Interview with publisher Michael Abrams

Michael Abrams is the publisher of Loosestrife Editions. His first book, Berlin in the Time of the Wall, established Loosestrife as a high quality book design and publishing company. Since this first book, he has published the work of Anthony Hernandez, Waiting, Sitting, Fishing and Some Automobiles, John Gossage, Putting Back the Wall
Secrets of Real Estate (© John Gossage, shown left), and a book of his found photos titled Strange and Singular.

©Michael Abrams. Strange and Singular

MM: You started Loosestrife in 2004 with the outstanding book (and one of my favorites) of John Gossage’s work titled Berlin in the Time of the Wall. It is 464 pages, casebound, slipcased with and acetate dustjacket. Why such a monumental project for your first publication and why John Gossage?

MA:I’ve collected photography and photo books since the early 1990’s and by 2002 was looking for another outlet to continue my photography interests. Around the same time John Gossage and I met through a mutual friend. He had just published Snake Eyes

and I casually mentioned how cool I thought it would be to publish photo books. The Berlin book had been percolating for some time but he warned me that it was an “impossible” project. Within a few weeks we had formulated an approach that would work for both of us. That was the start of our publishing efforts and great friendship.

MM: You just won the coveted honor for Rencontres d’Arles Prix de Livre for your book Strange and Singular. This book is a unique concept in that each book has 3 different found photos blown into the text block. How did this project on vernacular photography and applied text come about? Where did the photos come from and does their inclusion have something to do with the concept?

MA: I started collecting vernacular photographs about 5 years ago. I was fascinated at the similarity of my reaction to a great snapshot as to an Arbus or Friedlander. The experience of finding an image that holds one’s fascination and curiosity is what draws me to the medium. Collecting the vernacular material is also a bit of a protest against the monetization of the photo collecting process. It’s a wonderful way to hone your eye and find pleasure in a simple image free from the financial aspects of collecting.

One day John said ….these pictures you’ve put together are really great, I think there is a book here. I initially thought he was BS’ing me. But after looking at many of the books which utilized snapshots or found images I came to believe that the material could be presented in a more insightful way. I wanted to create a book that was true to the attributes of the work. It’s intimacy, its ability to reveal the parts of ourselves that we don’t readily expose.

As a photo book collector I’m very much attuned to what it feels like to hold a book in your hands-- to experience it, by way of scale, materials or references to other books. The original pictures inserted in the book serve a few purposes. First, they are a way of physically experiencing the material and breaking down the wall between the original object and the printed page. Secondly, they also create surprise and wonder to the process of paging through the book. You come upon them and initially think –what’s this doing here…..will there be more?

MM: The aesthetic of the three artists you have published—John Gossage, Anthony Hernandez and yourself— are very similar. Why did you select the three artists whose work you have published so far?

MA: There is certainly an aesthetic to the book design which comes from John. He is attuned to how a book operates and creating an additional dimension to the photo book experience. Each of these books has a strong relationship between the material and the book craft.

MM: How do you accept proposals? Or do you accept proposals?

MA: We’ll call you……..

Half joking but we both have day jobs so we operate differently than most publishers. We usually have a relationship with the work or the photographer. We’d encourage work that matches our aesthetic.

MM: Who designed and printed the catalogues? How many did you print?

MA: John is the design chief. We printed in China and except for the first Berlin book we find 1,000 copies is the right number for our books.

©John Gossage. Berlin in the Time of the Wall

MM: Do you recommend a photographer or publisher go on press for the each book?

MA: It’s amazing how much nuance there is in the printing process. I’d highly recommend it.

MM: How would you recommend a photographer get funding for his or her project aside from personal funds? Have limited edition prints with your projects?

MA: We’ve done some limited editions and they can help. However, I think they have been overdone and I’d be curious to see how well they are selling. They work best with well established photographers where the limited editions provide an attractive opportunity to own a print.

We look to a set of prints from the book as a means of funding a project. It’s really the compensation for the break even or loss on a project. It’s very difficult to make the numbers work without some level of outside support. A champion of your prints is a good place to start.

MM: Who is your favorite photographer or one who has impacted your life and work?

MA: John Gossage has been my photo mentor and helped me enter this world in a way I could never have found on my own. I’m naturally drawn to the subject matter and aesthetics of Friedlander, Eggleston, Shore, Adams and Baltz.

©Anthony Hernandez. Waiting, Sitting, Fishing and Some Automobiles

MM: In your personal work, are you influenced by other mediums other than photography?

MA: I’ve become fascinated with collage and Ray Johnson in particular.

MM: What blogs do you read? Magazines?

MA: B54 is the best blog by far on photobooks. Modern Art Notes. Adam Bell. Maybe Alec Soth will come out of blog retirement and grace us with his insights.

MM: What is your favorite book, photo or otherwise?

MA: The City in History by Lewis Mumford and The New West by Robert Adams.

MM: Do you have an odd or funny photography related story?

MA: Gerry Badger is in charge of funny photo stories…….usually drinking and sex are involved.

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