Foreward by Pico Iyer, Essays by Jill Gage and Dianne Aprile
Old Stone Press, 2016
My wife and more than a few close friends often tease me about how I treat my books and how I go about selecting what book to buy. When I lend books, there are rules: you cannot crease the spine nor can you round the cover or pages over (and I show just how one can hold and read a paperback without doing so), you cannot dog-ear pages (a bookmark is a glorious thing, be an adult and use it), and you must pay attention to how you carry and store the book because I will not tolerate gashes, dents, or flaking in the cover, edges, or pages. Yet I often encourage people or write in the margins, underline, highlight, or mark up the text itself. When I buy a paperback, I hold judging the feel in my hand, how it can be manipulated, it’s weight, the consequence of the gloss or matte of the cover, the falling of the pages, and the strength of the paper. My wife has seen me spend nearly an hour debating what version of Jane Eyre I wanted to buy because each edition had competing strengths and weaknesses.
A book, the book, is first and foremost an object. Engage the literature, care for the object. Quite simply, a book is something you are deliberate with which makes The Book, a coffee table book by photographer Julius Friedman, a delightful challenge.
Friedman has taken not the idea of books or even their content, but their very physical existence as the premise of this collection. How is a book an object that can be manipulated, mutated, destroyed, reconstituted, or adorned? Then, further, what provocations does this elicit in us? The photographs that make up the The Book are of various books disassembled and reassembled into wholly new works of art that resist and embrace their original incarnation. Thus, it is entirely fair and accurate to say that Friedman’s works deconstruct what it means to be a book.
The photographs of The Book are moments with sculptures hewn from pages. Friedman gives us depictions of a kind of collage as well as exposure to elements. There are several beautifully captured moments of books encountering water and the after effects (like the image above and below).
I am less interested in the collage pieces than I am in the actual book sculptures and debris-like revenants. Exploring how water and fire interact with an object of earth captured through light, a medium of air, is a rather deft maneuver. However, I will say that seeing books charred and ashen sent a shudder through me, a nearly involuntary rage flushed my skin. Why? Because as a lover of literature, both high and low, to see the vehicle through which story is conveyed abused hurt me.
Yet, abuse is not what Friedman is doing, he is, rather, creating something new. It is a different work of art, one with a wholly other dynamism. To feel revulsion at seeing a burnt book in this context would be akin to indignation over recycling or repurposing. This is the heart of Friedman’s project: to show how our relationship to the idea of a book carries with it such complex and deep emotions and then to revel in the new beauty coming from the revision of the very objects themselves.
These are not the best book sculptures I’ve seen (those belong to Guy Laramee) but these are stunning photographs, and the project itself is engrossing demanding one immediately confront and redefine one’s aesthetic sensibility. As Pico Iyer says in his foreward, Friedman speaks “of the book as a ravishing object” with “weight and depth and volume” that are “as alluring as any fleshly inspiration seen between the sheets.” Buttressing this, the essays by Jill Gage (from whom I take my title) and Dianne Aprile set the stage for however we are to experience this collection and are themselves lovely, brief works on the notion of ‘the book.’
Friedman captures the tactile nature of books, you almost want to reach out through the pictures and caress these new things. Yet you stop, not because you know that your hand can’t travel through a picture but because you know that these books, these books are now new works of art, inviolate and unique deserving of a different kind of reverence than what they previously had.
Julius Friedman is a graphic designer, photographer, and artist specializing in cultural, nonprofit, and corporate design. His work is included in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, New York City; The National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC; the National Museum of Poster Art, Warsaw, Poland; The Dansk Plakatmuseum, Aarhus, Denmark; The Brown-Forman Corporation; 21C Museum; PNC Bank; and NTS Corporation. He was selected by the Special Assistant to President Ronald Reagan to create work for inclusion in an exhibition of 100 posters advocating peace. This exhibition was presented to the government of Japan on August 6, 1985, to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima, and was held at the Hiroshima Museum of Art. Charles Michael Helmken of the Washington, DC, Shoshin Society chose him as one of 100 American and Korean artists to create a poster for the book Images for Survival to further the understanding and prevention of AIDS.
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