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Artist Books: hide and LOOK At Me

Artist Books hide and LOOK At Me Melanie McWhorter talks to David Lykes Keenan and Jason Vaughn about their artist books LOOK At Me and hide.

LOOK At Me by David Lykes Keenan

photo-eye carries many unique objects and some limited editions produced in very small numbers. These objects are often incredibly affordable ways to collect prints along side some amazing books or as original objects in their own right. Two such limited editions are Jason Vaughn’s hide and David Lykes Keenan’s LOOK At Me. For the second in our limited edition series — following a post on Smith Eliot's one-of-a-kind artist books and Denis Roussel’s multi-volume, handmade book — we focus on two artists who explore typological subjects. Vaughn’s book and limited edition hide feature numerous images of deer stands in Wisconsin and Lykes Keenan’s loose plate, boxed portfolio featuring portraits of young men. In these brief interviews, we talk to each artist about the work and the production of the limited editions.

from LOOK At Me by David Lykes Keenan
David Lykes Keenan

Melanie McWhorter:     Your typological project is close-up “headshot” portraits of young men photographed off-center with the environment knocked out of focus in the background. Why did you choose to shoot each portrait so closely cropped, yet allow so much space for the surrounding environment? What are you trying to communicate about them and their surroundings?

David Lykes Keenan:     There was a practical reason for this to begin with. I stopped taking portrait-oriented photographs a long time ago. This was for the simple (and practical) reason that most photography these days is viewed on computer monitors and landscape-oriented photographs make much better use of screen real estate than do those that are portrait-oriented. I wanted my photographs to be seen in the best possible way and I decided to abandon the portrait-orientation for that reason. After a few months of this in the field, I all but completely forgot to consider holding my camera vertically for anything.

So, when I embarked on LOOK At Me, I had to figure out a way to do portraiture in a non-traditional way. I am a big fan of wide apertures and shallow depth-of-field so I tried that with this series. I found that I really liked the contrast between the face and the out-of-focus area so I continued in this way. I feel it has been an effective approach as each face really stands out.

I give each guy the same instructions. The most interesting (and the least obvious) is that I ask each to think about something that has an emotional charge for them in the moment, to bring the associated feelings up, and to "beam" these out of their eyes as I click the shutter release.

Therefore, it is more about what each guy is trying to communicate rather than any message from me. As for the empty space in each — someone in a portfolio review suggested the obvious (that is to me now, not that I was consciously aware of at the beginning). This space is for me. Space for me to join with each of these young men as I have always wished I could.

LOOK At Me by David Lykes Keenan

MM:     Each of your limited editions include 33 different portraits contained in the small wooden box. Are you creating more than one of each edition? Why did you choose to create this specific limited edition and how did you group the 33 images in each?

DLK:     Presently, I have over 125 separate portraits, out of probably more than 1500 people I have asked to photograph. I have presented these portraits both life-sized and framed and in this more intimate smaller size. I have found that the series has a much bigger impact when seen en-mass rather than individually. Therefore, I have been more concentrated on presenting the series where, like playing cards, the portraits can be mixed and matched, scattered on a table, arranged, and enjoyed in a more intimate way,

In deciding to create the Treasure Boxes, I wanted to choose the best of the series, and after a close edit 125 became 100. I imagined how to best package and present the series. The choice of 33 prints in three different boxes fit both the number of available prints (100-1) and the capacity of each box.

Honestly, there was no particular rationale to which 33 went into each box other then to have a balanced sampling of the series in each.

There will be a limit of nine of each box or a possible total limited to 27 (9x3) boxes.

from LOOK At Me by David Lykes Keenan

MM:     Why did you choose colors for titles of each box? Is there significance in the little wooden box and the size of the images?

DLK:     Color was chosen to differentiate between the boxes because I did not want there to be any implied hierarchy to the boxes — that is, #1 isn't any better than #2 or #3. Also, I think the addition of a color is an attractive way to package each box.

The practical reason for the specific size is that the prints had to fit in the boxes! There is no specific reason why a given portrait is in a given 33-piece set. I wanted each set to be as strong a sample of the entire series a possible.

The idea of the hand-finished wooden boxes seemed to me a beautiful and unique way to present what I think is a beautiful and unique portrait series.

View LOOK At Me

hide by Jason Vaughn
Jason Vaughn

MM:     There is a good description of what the images in hide mean to you and what prompted this book, but will you provide a little information about the project and how it evolved into a book? What decisions did you make about the book and what it says about the project?

Jason Vaughn:     Most everything I learned about photography was through the books I collected, especially since I had no formal training. So when I conceptualize a project, I generally imagine a book being the final outcome. When I was thinking about hide, and about turning it into a book for release, I looked to several of the books in my collection for guidance about sequencing, length, introductory essays, packaging, et cetera. In the end, I felt that I wanted to pick a publisher whose style and background was minimal in terms of book design and image layout. I was fortunate because some of the images went out into the world before the project was finalized, and the traction from those initial images caused publishers to approach me. Dennis from Trema Forlag understood my desire to keep the presentation simple, which I feel aligns with the simplicity and mood of the images themselves. Also, because of the press response from the first released images, I had been working on the sequencing for many months before we started officially sequencing images for the book, so the process was very seamless. Overall, the publisher and I are happy with the final outcome and I am especially pleased that the book was so straightforward, like many of the older books that inspire me.

Limited Edition Print from hide by Jason Vaughn
MM:     The limited edition contains materials relating to the deer stands. What are the materials and are they reclaimed from former stands?

JV:     The materials are not from former stands, but I spoke to many of the hunters and asked them how they built their stands and where they got their materials. A majority of the stands were built from leftover wood or found wood, so Paul Schiek of TBW Books sought out reclaimed plywood similar to what would be used for a deer stand. He cut the wood in a way that made each cover one-of-a-kind. We wanted to keep the appearance of the Special Edition in the vein of the deer stands, but also create a quality product. So while the cover is reclaimed plywood, the book itself is housed in a hand-crafted maple box. Paul really took the reins on the specifics of the Special Edition packaging, and I was extremely pleased with what he was able to create.

MM:     Briefly describe how you developed a relationship with TBW books for this limited edition. What role did each of you play in the production?

JV:     Paul and I were in touch previously, with me being a customer and supporter of TBW Books. We connected over our mutual ties to Wisconsin. I had emailed him about one of his releases and he mentioned that he had seen and enjoyed my deer stand photographs. We decided that the next time he was visiting family in Wisconsin, we should get together. The book was already finished, and I was working with a local woodworker on a prototype for the special edition. A few months later, Paul emailed me that he would be in my area. TBW has always been one of my favorite publishers, and I thought I would get Paul's opinion while he was visiting. Once he saw the direction I was trying to go in, he brought up the idea of a collaboration. He took my early ideas and prototype and really made them his own, refining them and adding a level of quality and artfulness that he puts into all of his TBW publications. Paul also had the idea of having two prints accompany the special edition instead of just one. So we included two seasonal shots: one winter and one summer. I couldn't have been happier with the final outcome. We were naturally on the same page, which made working together seem effortless.

Limited Edition Print from hide by Jason Vaughn

MM:     Do you have another project/book in the works? If so, would you share some information on the project?

JV:     Yes, I have a few projects in the works. Right now I'm most actively working on a project tentatively titled "Driftless," which is inspired by my recent move to La Crosse, Wisconsin. It's a small city on the western edge of the state, right on the Mississippi River. For my wife's job, we are going to be living here for just one year before moving away again. The whole experience, and living on the river, made me start thinking about the process by which people can drift through a space, sometimes becoming lodged, sometimes becoming permanent, and sometimes breaking free and moving to a new location. I've been taking photographs of the river, and learning about the glacier "drift" that gives the region its nickname, which is "The Driftless Area." Some of these images are going to be included in a zine put out through the Deadbeat Club Press and will hopefully be available in time for the LA Art Book Fair. I'm also working on another project featuring hunters moving through the Wisconsin landscape, and another inspired by H.H. Bennett, who photographed the Wisconsin Dells in the late 1800s.

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