Photobooks: from the idea to its final shape; an interview with Ricardo Baez
Regarding the recent prize given to the photobook Monsanto®: A Photographic Investigation, by Mathieu Asselin, granted in the category ‘First Photobook’ at the Paris Photo-Aperture Foundation Photobook Awards 2017, the MIP team spoke with its designer, Ricardo Báez.
The participation of Báez in this photographic event also included the catalog of 10×10 CLAP! Contemporary Latin American Photobooks: 2000-2016, also in the final list of ‘Catalog of the year’; and other titles that were not nominated, but present at the fair: Andata e Ritorno, the true story of Paolo Gasparini (La Cueva Publishing House, 2017); and Testimonies of Corruption. A Visual Contribution to Venezuela’s Fraudulent Banking History, by Luis Molina-Pantin (RM Publishing House, Mexico-Barcelona).
-Why do you think Monsanto won the prize as best first photobook?
For its conceptual and aesthetic quality and for its commitment to the subject. No one had previously worked with the Monsanto® theme from a photographic point of view as Mathieu has done. He has developed a very delicate subject in a very frank way and without “mincing any words”; possibly that is the success of his photographic research. On the other hand, when there is dialogue and confidence in the work, these type of books arise, where nothing is hidden and every centimeter of the object is thought and agreed upon as a team.
This book made a long journey in order to get to Paris Photo 2017. As a draft it traveled through several events until Kassel approved for it to be published. Very few people risk publishing a topic like this one, especially with a criticism as tough as Mathieu’s.
So, to answer your question, this book wins that prize because it has been worked on hard from all points of view, thus achieving a high quality product able to move the whole world and we hope that it will redirect the way those who dominate the contemporary world think.
-Is this the first photobook you design that gets a recognition?
As a photobook it is the first. However, I designed (together with Darío Utreras) the photo-magazine La calle, published in England by Common Book(s)/Acacias dedicated to Paolo Gasparini; that first issue was included in the Best Books of the Year exhibition at PhotoEspaña 2017. But in the case of Monsanto (Verlag Kettler, Actes Sud, 2017) it gets the Paris Photo-Aperture Foundation PhotoBook Awards 2017, to add to a list of awards won, that includes the 1st Prize Dummy Award Kassel 2016; the Kassel FotoBook Festival; Special mention of Les Rencontres d’Arles Dummy Book Award 2016, and the First Photobook Award of Mack Books, among others.
-Since when do you design photobooks?
I consider that I started working on editorial design since 2007 and in 2012 I started to get interested in the photobook theme, specifically working on the catalog of the 3Fotbooks3 exhibition (Carmen Araujo Arte) by Paolo Gasparini, and later in Karakarakas, also by Gasparini (Mal de Ojo Publishing House, 2014).
-Do you think that making photobooks became fashionable?
Since 2004, when Martin Parr and Gerry Badger published the first volume on the history of photobooks (Phaidon, 2004), the fury of the rediscovery of photography through books began. However, I have always been interested in the use of photography in graphic design, in handling it as a symbol or sign, like using a letter or a graphic form. Add to this the fact that in the history of the photobook, now the designer is seen as an essential part of a set that makes it possible to materialize photographic projects in printed format. But, as I mentioned earlier, it is from 2012, with Karakarakas, that I entered more fully into the world of photobooks, not only through design, but also in the collection of the genre, almost as a compulsory need to understand it more and more, and also because I already collected Venezuelan editorial designs and in Venezuela great masterpieces of the Latin American photobook were produced.
-Could you describe with more detail your participation in Paolo Gasparini’s Karakarakas?
Definitely, each book has a different process. With Paolo (Gasparini), for example, I worked (in that case) from point zero. In Karakarakas we worked very closely since the beginning of the initial idea. Thus, we were able to develop the narrative and complementary contents at the same time, for example, the inclusion of fragments of the current Constitution of Venezuela, which we added as epigraphs, was done this way. This inclusion to better understand what the author finally wanted to convey with the book: a landscape registered over 50 years, with a very slow movement in terms of its structure and a very violent distortion in relation to its memory as space and idea. The final result is teamwork, with Paolo Gasparini (photographer); Victoria de Stefano, author of the text; Sagrario Berti, editorial coordinator; and Javier Aizpúrua (print director) and his team at Ex Libris. The latter was fundamental for the book to achieve the image of sophistication with precariousness that it finally obtained.
Can team-work be carried out in the same way when books are made at a distance?
In my case distance has not been an obstacle, rather it has made the project develop more concretely. 10×10 CLAP! was constructed through the exchange of a lot of ideas through emails and conversations by Skype, from the editorial conception, the graphic design, to the acronyms that sought the sonority that the project has. The printing made in SYL, Barcelona (Spain), was impeccable due to the commitment and professionalism of the team in charge, led by Amalia Heredia. I had always been afraid of working at a distance because I had been used to standing next to the machine watching how each sheet was printed, that’s how my teachers taught me to do it, but in today’s world you can work at a distance, and get the product you had imagined even better.
-And how do you achieve to make books in a country in crisis, without ink or paper?
I believe that, as in any crisis, one tries to find different solutions with what is at hand. If you do not get high quality materials, you look for other options. However, Javier Aizpúrua in Ex Libris is key in the achievement of this odyssey. With him we have been able to make very daring and experimental books. Making production collages has also been an option in crisis, very handcraftsy, but still attached to the graphic industry. I think that at this moment in the history of the book, the craftsmanship in its production is almost mandatory to obtain different sensations to those that have already been achieved in previous times; there are even countries without crisis that are again taking up old techniques such as letterpress or the silkscreen to complement the offset, and also to show that the book has an infinity of possibilities that had been discarded by digital hysteria.
-New projects that you want to share?
After the experience that we had with Monsanto, I have been working much more with the modality of dummies or book models to send to contests. The last project is still in model form, but has had a very satisfactory result: it’s by Nicola Coppola entitled 143g of dust in my Mexican shoes, a photobook that is particularly sculptural and needs to be touched and manipulated to be enjoyed 100%. This year I have also been very involved reviewing new Venezuelan authors interested in creating editorial projects from a photographic point of view, and I have been advising them so they can publish their books. New people with new topics, very interesting.
-Can you speak at this moment of a place where the field of production of the photobook advances in a special way?
I think that globally it is moving vertiginously, which can be positive because the gender becomes independent of photography, but it can also be negative in the sense of SPAM production, now anyone that wants a photobook can have one without further ado. Because of their great photographic tradition, design and graphic techniques of almost a century, I would say that Japan continues to be the place where high level photobooks are being produced. In Latin America, Brazil and Mexico have historically had an incredible production with more open topics. However, now with the diaspora of Latinos in the world, we must take a closer look at the production of artists from Argentina, Uruguay, Peru and Colombia, who are working Latinity from the diaspora’s point of view. Among them is a Colombian based in Switzerland, Guadalupe Ruiz, whose work interests me very much because she not only works from photography, but produces her work taking the editorial processes into account.
-Where do you think the photobook as a genre is going?
It has been refined; we now understand the process that starts from an idea, which is born with photography, and from there a team comes together and it gives shape. The photobook must have an objective, a clear intention to create a discourse based on photography and also on the shape of the book. There are many conceptual aspects that make up the idea of the photobook and that can be expressed in different ways, not only with photography, but also with all the resources that make a book up.
-You’re going to give a workshop in FOLA, Argentina, about the photobook’s zero degree. What does that mean?
Horacio Fernández in his research on the Latin American photo book comments on the collection “Economic editions of Chilean photography” (1983) and says it is enough to photocopy on cheap paper and staple a photographic essay to fulfil the requirements that needed in a photobook: sequence and materialization.
My idea in this workshop is to develop a very fast exercise in 3 days to understand that idea of sequence and materialization, two fundamental aspects for the realization of a photobook. That idea had already been practiced with the Photo-magazine La Calle, which was about how to print a photographic essay with minimal resources and still obtain an object that will highlight the graphic and conceptual qualities of the content without losing their original strength. I think it was achieved successfully there.