Interview with DECODE BOOKS publisher, John Jenkins

The second in the series of interviews with book publishers is with John Jenkins of DECODE in Seattle, WA. DECODE has published one book of illustrations and writings by Jeff Parker and William Powhida titled The Back of the Line and three photography monographs: Collective Memory by Doug Keyes, Intertidal by Jesse Burke (limited edition print shown right), and Peripheral Visions by John Jenkins (limited edition print shown above) .

MM: What made you want to self-publish?
JJ: My partner, Stephen Lyons, and I started our graphic design firm, DECODE, Inc., in the early 90s. We've worked primarily with educational publishers designing and producing middle- and high-school level textbooks. We're also both artists - I'm a photographer and Stephen works in a variety of media creating two- and three-dimensional work. Two years ago we decided to merge our interest in contemporary art and our knowledge of making books and published our first title, The Back of the Line. It's a series of four short stories and was a collaboration between the Brooklyn artist William Powhida and writer Jeff Parker. My passion has always been photography and so we decided to publish three photography books next.

MM: The aesthetic of the three artists you have published are very different. Why did you select the three artists whose work you have published so far?
JJ: Once we decided to do three books at once, I wanted to make sure to show a range of work. I first saw the Collective Memory body of work by Doug Keyes over ten years ago. I've always been impressed with how he uses multiple exposure and totally transforms the act of looking at a book into something completely new. And because of my design background I've been interested in how the design and content of each book determines the transformed image. Jesse Burke explores the complexity of masculine identity through his photographs. When I first saw his work I was struck that while I was drawn to individual photographs, as a whole they told a much larger story. A book seemed to be a good vehicle to help convey this story. My Peripheral Visions work deals with a different way of looking at the world and at photography itself. All of the work is shot completely out of focus and yet there is always a central vision to each image. I had completed this body of work several years ago and it seemed a good counterbalance to the other two bodies of work.

MM: Your books are hardcover and relatively standard in format, why did you choose to produce the books in this format?
JJ: I started with the idea that the books would be hardcover and for cost reasons that they would not be oversize books. While creating different prototypes for books, the work itself helped determine the final trim size and exact page count.

MM: Who designed and printed the books? How many did you print?
JJ: The design on the books was a collaboration between the artist and myself, although Doug Keyes - who is a designer as well - took over a lot of the design work for his book. We printed 2,000 copies of each book, all of which were printed at C&C Printing in Shenzhen, China. I went over for the press check and Shenzhen is pretty amazing. It has gone from a small city of under 50,000 people thirty years ago to a huge manufacturing center with a population now of over 12,000,000 people! It's just a hour north of Hong Kong, whose population is about 7,000,000. They are planning on one day merging the two into one gigantic metropolis.

MM: How do you accept proposals? Or do you accept proposals?
JJ: We are not accepting proposals at this time.

MM: How would you recommend a photographer get funding for his or her project aside from personal funds? Do limited edition prints help?
JJ: There are ways out there to help fund book projects. Here in Seattle there is an organization called Artist Trust that helps support all artists (visual artists, writers, filmmakers, performing artists, etc.) through grants and fellowships. Publishing a book is pretty expensive and it's probably impossible to fund it entirely through a grant or fellowship. That's where limited edition prints can help. We are using the sale of limited edition Collector's Prints for each book as one component to help recoup our publishing costs.

MM: Who is your favorite photographer or one who has impacted your life and work?
JJ: It's too hard to narrow it down to just one photographer, but here are several whose work I have admired over the years: Diane Arbus, Joel Peter Witkin, Jack Pierson, Uta Barth, Bill Jacobson.

MM: In your personal work, are you influenced by other mediums other than photography?
JJ: I have always been interested in architecture - with the purely visual aspect but also with the way it totally transforms a space. Architects start with a pretty blank canvas - empty space - and when done well create amazing three dimensional experiences. Many of my photographs are of buildings or spaces created by architecture.

MM: What blogs do you read? Magazines?
JJ: Here are a couple blogs and websites that are pretty interesting:
I read a lot of boring everyday popular culture magazines, but one photography magazine I didn't know about until late last year is Eyemazing (
http://www.eyemazing.com/). It introduces you to a lot of contemporary photographers you don't see anywhere else.

MM: What is your favorite book, photo or otherwise?
JJ: The book that I have gone back to time and time again is the first Diane Arbus monograph by Aperture. I've seen her images so many times that I almost feel I know the subjects in the photos (at least the way that Arbus wanted them to be known).

MM: Do you have an odd or funny photography related story?
JJ: Some of my Peripheral Vision work was selected to be in a group show at a retirement home here in Seattle a few years ago. It was placed in one of the hallways. Most of the time people make a joke about me not being able to focus or tell me my photographs look like what they see without their glasses on. At the opening one of the residents came up to me and said she had a hard time walking down the hallway looking at my photographs. They made her feel like she was about to fall over!

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