From Steve Edwards’s chapter “‘Profane Illumination:’ Photography and Photomontage in the USSR and Germany,” in Art of the Avant-Gardes, ed. Steve Edwards and Paul Wood (London: The Open University/Yale University Press, 2004), 408-409:

[…] Rodchenko’s extreme viewpoints can be seen as a version of the Russian Formalist theory of “defamiliarization” or “making strange” […]. The Formalists were literary and linguistic scholars, working before and immediately after the First World War, who argued that everyday perception was dull, static and habitual. “Our perception has withered away,” suggested the prominent Formalist Viktor Shklovsky, “what has remained is mere recognition.” The Formalists advocated literary techniques that sliced through routinized views of the world. The principle way that they thought this could be achieved was by “foregrounding the device,” or calling attention to the construction of the literary text as a way of increasing the reader’s attention. By focusing on the techniques and procedures employed to make works of art, the Formalists believed, the world could be made to appear strange again, heightening consciousness of the artwork. Prewar Formalism was largely apolitical, but after the Russian Revolution the theorists associated with LEF gave these ideas a left-wing turn, arguing that atrophied perception was a consequence of bourgeois consciousness. Capitalist ideology, they claimed, mystified perception, because it was based on mere appearances rather than on the actual relationships that structured society: bourgeois perception was deemed individualist, static and formal, rather than dynamic, contradictory and collective. According to the left avant-garde, the first condition for any critical art was to draw attention to its own status as representation or ideology: art was to be used to reveal the illusion, not to conceal it. This politicized version of Formalism came to be known as the “formalist-sociological method.” Rodchenko’s unusual points of view should be seen in the light of this theory. His extreme angles of vision draw attention to the role of the camera in making images and invite the viewer to consider new ways of looking at everyday life. These unusual perspectives were designed to pull viewers up short, causing them to reflect on what they were seeing. Elizar Langman, a photographic colleague of Rodchenko, summed up this perspective, claiming his own tilted horizons were intended to “irritate the viewer with something, to kick him out of a dull standard.” […]

[emphasis added]



And the winner is:

Veronika Sch├Ąpers!

To see images of the books and read her statement go here.

Congratulations to Veronika and all of the finalists!



Pictured above is the design for the first broadside, with text from MLKNG SCKLS, by Justin Sirois.

Not really.

This is an image of an unfinished design, unfinished because I moved on to a different idea, to make, I think, a series of objects that will be far stranger in the end.
But I still like that way this one looks, so I thought I’d share.



As part of the publishing escalation leading up to and through the 10th year of the NewLights Press, we will be releasing a series of broadsides. Of course this is the NewLights Press and we can’t let anything be, so these won’t be like traditional broadsides (i.e. text paired with “appropriate” image/illustration). We will be trying to make them into pieces that are text-image-process total objects, in the concrete sense, in the Beckett sense (“total object, complete with missing parts”). Some sort of variable editions produced through a combination of letterpress printing, collage, delamination, and mixed media drawing. Some sort of terrible mess. Late last night after a few hours of labor on the design for the first piece, I think I hit upon the structural idiom, as least for the first three. It is (as one may have guessed) strange, minimal, and somewhat unsettling. To provide a clue, the main typeface is 48 pt. Arial Black. I am curious to see how these will come out…

The broadside series will be ongoing, released sporadically in editions of 25 (that number might increase based on interest) or so, probably about $40-$50 apiece (they involve a fair amount of handwork). They will be distributed through this website, either as individual pieces when they are ready, or, you can buy a 12 month subscription for $100, which will get you all of the broadsides (three guaranteed, almost certainly more, and probably some other fun stuff, that price includes shipping too) that are produced within that 12 month period. Purchase through PayPal at the right, or contact me directly at newlightspress[at]gmail[dot]com.

The authors for the first three broadsides are:

Brian Evenson
Justin Sirois
John Yau

More will follow as I hear from other folks. Interested in submitting? Let me know (at email provided above).


BOOK No. 1

Book No. 1
Delaminated paper, collage, graphite, and gesso on handmade paper

16” x 20”


Yes, I made the paper. Yes, I know how to make paper. Yes, I thoroughly enjoy making paper and I also thoroughly enjoy drawing and printing on the paper that I make.


Schema No. 4
Delaminated paper, ink wash, gesso, and finger/hand prints on handmade paper

15” x 19”


This drawing was made by using a combination of the two techniques described previously.


Schema No. 1

Graphite on handmade paper

15” x 19”


This drawing’s composition was determined by combination of a medieval page design schema and the tracing of the piece torn off from the corner in 24 random positions. The resulting lines were then filled in with graphite, the only rule being that two areas of the same value could not share a border. I am still trying to figure out how to make an interesting book using this idea.


Monkish Business
Delaminated paper with hand prints

11” x 30”

Variable edition of 25


“Delamination” is a process of cutting part of the way into a sheet of paper and peeling away about half of the layers, leaving a very shallow relief and a view of the paper’s interior. This print was made by stenciling the text in the middle, and then having my left hand (non-dominant for me) inked up while I was tracing that text with a Xacto knife.



I will be the regular instructor for the Photopolymer Platemaking Lab at the San Francisco Center for the Book in the Fall (I am filling in for the summer). I was working on my handout this morning, and here’s a taste of the excitement to come:



The other day I decided to put my money where my electronic mouth is and buy some POD books by Clifton Meador. I am interested in these for several reasons: 1) I’ve only ever seen reproductions of Meador’s work, 2) he is an offset-photo book artist that has jumped right into POD, so I’m interested to see what he’s done with it, and 3) I will finally be able to closely inspect one of these books. There will be a full report later.


(A slight digression)

At some point/place (I can’t remember exactly where or when) in the discussion of POD books among the artists’ books community, someone (I can’t remember who) brought up using POD as a teaching tool. This teacher said that they used POD in order to teach their students about how to organize content in a book. The idea being that if the student does not have to worry about how they are going to physically make the book, then they can focus on the content. It is the reverse of when students first learn a binding structure by putting together a blank book.

Good idea. I will totally use it at some point (when I have that theoretical teaching position).

Of course, the problem with using POD as a way to manipulate “pure” content (even in an educational context) is that it operates under the assumption that the technology is somehow completely transparent and neutral, that it does not, or can not, or should not, bring up questions of form (the same could be said of the mass-produced, offset artists’ book).

But there is rarely a structured assignment that can adequately tackle all possible issues in artmaking.

It’s finally affordable for an artist to make a photographic book in a small edition. That changes things. I know several photo-based artists who have already taken advantage of this. I think it finally opens the door for NewLights to do some more photographically-oriented work, also it may allow an opportunity to engineer some books in order to produce an edition of altered books…



How can the NewLights Press use Print-On-Demand (POD) books as a primary mode of production?

My first thought was to use POD to reproduce and distribute existing, unique/small edition books. This has obvious advantages, and it is hard for me to square my desire to get the books to as many readers as possible with the form-content-production-reception integrity of the individual pieces. To cite a specific example: recently a friend brought up the idea of a “trade” version of The Drownable Species, because it is a book that many people are interested in, but few can afford. And I am very tempted to do a POD book of it (Though I would have to ask Brian, but I’m sure he wouldn’t mind, because he’s the nicest guy in the world. Coincidentally, he has a new book of short stories out.) But the problem with REproducing The Drownable Species is that it was produced through a physical disruption of a normally straight reproductive process (the pouring of water onto still-wet inkjet prints). The inherent unpredictability of that process combined with the disorienting effect it has on the reader are central to the book. (They are not essential to the story, but the thing is, as always, is to make the book so that it becomes more than just a “nice” printing/binding of a text.)

A reproduction of the book would mimic those effects. The idea would still be conveyed. Ah, there’s the problem: “the idea would still be conveyed.” The process of re-production would transform the book from a concrete (primary, actual) object into a representational (secondary, symbolic, simulacral) object. The real thing made into a sign for the real thing.

But it would be great to get the book out to more readers. A trade edition might even help sell more copies of the limited edition. It would be nice to sell more books, but this is not about money. At some point in the future, the story will be published in a collection of Brian’s stories. So the story will always be available…




The artist Clifton Meador (who I have quoted in earlier posts) has some books on the POD site Lulu.com, where you can order them directly.


Yesterday I was thinking about Print-On-Demand, about making some books using Print-On-Demand (POD). While I have no problem using the technology and relinquishing the handmade-ness of the books (for some projects, not all), there are, I think, some important questions to consider before going into this (questions that I had ignored in my initial rush of excitement about putting a lot of books out, which is a main source of excitement and despair these days). Or maybe one important idea, coined by Philip Zimmerman:

“Production NOT Reproduction”

A very important idea when one is an artist using re-productive technology as a primary productive process. (The relationship between production and reproduction requires more investigation) So the question is how can the NewLights Press use POD books as a primary mode of production?




I did, finally: