August 19, 2015 § Leave a comment
Moving from the classics to prize-winning contemporary poets: Morri Creech & Steven Brown.
We first published Morri Creech in The Journal of Contemporary Photography. John Wood then invited him to create a collection of poems for two books to be published with the work of Robert ParkeHarrison, Listening to the Earth and The Book of Life (with Shana Parkeharrison). This collection of 20 poems were subsequently published in Field Knowledge (Waywiser Press, 2006), which won the Anthony Hecht Poetry Prize. In 2014, Creech was one of three finalists for the Pulitzer Prize for poetry.
The Music of Farewell
BY MORRI CREECH
Descending for the last time to the underworld, The soul of Orpheus addresses the audience.
What sense in listening to the sun-shot wind
croon through the autumn branches, once the song
behind the song is finished? Always you listened
with your heads tilted toward the absolute
as if the gods would sing to you, while the long
phrase of my sorrow held your world together,
your world of stripped fields and the ripening fruit
that weighs each thick bough earthward. Everywhere
you turned, the lavish music of farewell
lent consequence to things, so that desire
itself became fulfillment to your ear.
And though the mist that swept the cold laurel
was neither Apollo stroking Daphne’s hair
nor Ceres weeping at the doors of hell,
though nothing I sang could raise Eurydice
up from the mute depths again, note by note,
it makes no difference now for me to say
the gods are silent, or that the world seems less
for what the hours and seasons claim from us.
More than the sounds that set the stones and trees
in place, and that arrange both shade and light,
a sad music ripens in the heart; caught
between oblivion and paradise,
it enters the world as loss, though in such ways
that the cadences of grief resound as praise.
And so God spun the wind to tick time forward.
It teased gold from the leaf, flung spores and seeds.
The beasts’ fur billowed; long-legged shore birds
swung their hunger above a froth of reeds.
The restless trees leaned, bent, all pitch and wring.
Not yet the serpent’s tryst in the grass; not yet
Abel slain in the field, the Lord’s voice calling.
Still, the earth toiled toward its purposes:
and seethe of larvae started in the mud.
Rain scoured the stone to spill its mineral dust.
Straight rivers cut their convoluted maze.
And as the mouse twitched in the owl’s long gaze
God wept, and wept for the mosquito’s lust
as it rose up toward the heaven of the blood.
Steven Brown is a poet (finalist for the Anthony Hecht Poetry Prize), photography critic, and utopian scholar who writes for some of the world’s leading photographic publishers, including multiple titles for 21st Editions. He was selected as one of the Best New Poets of 2010 and is currently working on his doctoral dissertation at Harvard University.
BY STEVEN BROWN
Tongue, you’ve loosened up the cry
in my head like a bird’s, or like a bird
you’ve tried the touch that a sky
and breath can melody with Xesh.
Bone, it has been worth it, yes?-the breaks
that as a boy reversed the music
of our motion, and taught our body
sincerity of awe with every step
against the universe of fated falls.
Eyes, what have we seen
that wouldn’t stir or bend the brain
of The Architect’s mother,
whose tooth Wrst struck the egg,
the egg that still feels
like wonder in our hands?
let us raise the egg to our lips,
kiss its shell until we’ve broken through
to kiss her wings, her face. Nothing
is exempt from our embrace.
The Angel Oaks
Our fathers called it Heaven. Their fathers,
the Vault. Whatever the vernacular,
all chambers have one. And so the heart?
And so the heart. Our fathers called it
Temple of the Faithful Bones. Their fathers,
Dwelling Place of the Lord.
We call it, ungracefully, the cardiac arrest.
The atrophy and stress of the valves,
the veins’ limp pump and stoppage, or else,
an attack. Our fathers called it failure.
Their fathers, the Fall. Whatever it is,
it breaks apart the wall and vault together.
A thousand thousand bloodless branches
reach but cannot reach. It never was their fault.
Born without simple skin to keep pace
with loneliness and pain, love’s sudden rush,
their end was written from the start.
June 10, 2014 § Leave a comment
Following our work with many well know artists, we thought it important to turn our focus to three new, very promising, and up-and-coming (at that time) California based artists, Mitch Dobrowner, Charles Grogg, and Ben Nixon.
While all of our titles are challenges unto themselves because the 21st Editions mandate is to start from scratch on all of our designs and never to repeat ourselves, Mitch Dobrowner’s The Prophecies of William Blake was a real test for us. Accommodating 11×17 inch platinum prints, the largest we have ever produced for a book, was just one of the many challenges. These are the only platinum prints Mitch has ever had printed of his work and he has stated they are likely the only ones he may ever make. The binding design, too, was something of a bear. It was created with handmade paper that was watercolored and molded and had an inset of palladium. The box was designed to open flat giving full access to the book and the three loose prints. The resulting 16×20 inch book was breathtaking. “Ambitious” might just be an understatement when it comes to this particular accomplishment.
The book was designed to mirror the storm and landscape photographs that Mitch is now so well known for. He travels with storm chasers to capture the very real and ever-changing landscapes. He was featured in National Geographic, won the Sony World Photographer Award, and Google even created a short film on his work.
Charles Grogg was selected by John Wood as the winner of the 2010 Clarence John Laughlin award. Charles had come to our attention before but it wasn’t until we actually saw his platinum prints on Japanese Gampi Torinoko paper that we saw how wonderful a match his work was with the 21st Editions aesthetic. Charles agreed to both print and construct the platinum prints for The Art of Charles Grogg, something that only he could do, given the solar exposure, many hand-sewn elements and “Reconstructions.” Additionally, John Wood (the only two-time Iowa Poetry Prize winner) agreed to write a poem for each and every image, so we knew this was going to be something special. His brilliant poetry was also read and recorded on an accompanying compact disc. Listening to John read, you will find him powerfully lyrical and convincing, drawing you into a world unknown and palpable. We knew this would be unlike anything we had ever done or will ever do again. And, it was. Each 20×22 inch book has a handmade lacquered eggshell cover panel. The Art of Charles Grogg, which particularly takes on the feel of interactive performance art, was in totality, the art of John Wood, Amy Borezo, Crissy Welzen, Pam Clark, Michael and Winifred Bixler, and Charles Grogg.
To the Wheatlight of June brings together the brilliant minds of Harvard poet Steven Brown and 21st Editions Editor John Wood (introduction) with the work of Ben Nixon who printed silver-gelatin prints of another world. Ben, like Charles Grogg, uses difficult traditional processes. His silver gelatin prints are hand printed from wet-collodian negatives and then toned with tea. Paste papers, another even older tradition, are patterned or textured papers, often made by applying paint with brushes or handmade tools, and are an integral part of 21st Editions productions. In some cases the papers themselves are hand-made. The emphasis on the paste papers in this case extends from the book itself to the ingeniously designed portfolio case that doubles as a display stand. This book and portfolio set broke new ground for us both in presentation and execution.
June 6, 2014 § Leave a comment
Sunday, November 7, 2011:
John Wood and I left about 8AM for Amtrack in Providence to greet Yamamoto Masao, his wife Reiko, and his manager Seiko Uyeda. We corresponded with Masao and Reiko with the generous help of Seiko as translator, but this was our first meeting. The three appear at once together and seem to recognize something about us. They are instantly delightful.
On the way back to Cape Cod, Seiko shared a story that Masao told on the train coming in from New York to Providence. For some reason, he had had an encounter with a Master of sorts, a man whose Japanese sword–a Stradivarius of swords, a work of art–meant a great deal to him. He insisted that Masao take it home with him to photograph. Masao was nervous when he told him just to send it back via UPS! Upon his next visit with the Master, and to Masao’s surprise, he told him that the sword’s energy revealed that Masao had a difficult time photographing it. He was correct.
As soon as we crossed the Bourne Bridge, John suggested that we offer the front seat to Masao so he could photograph while we traveled toward Brewster on the old historic Route 6A. He reluctantly agreed and after a short time said that the road was “too beautiful to photograph” and that what he liked revealing in his work were imperfections.
I wanted to show everyone one of my favorite spots where a small bridge crossed an inlet with a strong tide. As I approached Keveney Lane to the left, I saw “Bridge Closed,” but I turned anyway. It was a cold day and on our way down this short road we passed a hooded young man on the left, walking slow and determined. He turned and nodded as if he expected us. Without having mentioned it to Masao, I was surprised that he later mentioned it to me.
I stopped the car in front of the gravel pile blocking the street and before the bridge, then opened my door to find a decomposing tree trunk hollowed on one side. In the center was a lovely ceramic vase with a partly broken rim at the narrowed top. I thought, imperfection! I looked at Masao and he jumped from the car with his camera like he was greeting an old friend. From the driveway on the other side of the car appeared a man who greeted us. He said that he had just placed the vase in the tree trunk, but at the time wasn’t sure why. Then, without missing a beat, the young hooded man we had passed on the way appeared on foot carrying a Japanese sword and explained he was studying Japanese martial arts and that he had been taking that precise walk for two years.
In those brief and lyrical moments, Masao, Reiko, Seiko, John, and I together were witnesses in unison to our own completely uninterrupted attention. Was this a gift brought by a Master? He would likely not have had intended it, because he was just being Yamamoto Masao.
The three Prism book and print sets (Yamamoto Masao, Mitch Dobrowner and Jack Spencer) are a hybrid between the finest offset printing by the Studley Press and a Pam Clark and Travis Becker (Twinrocker Paper) designed handmade paper for the cover. With three different sets of prints, 21st Editions has presented a spectrum of printing processes from offset to platinum (Yamamoto) to silver-contact (Dobrowner) to hand-varnished pigment ink (Spencer). These traditional style monographs are presented with the intention of showing a broad range of the artist’s work with from 65-110 images. Scholarly essays by John Wood (Yamamoto), Dafydd Wood (Dobrowner), and Steven Brown (Spencer) reinforce the importance of the marriage of the word and the image as a primary 21st Editions objective.
May 27, 2014 § Leave a comment
It was at the International Design Fair in New York that Jerry Uelsmann walked up and introduced himself. With white hair, horn-rim glasses, and accompanied by his well-known wife, artist Maggie Taylor, Jerry proposed that we do a project together. I explained to Jerry that because of the unique nature of how his images were made we would require that he personally print and sign each of the prints in order for us to produce a Silver Edition project with him. He immediately said he would. I then said that they would have to be 16×20 inches, not a common size for him. To that he said “yes” again.
During a trip to Jerry and Maggie’s home in Florida and after two days of looking at his life’s output, which totaled roughly 5000 prints, we selected ten images. Five prints were included in each of the two 20×24 inch volumes. The set was accompanied by an additional portfolio volume of 20 poems by Harvard’s Steven Brown, each inspired by one of Jerry’s photographs, as well as an introduction by John Wood which discusses Uelsmann’s and Brown’s work and their intersections.
With Jerry and all those who make up 21st Editions, we produced the most ambitious project in our 16 year history. The brilliant brushed aluminum bindings by Daniel Kelm and his bindery incorporated Kelm designed special hinges that allow for the aluminum pages to be removable so that the signed silver-gelatin photographs mounted to them could be exhibited individually. The final result was both architecturally and bibliographically stunning.
Jerry labored for four solid months over the prints to produce a small edition of only 25 numbered and two Publisher’s sets. Each week he would call me and tell me that it was the most difficult printing job he had ever done. He would then sometimes follow with an email that would contain a limerick. Jerry loves limericks and shared them with us so often that we got used to looking for them.
We announced Moth and Bonelight (Silver Edition, 2010) and it sold out in the course of 24 hours. We were astounded and pleased, since this was our most expensive production to date.
In addition to the Silver Edition, there was a smaller 14×18 inch Platinum Series portfolio of the same images that were printed by 21st Editions under the direction of Jerry Uelsmann. Each of the ten unbound prints were signed and dated by Jerry and in an edition of 55, plus 15 Artist’s sets. The set also includes the 20 poems by Steven Brown printed letterpress.
October 18, 2012 § Leave a comment
21st Editions sees the work of Ben Nixon at Photo LA, January, 2012:
The work of Ben Nixon caught our eye and arrested us because of his stylized vision and expert and brilliant skill as a printer of his wet-collodion plate negatives.
The wet collodion process is an “early photographic technique invented by Frederick Scott Archer of England in 1851. To a solution of collodion ( cellulose nitrate) Archer added a soluble iodide and coated a glass plate with the mixture. « Read the rest of this entry »
February 21, 2012 § Leave a comment
“When we look at photographs which privilege documentation over imagination, we are seeing seeing. Little room is left us, the viewers, for insight or interpretation. What we’re shown is what we cannot help noticing if our eyes are open. Anyone, for example, can understand a picture of an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The problem with this kind of seeing is that what we observe may have nothing to do with the truth of the matter represented. That’s not to say it has nothing to do with fact. But fact, as we know, is more often the sales pitch of the powerful than a hallmark of the universal. In Spencer’s work, however, truth manifests itself by negation of fact. We see what history can never regain, what the news can never define, what advertisements can never sell.
Seeing, for instance, has very little to do with what we experience in a photograph like Cloud/Tree, where air, water, and land invade the horizon so entirely that one can hardly think of any other word for it than sublime—that sense of the monstrous in the elemental, in the presence of which all human intent withers into triviality. ”
February 1, 2012 § 1 Comment
“To think of photography as captured fact is, in some ways, to think of it as the invention of coincidence rather than the intention of the artist. Journalism and documentary rely on serendipitous opportunities. And not surprisingly, many photographers claim the element of luck as a blessing on their process. But Spencer doesn’t buy into the idea of luck-as-process. In a statement linked to his website, he says:
‘I am forced to abandon serendipity to create an altogether new mood that did not exist before. These are constructions that are in gestation. I am moving in a direction where I believe that it is exciting to create something into existence, where before, there was nothing. I no longer have any interest in relying on circumstance to present itself at its convenience (emphasis Spencer’s).'”