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Interviews: Jock Sturges on His Ideal Book

Mit Jock Sturges Familär
We are please to report that we recently received the newest book by Jock Sturges - Mit Jock Sturges Familär from Galerie Vevais. Over the course of his 30+ year career Jock Sturges has published roughly 15 books. Jock Sturges is known for his portraits of families from naturist communities in Europe and the US. Sturges often photographs individuals over a period of time, in some cases as long as 30 years. Working with a large format 8x10" camera, he creates luminous black-and-white and color portraits with an interest in capturing the ever-changing body. I have asked Jock Sturges to tell us a little bit more about his new monograph. In this conversation he has offered expert advice on the book publishing process.

Enjoy!

Anne Kelly:     You have just published your most ambitious book yet, and it all began when Alexander Scholz of Galerie Vevais proposed the question: “What for you would be a perfect book?” After hearing your ambitious response he replied, “Yes, we can do that. We will do it exactly as you like.” How did that feel?

Jock Sturges:     I was if course very happy to be advancing such an ambitious project. But, mindful of what it was going to cost, I was nervous for Alex. What I had outlined would necessarily be a large and expensive project and I didn’t want to bankrupt him! Interestingly my original idea for the project was for it to consist of just ten images to keep it light and financially manageable. But Alex (the publisher - Alexander Scholz of Galerie Vevais) kept adding images that he liked. The number went to 20 then 40 then 50 and finally to 70. When the first dummy arrived it was almost too heavy to lift and its own weight was twisting it out of shape. Alex had to completely re-invent the wheel to make it strong enough to be impervious to these forces. And he did!
image from Mit Jock Sturges Familär
AK:     You have published quite a few books over the years – so you are quite familiar with the process. Can you talk about the process of working on this new book vs. previous publications?

Jock Sturges:     All my previous monographs are books of a more conventional size and form. They are intended for a large audience and have been printed in fairly extensive editions. The Last Day of Summer, my first book, has had the good fortune to become one of Aperture’s all time best sellers. It’s now in something like its 14th edition. Prior to this Galerie Vevais project I have done nine other major monographs for the mass market so I was very much ready to do something more limited and refined. Another issue that was in play with that ambition derives from the fact that I am a dedicated populist. I know that my print prices are out of reach for some people so I wanted to do a book where it would be possible to own a volume of my work in what is essentially exhibition format for the price of less than one print. So that is where we started: a big, finely made, accessible book. That was seven years ago. The editing was painstaking. We wanted a preponderance of unpublished work and it took time to choose and work up. Because the passage of time is such an important engine we decided to base the book on 18 different models and to sequence a very early image of each of them with a much more recent image. The span in some cases was almost 30 years. Some of my best models have as many as four or five images, others only two. One particular triumph was finding a wonderful early image of Misty Dawn that had never been published.

Jock Stuges with Mit Jock Sturges Familär book and limited edition framed print
AK:     Can you tell us a little more about the special limited edition versions of your new book?

JS:     In addition to the regular edition (if you can call it that) a Limited Edition and a “Extremely Special Deluxe Limited Edition” are available.

There are four different limited editions. Three exist in 30 examples with each edition of 30 including a different print made by us here in Seattle. The fourth special edition is set into an extraordinary wooden case and contains a large print of Eva in a window in La Jenny, France. The print is built right into the case (it can be taken out) and the wood tones of the case match the wood tones of the window, which creates a wonderful sense of verisimilitude and depth. This edition only exists in 11 examples and once again the prints were made by us.

AK:     Any advice for photographers who are seeking a book project?

JS:     Make perfect prints of the body of work you wish to see become a book and make a careful, clean dummy in a format that resembles as closely as possible whatever form you would most admire to see your book in. If a book by another artist exists that you think mirrors the form that you would like your own to take be sure to have a copy of it to show people. Research the kind of work being done by as many of the different publishing houses as possible – including university presses. Look for a house whose taste and tendency might include your work. Find out whom else they publish. If at all possible figure out where the artists in question live and then try and get to meet them somehow. Get their advice if possible. An introduction to a publishing house from one of their existing artists is vastly more likely to be effective for you than “cold calling.” The same is true as regards gallery representation.

All that being said, it has been my experience that most people become hungry for recognition about three or four years ahead of when they are truly ready for it. So don’t be discouraged. Keep at it. Sally Mann’s first book was with a university press. I believe this is also true for Keith Carter.

Lastly your book must have an organizing principal that is about content – not form. Form follows content and is subordinate. If your work advances the perception of your subject matter by revealing aspects of it we have previously not known or seen, your chances are better. But beware of novelty pursued for its own sake. It’s an old trick and not respected.
images from Mit Jock Sturges Familär
AK:     Anything else you would like to add?

JS:     Mit Jock Sturges Familiär is pretty dramatically underpriced. The hand-made Japanese binding alone costs three times what it cost to print each book. It is expensive, yes. But its price is going to have to rise soon and by a good bit.

Mit Jock Sturges Familär
I am also in the process of editing a number of books for Galerie Vevais, which the publisher calls WERKDRUCK. This translates to something on the order of “masterworks.” I am very excited about the artists I am editing including Jacqueline Roberts, Katia Chausheva, Elena Kalis, Anna Hurtig, Leslie Niemoller, Youichi Shidomoto, Liz Arenberg, Faabrice Mabillot and René Jacobs. These books will be limited to 20 images each of each artist’s very strongest work. The printing will be in large format and exceptionally beautifully made. The first of these titles should be done in time for the Frankfurt book fair in October 2012.


photo-eye Gallery has a large inventory of work by Jock Sturges. Please contact the gallery (anne@photoeye.com or 505-988-5159 x121) for further information on Jock Sturges.

Mit Jock Sturges Familiär can be purcase by calling photo-eye (800-227-6941) or order online here
Please note that a limited number of copies of Mit Jock Sturges Familiär are available at the prices currently listed.

See more of Jock Sturges' books here
See Jock Sturges' work at photo-eye Gallery here

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