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Interview: Anouk Kruithof on Artist Books and AUTOMAGIC

Interview Anouk Kruithof on Artist Books and AUTOMAGIC Eric Miles of photo-eye Auctions speaks to Anouk Kruithof about her practice of making artist book practice and her Kickstarter campaign for her forthcoming self-published book AUTOMAGIC.

Anouk Kruithof has one of the most distinctive voices in the photobook world, creating thoughtful books that dynamically engage the medium of photography and bookmaking — all while not being a "straight photographer," as she puts it. Kruithof's publications have been a staple of photo-eye's annual Best Books lists for nearly five years, receiving admiration from a wide range of photobook lovers, including Daniel Boetker SmithRuth van BeekChristopher McCallAlec Soth and Martin Parr. Recent titles include The BungalowUntitled: (I’ve taken too many photos / I’ve never taken a photo) (both selected as Best Books of 2014), Pixel Stress (selected as a Best Book of 2013), and the now out of print A Head With Wings and Happy Birthday To You (both selected as Best Books of 2011).  In his 2014 Best Book pick of Untitled, Colin Pantall described Kruithof and her book like this: "Anouk Kruithof is super smart and this is her super smartest book. She deals with hugely complex subjects (how we see, curate, and exhibit photographs) in a light and accessible form, making you work to see the pictures. Imaginative, intelligent and funny, it’s more about the process of how we select and view of images than a photobook."

from Untitled: (I’ve taken too many photos / I’ve never taken a photo) by Anouk Kruithof

While she's self-published in the past, her newest book, AUTOMAGIC, is set to be her most elaborate self-published book to date including 20 or so chapters and featuring a wide range of projects spanning many years of her artistic practice. To get the financial backing to make this book possible, Kruithof decided to try crowd funding, launching her first Kickstarter campaign.

In the round of promotion for her Kickstarter, Eric Miles of photo-eye Auctions got a chance to speak with Kruithof about AUTOMAGIC, and we couldn't miss the opportunity to also get into her thoughts on creating spectacular artist books.

Kruithof in the video for her
AUTOMAGIC Kickstarter campaign
Eric Miles:     This is Eric Miles for photo-eye and I'm sitting here with Anouk Kruithof in her studio in Chrystie Street. Thanks for joining us, Anouk to talk about your books and your brand new Kickstarter project for your upcoming book AUTOMAGIC. What I want to talk about is the various ways in which the book has become central to your work as an artist?

Anouk Kruithof:     Yes. It has been a medium I’ve used from when I was still studying at the Art Academy from 1999 to 2003. I remember we learned in school to present projects in the form of a book. To me, the nature of photography and text very much matches with the form of a book. I guess I just continued from maybe 14-15 years ago until now and I'm on the way to my 10th book. Often, I would say photography works naturally with the pages, the spreads, the order — not so much a book as a container for a photo series but more a book where a whole photographic project gets its existence and stays there and is a work in itself. That's mainly what I’ve tried to do, what I find fascinating about the medium of artistbooks.

EM:     How do you think the experience of photography is fundamentally different in a book versus the way we experience it on the wall of a gallery or a museum?

AK:     Yeah. In the first place, of course, a photo in itself isn't anything until the moment you decide what you're going to do with it. You start to make a print, which already has infinite possibilities only when you think of for example: size. When deciding its size and when deciding what kind of print or what kind of frame, you make a decision of how an image comes across. You have to deal with subject matter, the space of presentation like a book or a wall or an elevator, spectators. To me those things are all important to think about.

To me, it's not like you can make a series of 10 pictures and then boom! You have a series of ten US letter-sized photo prints on the wall — I think you maybe don't respect the possibilities inherent to photography as a medium if you do that. An image on mega wallpaper in a museum room by itself is something very different than, I don't know, stamps of that same image which you're going to rotate through the world. It's a medium you can do so much with it. Therefore, you need to think what you do with it. What ways or presentation fit your photographic subject matter and ideas etc. It's so important after you’ve made the photos themselves.

from The Bungalow by Anouk Kruithof

EM:     Yeah. Prints on the wall are only one way of using the photographic image, right? And a very narrow way at that. So much of the history of photography is based on that one use of the image as a print on the wall. Can you talk about the way that you use source material? In your last book, The Bungalow, you immersed yourself in collection of vernacular photography.

AK:     Yes. That was pretty exceptional in the sense that I'm not a straight photographer at all, but I also don't normally use found images from the Internet or another source of the vernacular kind. I came across Brad Feuerhelm — the collector of this vernacular photography collection I've worked with — I found a talk by him so fascinating that I started to talk with him. This was in France and the conversations lead to a visit to see his snapshots in London. I just placed myself within all these thousands of pictures for a whole day. I think maybe his mind in collecting corresponds with my curiosity towards these found images. Of course, we have some parallels, the two of us; I guess our fascinations is what brought us together to make this book. In the end in the process of developing an artist book, I'm very honored that I could work with this very rich collection. He's been busy with it since he was 17. It's already a whole big work by itself, finding those thousands of physical prints, but then the next step is what to do with it. I'm an artist and I have ideas of how to make an artist book or do the translating of these old photos to now — they are basically from the beginning of the 20th Century to up until, I guess, somewhere 90s or something like that, a very wide range. To me, this is just an artist book. We didn't do any exhibitions with The Bungalow. There are new photos made by me that contain some old photos but a lot of it is reproduced or reworked and there aren't any straight photos like the original snapshots in this book. That was also a condition for him; he would love for me to use it as material. Otherwise he could edit his own collection and make more of, maybe, a classical version of vernacular-photography-in-book-form book. He wanted to work with me because I don't do that.

from The Bungalow by Anouk Kruithof

EM:     I know that you're very excited to talk about the project at which you are currently at work, AUTOMAGIC, which you're funding on Kickstarter. Can you talk about the experience of working on AUTOMAGIC, which like much of your past work, is based on your own archive of imagery collected over many years, as opposed to working on The Bungalow, which was a different sort of archive?

AK:     Yeah, I see that too. I always have groups of photos and text that I start to work with. In the case of Happy Birthday To You, I collaborated with an assistant who took most of the photos, so we had— not an archive, but we had a group of photos that we started to work from. In the case of Untitled (I’ve taken too many photos / I’ve never taken a photo), A Head With Wings and then now AUTOMAGIC, the source is my own AUTOMAGIC archive. It's something else because it's huge. It's an archive I started to separate and order about 13 years ago up until now.

from the AUTOMAGIC Kickstarter campaign video
EM:     Can you give us an idea of just how big— for those of us who don't walk around with the camera as an extension of our head— can you give us an idea just how much imagery we're talking about?

AK:     I think we’re talking about thousands of pictures — I mean, 2,000-3,000 maybe, because of course I edit it. I always see it like this: when the phones came or when I worked with a small digital camera, it was something I would continuously do but I would never put actual value to. All my other projects are more concept-based and I would deliberately work with a Hasselblad or deliberately choose a device for a project, but this archive continuously grew on the side. It also got edited on the way and put in the folder of the AUTOMAGIC archive. It deliberately grew there and organized but I think you can see about 3,000-4,000 pictures to start with. The process of making it was very similar to The Bungalow, the reworking, the editing, the finding groups, and there's my writings. It’s very similar also to A Head With Wings, although that's out of the same archive, focused on one man I once photographed and filmed. I made 3D maquettes and rephotographed them but the variety of how things are reworked is bigger in The Bungalow and will be even bigger in AUTOMAGIC. It's related to the topics of a series or groups of images and what I do with them. I have all these ideas, I can tell a few. For example, I see this book as a holistic idea. There are many, many chapters, maybe 20 or something, but one is these portraits of people taken all over the world, everywhere I travel, basically. I took the portraits and in Syracuse during my residency at Light Work, would print them randomly on the laser printer, turn the pages and would print other portraits of people from other countries on the back. I would hold the new laser prints in front of a window and by chance this person in Thailand and that person in Belize and that one in New York would be morphed together. They would become one, or some sort of new people as how I see them. All the chapters have ideas behind them, but this is very much how I relate to the world we are in right now. If you think about your digital existence and the physical one, how that blends, everybody has those two, like, schizophrenic existences, you're the online one and you are the offline one.

from the forthcoming AUTOMAGIC by Anouk Kruithof 

Every way of reworking, I have an idea of why I do it and create new photos. There are also straight photos in AUTOMAGIC, for sure. There are also certain chapters which are reworked bit, certain thoughts I also want to express in the work and sometimes you can really understand why it is done like that. I like to think about everything I feel although the process can be very fluid and I love to give chance a chance, in a way, because more interesting things come out of it than my own brain, eyes, hands or the computer.

EM:     The ways that you use your source material, you're telling a story in a way that has to do with classifications and taxonomies and different kinds of photos, but also our experience of taking them and how we record visual phenomena.

AK:     Yeah. That's the totally other thought that is behind AUTOMAGIC. I think the whole idea is how our memory works and how it also gets affected and changes our perception over time by the use of our little digital devices, our phones, like continuously framing and living through this window with beaming pixels all day long. I don't even know how it is anymore without continuously framing the world in my mind. My eyes already work like that. It's a bit of cliché to say. Everybody takes pictures and it's also very easy to take pictures, I think. Therefore, it's more interesting what you do with them.

EM:     Can you tell us a little bit about your Kickstarter campaign?

AK:     This is the first time I’ve ever done this. This book AUTOMAGIC I started, I think, four years ago. I did a lot of other work during that time as well, of course, sometimes it laid still because with making a book there is no deadline, it's not the same as making a solo show. I was waiting and waiting and I started, my publishing platform where I post what I write about books of others and as well show and sell my own books. I’ve done books with other publishers, books I self-publish as well, but I want to develop it into a platform where I can collaborate with other artists and writers. I have many ideas. You need to have financial backing for that because it's very tiring to always find the money before you can execute something. Plus, AUTOMAGIC will be a very thick book, so it's expensive and it's also a high quality product and printed on different paper and I want to work with the best printers and binders and the paper sides of the book are going to be painted yellow plus the cover and the back of the book as well, so it appears as a blank yellow object, an energetic paving stone.

from the AUTOMAGIC Kickstarter campaign video
My Kickstarter is just to raise the money to pay my graphic designer, the printer, the binder, translators for the text and editors and maybe other people who are involved. I tried to find 25,000 Euro, which is not enough to actually make it but I will add to it myself and later you're going to sell books — you get it back, I guess, of course! That's not really a problem, but, yeah, it cost that much. The Kickstarter is a new idea, also. I find it interesting that all these different people get together to basically make that happen, and that's something so different than when, for example, you ask sponsors normally privately, which is what I have been doing for long time, or won a prize to make a book or you get book budgets related to a residency — but you always need to find sources. You cannot make artist books the way I do them without any external support. It's so not lucrative, so you need to find financial backup to do it and I don't even pay any hours for myself.

EM:     Would you say that AUTOMAGIC is your most ambitious project yet?

AK:     Yes, well book-wise for sure, but not if you include all my work, as a big part of my practice is not in book form. Yeah. Because it has work from all these years, which is also— I'm a bit afraid. There are things that are old and then all of the sudden you bring a new object into the world. It's strange to me because my work is so much more project-based, which relates often to the time and space in which its created. But this is very different, an archive. It's very, very different, I would say. It total it’ll be around 500-1000 pages maybe. Well, it's still a long way to go.


from Untitled by Anouk Kruithof
Pledge rewards for Kruithof's Kickstarter include prints, a variety of her previous publications and, of course, the forthcoming AUTOMAGIC. Find the Kickstarter page here.

Find books by Anouk Kruithof at photo-eye Bookstore

Read Colin Pantall's review of Untitled: (I’ve taken too many photos / I’ve never taken a photo)

Read More Interviews