epreuve, A Collaboration Between Artist, Poet and Publisher” she states “The pages in A Toute Epreuve follow this example: significant shifts in the size of leading and type, even within short lyrics, accentuate poetic and visual effects”. While the decoration of type is chosen intentionally to help the viewer it also serves as an aesthetic choice to connect it to the images that surrounded it.

In conclusion, both Jazz and A Toute Epreuve are wonderfully balanced by text and image. Both factors serve to enhance the viewer’s journey and are successful collaborations between the artist, poet and publisher.

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Books are works of Art- Book sets 2 & 3

I look at books the same way I watch films. Both mediums have evolved through time and have been shaped by the environment in which they are produced. However, while the change in books and films is perpetual, they should not be compared to the past. In his essay Michael Russem states “…a book is in constant transition as changing technology and methods of production affect the tools we use everyday. Consider the evolution from the stone tablet to the scroll, or the codex to the Kindle. They all have the same basic purpose, but they fulfill that purpose in different ways…” Books are works of art, they serve one purpose, and that is to convey the writer’s ideas to the reader. Now when I say this I don’t mean that I agree with Michael Russem’s opinion that text is the fundamental element of the book, nonetheless I do feel that no matter how the text, illustrations and layout is used, a book is effective if all the elements work together to produce something beautiful. Therefore, for their time, a selection of effective books has been made in the past and continues to be made in the future no matter how transformed they look.


William Morris’s The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer is a beautiful spectacle that follows his belief of the “ideal book” perfectly: large sheets of high quality handmade paper, historic yet dark typefaces and ornamentations flood the pages, the margins are thick on the bottom and thin along the sides- Morris was fond of creating visual density. When one turns the pages of the book you can hear the crisp rustle of the pages, the type and woodcut engravings fit together like a puzzle. There is no doubt that it took careful time and effort to produce such a vision. This book makes me believe that handmade books have certain magic to them. But that isn’t to say that commercial, industrially produced books cannot hold a magic of their own. Its simply a different kind of magic.


Was here by Emily McVarish, published in 2001 breaks away from Morris’s traditional layout but has similar characteristics. The text doesn’t follow the grid layout. Photographs are dispersed all over the pages, and some of the text overlays the photographs. Like Morris’s illuminated initial, some of McVarish’s text has larger letters. The book just like The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer is a work of art. From the moment the book is opened, you are introduced to text floating around the page. However the words are stylishly placed in such a way that the eye moves in a diagonal “up to down” direction. The text is a mix of different type, different colors and different sizes however as isolated as they look, they all read as one story and have a certain flow to them. The diagonal “up to down” motion of the eyes works as successfully as reading a book from left to right! This book is of a similar size to the Geoffrey Chaucer, therefore the photographs used in it have a similar effect on the reader as Morris’s woodcuts did in his book.  Just as the pieces of text and wood engravings work together like a puzzle in William Morris’s book, the floating text and dispersed photographs in Emily McVarish’s book do the same.


To conclude, while both The Works of Geofferey Chaucer and Was Here are produced in different time periods, both are strong works of art. Book making is an art form and will continue to evolve but will also continue to use small details used in the past.

photo 2 The Works of Geoffrey Chaucerphoto 1 (1) Was Here

Blog Post 1: On the fabric of the human body

From all the books we looked at in Book Set One, De Humani coporis fabrica librorum epitome by Andreas Vesalius stood out to me the most. Christophe Plantin published the book in 1565 during the Renaissance and it is known to be one of the most influential books on human anatomy. The reason why I was drawn to it more than some of the other books was because of its cover (figure 1). I was drawn to its aged texture and faded color. If you look closely at the cover of the book you can see beautiful designs that once decorated the front and back of the book. These designs are done on pigskin, which is the material that the cover of the book is made of.  When you open the book to its front page you can see the signature progression of owners that once used the book for reference and information.

The book is based on Vesalius’s lectures in which he dissected corpses to illustrate the information he was discussing with his students. It presents detailed examinations of the different parts that make up the human body (figures 2 & 3). Vesalius was able to produce these stunning illustrations by engraving copper. The details of the illustrations make them act like beautiful drawings but also serve the purpose of informing people about the human body.

De Humani Coporis fabrica librorum epitome is laid out in a way that makes it seem like a scientific diary. The illustrations work with the text (which is a mixture of Roman Capitals and miniscule type form) using a labeling system. Each part of the diagram is labeled with numbers or letters that are then explained in a detailed description on the page next to it. Both the text and images work together to help the reader match and understand what part of the human corpse he/she is observing. Figure 4 is a perfect example of this “labeling system” and also of what the other pages in the book look like.

.  figure 1 (figure 1)

figure 2 figure 3  (figures 2 &3)figure 4 (figure 4)