Interview With Isabelle Evertse of Co-Curate Magazine : The Document

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“I am honestly not so sure how we respond to the nature of photography as a “document” anymore… and I wonder if we can generalise a reaction. I do know that my understanding of it has drastically evolved from a naïve teenager reading a history book to learning about the digital image, understanding the politics behind an image and finally allowing a natural reaction to it”

BF: Co-Curate Magazine seeks to bring together a large amount of prolific image-makers and writers in one issue under the premise of it being a limited edition. This a very crafty employ to the new paradigms of industry publishing in the sense that people are fatigued with print unless it has a limited or possibly…self-published appeal. When bringing together all of these works and people under one offering, was the plan simply to work with Aaron to expand a singular idea of “document” amongst so many voices or was it about the nature of collaboration itself?

IE: After working on other magazine projects, I quickly came to understand that when it comes to making an impression, you really need some form of “extra value” to exist. Photobook fairs and affordable photobooks are becoming more common and the self-published magazine format occupies very little space within these events. It isn’t always easy to stand out in this crowd as hardcover books printed at thousands of copies are often selling for the same price on the next table. I therefore chose to print at a limited edition to give the project and the featured photographers & writers the credit I really wanted them to get. The rarity of the object is what offers the extra value in this case, and it is definitely what contributes to sales. Of course the even bigger value here is bringing together so many talented contributors under one theme. Viewers like to find several portfolios in one issue, it permits an introduction to work they might not know and brings together a group of photographers in the form of a “one time only” print collaboration. All the contributors were more than enthusiastic about the concept of the magazine: a co-curated exhibition on paper. This added visibility as each contributor often promoted the magazine within their field and made for an excellent ripple effect. The mix of these ingredients is clearly what made the magazine original and sought after.

The plan started as being one of pure collaboration and evolved from there. I previously edited piK magazine by myself and I enjoyed working on every issue, but this time I wanted to start a new venture alongside someone I could exchange and learn with. I am currently based in Grenoble, France, a small town where photography plays a very minor role. Local exhibitions are few and I therefore get the majority of my photographic info online. I wanted to expand my horizons by inviting a curator to work with me, our collaboration would lead to broadening our knowledge in the department and comparing notes to find the best fit for our issue. The idea of collaboration came first. We then looked for a theme together and exchanged many, many, many an email with links to websites, images and references, which lead to expanding the idea of the document in its many shapes and colours. We didn’t necessarily notice it to start off with, it was after a few emails that we realised that the document was a recurring theme in the portfolios we were both putting forward.

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BF: This seems like a project somehow destined for a gallery wall. The methodology of presenting these works from various voices and writers that elucidate on their offerings almost creates a “printed exhibition”. This should not be downplayed as a mere publication. It is as if the pages that contain the idea become a proving ground for what could be staged as an exhibition. With your previous experiences as a curator and publisher, do you look at print in this way? It does have a very singular approach that I have not seen handled the same way before….

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IE: The primary goal with this magazine was the desire to create an exhibition on paper. Like I mentioned previously, I miss the presence of exhibitions where I live and I felt this could be the opportunity to get an exhibition travelling outside the walls of a gallery space, accessible anywhere. I thought of the layout as a long blank wall that unravelled with every page. Each segment needed to have the impact of a powerful single image, yet create the aspiration to turn the page, but again, the next image mustn’t crush the previous one. As in a gallery, I wanted the viewer to feel like they could step back and enjoy the whole exhibition at a distance. The balance between the choice of images and the rhythm was key to create that kind of impact on the viewer. It took many attempts to finally get the impression I wanted, the first version of the layout had over 90 pages if I remember correctly, I got overly enthusiastic with so many amazing images and to be honest, I completely lost the plot on the first go! I think I needed to make that mistake to manage to bring the idea in my mind onto paper though, and overnight I drastically deleted pages bringing the issue down to its current 64 pages.

 

This is the first time that I looked at print in this way, I was eager to explore another form of magazine presentation and capture the essence of a group show on paper. PiK magazine was a more formal concept so to speak, each photographer was presented individually and the projects didn’t overlap in any way.
We did evoke an accompanying exhibition for the launch of Co-Curate#01 but the time frame was too tight for The Photographers Gallery, their exhibition spaces were unfortunately backlogged over many months and I didn’t want to delay the launch to 2017. This is definitely something that I am interested in pursuing for upcoming issues though and Frédérique Destribats, guest curator for Co-Curate#02, and myself have discussed a few ideas for the second issue due out in November.

“As Aaron mentions in his quote “the word “document” is loaded – perhaps overloaded – with meaning.” This is why it was important to be selective within the theme and avoid showing every interpretation, this would obviously lead to thousands of images and I think we would have lost in intensity, as the famous saying goes “Less is more” and I feel we chose to explore the document with precision and creativity”

BF: Aaron Schuman is somebody that I have come to look up to in the field. He, like you , is also a curator, artist, and writer. All of these definitions that we have to describe ourselves as these days is a way to say that we are fully invested in the arts or the medium of photography…This is quite inspiring and I think it is necessary. Can you relate to our audience how you came to work with Aaron and if his multi-tiered approach to the disciplines of writer, artist, and curator were what appealed to you when selecting to work with him for your inaugural edition?

IE: Aaron and I first collaborated on piK magazine#07. I contacted him to feature his series Folk in the magazine. I had always wanted to present his images and I finally had a selection where his work stood out the way I had imagined. It was really nice working with him on the feature, he was open to my ideas and made some suggestions of his own as well. In general, I really appreciated his approach and things just felt easy. By chance he was in Paris at the same time as the launch for the issue and he offered to come and sign copies at Polycopies during Paris Photo 2014. We had a great time and he really got involved which was more than I could ask for, an excellent first impression!

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I got the idea for Co-Curate a few months later and without even listing names, I thought of Aaron straight away for the first guest curator. As you said his many disciplines make him multi-talented company and exactly the profile I was hoping to work with on this first issue as many decisions were to be made and anything was possible. On top of this, I felt comfortable working with him and knew straight away that he was just as enthusiastic as me about the project and willing to really commit even though the initial timeline was a little blurry. Our collaboration brought new ideas to the layout and I thoroughly enjoyed being able to share the different steps in the making of it with him. It was my first time working with someone on such a close to heart project and it definitely helped to answer to so many fields whether it be Aaron or myself, all these labels made for a cheaper final product as we did everything ourselves and it also resulted in something with a more implicated and personal edge.
I honestly gave the magazine “my everything” to insure the best presentation and exposure for all featured contributors, and I am sincerely grateful for their trust as well as Aaron’s on this.

 

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BF: Issue 1- The Document
“When it comes to photography, the word “document” is loaded – perhaps overloaded – with meaning. As a verb, it can represent the act itself; as a noun, the resulting object; and transformed into an adjective – “documentary” – a proud but nevertheless problematic genre, with a noble yet knotted history. In recent years, contemporary practitioners have carefully avoided if not abandoned the term altogether, wary of being accused of corrupting or taking advantage of its assumed veracity, or of misleading the viewer through their medium’s ever-expanding malleability. Within photography today, many would rather be called a “storyteller” than a “documentarian”; the territory of truth is stranger – and more treacherous – than fiction”. -Aaron Schuman

We exceedingly live in a world taut with the dangers of representation-especially in photographic terms. It is often an age-old question and often tiresome to consume that there is a reality or a truth to the photographic image. As we move forward to a position loosely calibrated as “post-representation”…how do we react to the nature of photography as a “document”? I think of the Nuremberg trials, the images of the camps, mass graves etc…do many of the works in issue 1 conflate the principal of the word document as Aaron has pointed out in the above?

IE: For this issue, we narrowed down our definition of the document to show a form of variety as well as continuity within the theme at the same time. It’s safe to say that we remained faithful to a more storytelling side, although there are a few exceptions. We roughly understood the document under three forms. Firstly, we looked at it as a medium or an object, rather than actual photographs becoming documents themselves. There is of course a close relationship between the two but in the featured portfolios you can really feel the photographer’s presence each time, giving each project a personal, storytelling aspect. I’m thinking of Jack Latham and how he explores a heavy subject with poise, storytelling plays a direct role in the way he addresses the subject and mixes actual documents, maps… etc, with his own images. Another way of storytelling figures as Carles Guerra writes for Xavier Ribas, the photographer explores ‘Nitrate’ in the form of a novel.

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In a very different style, there is also the use of the document solely as printed matter re-used and manipulated to create a certain visual effect and impact. Ruth Van Beek’s painted cut outs, Brad Feuerhelm’s sprayed over and collaged images, or Arnaud Claass’s very precise selection of newspaper clippings, old images and book pages, show a certain aesthetic in a more “hands on” approach, directly interfering with the document and using its primary definition as a mere hint of information in their work. Finally there is also the understanding of the theme as a documented subject, in my own series for example I documented my experience of motherhood, in his work Aaron documented his teenage years and there is also Gus Powell’s version of documented dialogues. As Aaron mentions in his quote “the word “document” is loaded – perhaps overloaded – with meaning.” This is why it was important to be selective within the theme and avoid showing every interpretation, this would obviously lead to thousands of images and I think we would have lost in intensity, as the famous saying goes “Less is more” and I feel we chose to explore the document with precision and creativity.

I am honestly not so sure how we respond to the nature of photography as a “document” anymore… and I wonder if we can generalise a reaction. I do know that my understanding of it has drastically evolved from a naïve teenager reading a history book to learning about the digital image, understanding the politics behind an image and finally allowing a natural reaction to it. This is no doubt why I avoided the document in this genre, too loaded, too engaged, yet still managing to sometimes totally miss the point and actually end up diminishing the subject matter.

BF: In regarding possible collaborations of the future, do you allow the guest curators quite a bit of freedom or do you work to direct the nature of their intentions as a publisher? From what I can see by the writing and images included in the magazine, you have left a large amount of freedom under the general concept outlined for people to work creatively through writing or images…this is quite rare. Is it quite important to have more or less control as a publisher operating under these conditions?

IE: For future collaborations, I intend to leave as much freedom as possible to the guest curators, like I did in this first issue. I find that that is generally when people feel most comfortable to really share their ideas, even when in doubt. I hope to create a working atmosphere that permits creativity and openness, and therefore leads to a unique product from our one time collaboration in the magazine.

As a publisher, I think the most important is to not lose focus of the primary goal. With so many ideas and proposals, it is crucial to remain faithful to the concept to produce something that really works. I find that if you are clear with a few guidelines to start off with, each contributor can understand the baseline and then interpret their own vision on top of it, adding their own voice. I would say that there is very little control to start off with, and then a little comes in as the project grows and the layout finds its shape, always in keeping with our understandings of what we want to show in the issue.

 

Co-Curate

 (All rights reserved. Text @ Brad Feuerhelm. Images @ Co-Curate Magazine.)

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