Pau Wau’s focus is geared towards showcasing contemporary photography. How would you describe the medium today?
At odds with itself, but I suppose anything worth paying attention to is in some sort of similar state. The proliferation of cameras in almost every device we own today has made everyone image conscious, both personally and professionally.
In a similar way that color film revolutionized the medium, digital has had the same effect or greater. However, I think we’re still in a period that is really questioning what a “photograph” is and what defines “photography”.
Obviously there are a lot of photographers who are actively engaging in that conversation and that’s insightful to see and participate in. Having said that, I think the more interesting trend that seems to be increasingly prevalent is the question of commissioned work within the art world — artists like Roe Ethridge and Wolfgang Tillmans have been straddling this line for quite a while. Tillmans in particular, who in his recent show at David Zwirner has included torn out pages of magazines that he shot next to larger prints of those very images, is nonchalantly presenting this argument.
Which touches on a much greater idea, that both photography and to a certain extent art are coming to terms with; not so much what is the medium but what does it mean to create within that medium today.
You’ve published editions with work by artists Ed Templeton, Andrew Kuo, Richard Kern, Peter Sutherland, and many others. How does Pau Wau choose artists to feature? Can you describe the process from studio visit to publication?
It’s difficult to say how these relationships form, mostly it’s an organic process that involves a lot of serendipity. Typically, there are artists we’re interested in working with or those who are around us via friends and previous collaborators.
In terms of how the process unfolds, typically myself and Andreas Laszlo Konrath, my partner at Pau Wau, have a lengthy, often ongoing, conversation about a project we’ve either been presented or want to present to an artist. From there, we work closely with the artist to realize their vision. This is very important to us — it’s a conversation not a brief and everyone has equal say.
The process normally involves a lot of reference materials and discussions about feelings and intentions. Usually I acquaint myself with the work over a period of time, which is often edited by the two of us. From there, I work out ideas for layouts and any other elements that need to be designed. After more back and forth with the artists we’ll either send that off to print, overseeing the whole process, or print and produce the project in our studio. Once it’s been produced, we also deal with the distribution and sales through a variety of independent bookstores around the world and book fairs we participate in.
What role do art books and independent publishing play in the contemporary art world?
You’re currently seeing an influx of galleries internalizing their publishing programs, which is incredibly encouraging, however I see that as different from independent publishing. Whenever there is a book being produced with a gallery behind it, the intent no matter how pure, will always be to promote or sell. The beauty is that it is not an entirely commercial venture, thus you’re seeing an increase in production value and willingness to take a creative risk, both of which haven’t existed in publishing or the art world recently.
In my option the programs at places like Karma, Zwirner and 303 are examples of breaking down of these structures and labels. They allow their artists to create very high quality books that exist somewhat outside the confines of traditional gallery publications — not yet monographs but far from the idea of catalogues. Such approach is invaluable in a sense that it appeals to not only the collectors but is also accessible to a much wider audience as a form of art.
Personally, I feel there is a strong distinction between art monographs, photo books and artist books. Our intention is to exist in a world between all of these labels.
Do you live with any artwork? If so, by which artists?
I do, mainly it’s books however, both our entire archive and an ever-growing collection of publications by artist and publishers I admire. Recently I’ve acquired books by Austin Lee (Spheres), Laia Abril (Dewi Lewis), Noah Breuer (Small Editions) and Jordan Sullivan (Ampersand).
In regards to the walls, it’s mostly from friends or people I’ve had the pleasure to work with including: Andreas Laszlo Konrath, iO Tillett Wright, Malgorzata Stankiewicz, Riley Payne, Lisa Rovner and Lele Saveri.