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Interview: Kris Graves of KGP on Collaborating with Reuben Wu

photo-eye Gallery Interview: Kris Graves of KGP on Collaborating with Reuben Wu By Alexandra JoKris Graves' carefully curated selection of contemporary photo book projects casts a wide a net in message and concept, and each book project is a collaboration between Graves and an artist he’s excited about. His publishing business, Kris Graves Projects, is producing the forthcoming Aeroglyphs & Other Nocturnes catalogue of Reuben Wu’s photography.

As a well-known photographer in his own right, Kris Graves knows his way around the world of contemporary images. His photography explores complex themes ranging from the social effects of environments, the contemporary black experience in America (The Testament Project), to meditations in vast Icelandic landscapes. Across each body of work, Graves has a crisp, saturated color palette, a keen eye for capturing an aura of uniqueness, and his work can often lead to a sense of collaboration with his subjects. Similarly, as a publisher, his carefully curated selection of contemporary photobook projects casts just as wide a net in message and concept, while remaining visually cohesive and unified. Each book project is a collaboration between Graves and an artist he’s excited about.

Graves transitioned from the gallery scene into publishing with the idea that photobooks were a more affordable and accessible way for a broader audience to collect important art. His publishing business, Kris Graves Projects, is producing the forthcoming Aeroglyphs & Other Nocturnes catalogue of Reuben Wu’s photography, which accompanies the exhibition of the same title currently on view at photo-eye Gallery. This week, I had the pleasure of speaking with Graves over the phone about what he sees in Wu’s unique approach to the landscape, his own photographic work, and the two photobook projects they’ve collaborated on.

Reyben Wu, XT1586, Archival Pigment Print, 15x20" Image, Edition of 10, $950

Alexandra Jo:     When did you start Kris Graves Projects, and how has the publishing project evolved since then?

Kris Graves:     We started as a gallery in 2009. My cousin and I did some group shows in Chelsea before by another name. We ran the gallery for 3 years and I decided that publishing was a better route for people to be able to afford and collect art, so we changed direction. I started with making a few books for myself, to see if we could build a market for it, so then I decided to make books with 3 other artists in 2014. That was the first time we’d published books that weren’t my work, and they came out in 2015. So, that’s 5 years of publishing and 10 years as a business. We work with a random amount of artists from year to year. We started with 3, and this year we did 27 books. Next year we’ll only publish half that amount so it’s more about what I see that I like and I’d like to make a book for, that’s how we decide.

Wig Heavier Than A Boot
Photography by David Johnson. Poetry by Philip Matthews
Kris Graves Projects, New York, USA, 2019.
In English. 96 pp., 39 plates, 8x10".
Preorder: $30
AJ:     Your website states that the KGP “collaborates with artists to created limited-edition publications and archival prints…focusing on contemporary photography and works on paper that tell stories empowering the long-forgotten and underrepresented… dealing with issues of race, policy, social awareness, feminism, culture, and wealth.” Can you speak a little more about the project’s mission and the kind of artwork that you look for?

KG:     Well, I actually can't, because realistically, if I like the work I’m going to want to make it into a book, that’s how I think about it. Besides those things listed on the website (issues of race, policy, social awareness, feminism, etc.) that’s what I’m usually interested in. We try not to make just documentary or conceptual books, we try to fall somewhere in between. If I like the work, if I feel like it’s work that’s inspiring and should be seen and accessible to a wide audience, then I’ll want to make it into a book. Those ideas listed on the site are definitely what are usually interesting in a project, but it’s always about the artwork itself and how it looks.

AJ:     Can you tell me a bit more about your own photography practice?

KG:     As an artist, I’m interested in the same things listed above. I usually make landscape work that deals with the built environment, like how racism and all of our social problems are affected by our built-in environment. My next project will deal with these issues. And I make portraits of people that try to empower the subjects. The last project I did (the Testament Project) was using LED color-changing light bulbs where everyone chose their own color combinations for their photographs, and there is also video content and some text to go along with that project as well.

AJ:     I really like that series. Especially knowing that the subjects chose their own colors for the lighting. That makes it really personal in a way and knowing that as a viewer I think makes the work even more legible as a portrait. It really feels like a collaboration with the subject, which speaks to the empowerment that you mentioned.

KG:     Absolutely.

AJ:     When moving from people to landscape, in someway do you consider landscape to also be a type of collaboration, but with a sense of nature instead of an individual? I do see similarities in the project from Iceland and the Testament Project, not in subject matter, but in a feeling or texture of how you capture the subjects. Is that something you’re considering?

KG:     I don’t think I think about it really, it’s just the way I make art. If I see something I like I just try to photograph it. I’d say that landscape is harder than photographing in a studio because out in the landscape it’s just about getting lucky in those moments and it takes longer. I probably know a lot of landscape photographers photographing in the field that make thousands of photographs a year, and they have maybe five that they show people, which is kind of where I’m at.

AJ:     How did you first get introduced to Reuben Wu’s work?

KG:     I met Reuben at Photolucida 2 years ago (2017) in Portland. I think I reviewed his work. I liked it then, but I followed him for about a year, and then the work really started getting stronger, and I thought it would make a great project for a book. So we collaborated and came out with a pretty great book I think. It sold out before we even had it on the table, which is cool. We do limited edition stuff, so there were only 500 copies available and they sold out pretty fast. He’s pretty popular. You know even now, with this new book; there are 500 copies being printed, and there are only 20 or so left to sell. And it’s still on pre-order…no one has ever even seen it.

AJ:     Can you talk more about Lux Noctis, your first book project with Wu?

Lux Noctis, Photographs by Reuben Wu. Text by Geoff Manaugh.
Kris Graves Projects, New York, 2018. 
KG:     Wu makes great photographs, and at first, he was making photographs at night using the drones out of frame just to light the scene. Once he started to show the light of the drone itself like an aura or halo or something passing in the sky, I fell in love with the project. It was a perfect mix of both types of scenes. I thought it was really new and his work was already kind of ingenious because not many photographers work like that (maybe a few, but he just really took it to another level).

Working on [Lux Noctis] with Reuben was actually pretty easy. We don’t live in the same city so we did everything via the internet. We sequenced everything together and decided the size of the book based on the number of pre-orders we had. We knew we would make the book, so we just tried to figure out how not to lose money doing it. So yeah, that’s what we did. We realistically started working together on a book in about April of 2018 and by June we had all of our funding. Actually, in about two weeks we had enough to make the book, so it happened really fast with this one. Reuben has supporters all around the world, so we did a lot of international shipping which wasn't easy for a big hardcover book.

AJ:     Your most recent collaboration with Wu is the exhibition catalogue for Aeroglyphs & Other Nocturnes. What is your favorite part of this selection of Wu’s work? What was it about this next phase of work that made you want to collaborate again?

KG:     I think it was another progression for him. It’s been a year since Lux Noctis, and with the show at photo-eye, I thought it would be a great opportunity to make a catalogue, including all the new works. I think he and I both consider it a progression from what he was doing before. I imagine from here, in whatever he does next, it might change a little. I don’t know exactly what comes next for him but I thought this was a good place for him to stop and think about what comes next.

And this is a small catalogue. It’s not really a huge monograph, you know, it’s a show catalogue. And I knew, based off the last book, that we’d be able to fund this project, since we already have a base of people that support him no matter what, so this really was a “why not?” moment. If he’s having a big show, then there should be a book for it. If we can do a book then “why not”?

AJ:     As a photographer yourself, can you expand on what made you excited about working with Wu on these book projects?

KG:     What drew me to the work originally was that it’s something that I’ve not really seen before. Maybe this technique has been used in commercial or editorial work in the past, but I hadn’t seen anyone in the art field take those photographs and try to make the landscape abstract. You know, it’s not like we’re looking at Stonehenge with lights on top, we’re looking at random pieces of the West. I come from the East Coast, and I can imagine that no one I know has really seen the places he’s photographing. Maybe one or two, but most of this stuff feels like an alien landscape to a lot of people. It’s like me photographing Iceland… it’s a landscape that not many get to see. So it’s great to be able to share that.

Reuben Wu, LN 0309, Archival Pigment Print, 15 x 20 inches, Edition of 10, $950

 AJ:     Your projects do feel very cohesive and curated. How do you think Wu fits into the over-all design/aesthetic and mission of KGP?

KG:     I like these photographers, and I want to work with them. I know they will make great book projects. We work with people that we love and support, and what we think other people should see. It's really about getting good photographer's names out there in an accessible way. The photography world is really difficult, most people never get an opportunity to do anything, even if they are a great artist. It's really hard and there is a lot of competition, so if I think something is really good I'm going to try to make it into something and get it out there.

Reuben Wu, AE 1514, Archival Pigment Print, 15 x 20 inches, Edition of 10, $950

AJ:     What do you hope that viewers take away from your collaborations with Wu? From Aeroglyphs & Other Nocturnes specifically?

KG:     There’s no message in particular but we do hope that they come away with something. I mean that’s the goal of art. To show people something that inspires them. It’s not a specific goal, but in general, that’s why we make work.

We hope we are showing people something to inspire them, and as artists, that's why we make the work. I just hope that people are inspired by the work and that they approach it with an open mind. I hope they think about what it's like to be on the top of a mountain in zero-degree weather trying to make a photograph with a lot of technology that doesn't really work well in those conditions. The process it takes to create a beautiful image. When you think about it, it's pretty awe-inspiring.

AJ:     Where would you like to see Wu’s work go from here?

KG:     Reuben’s work should be collected by major museums and I think that will happen. It can take years sometimes for people to know that a good artist exists, but I’d hope that’s in his future. He’s already been collected by a few majors, and that’s great, so I hope it continues. I just want his work to be out there for people to see. I think he’s deserving of praise and recognition.

AJ:     How would you like to see these collaborations grow and expand in the future?

KG:     If he keeps making work that’s inspiring, then I’d love to keep making books with him if he wants to continue the collaboration. I leave it up to the artists. They are the ones making the work, and they know what they want their project to look like when it’s printed, so if he thinks I can make something he likes I’d be more than happy to work with him again.

The Aeroglyphs & Other Nocturnes exhibition catalogue is available for pre-order (shipping late October).

Kris Graves Projects, Queens, New York, United States, 2019. In English. 30 pp., 16 color plates, 8½x9" 

All prices listed were current at the time this post was published.

For more information, and to purchase artworks, please contact photo-eye Gallery Staff at:
(505) 988-5152 x 202 or