An Interview with Contributors to Index, Café Royal Books: PART 1

Using Index as a container, exhibition space and story-telling device, the pages that follow have been edited to create pairs or combinations of images that can be read as new narratives. The book is an experimental exchange of out-of context, repurposed text and image.

So reads the introduction to this curious new book, published by Café Royal Books. Artists were originally invited to submit their images or text online, with the simple brief that the work must have been used to communicate, or be communicative in its own right. The resulting publication is a mix largely of photographs, but also words, diagrams, posters, and other works which are presented in a new context. These new pairings or ways of presenting these images have a variety of consequences: some jarring, some sympathetic and some ambiguous.

We decided to speak to some of the contributors to find out how they view the project, and how the new context within Index has changed their perception of the work. We sent them just four questions each. These are their replies. (Each contributor's name is preceded by the page number(s) of their contribution, each of which can be displayed above).

p.12. Mark Adams

What was your contribution to Index?

I submitted a Polaroid photograph of a barbershop sign taken in a Chinese district in San Francisco.

What was the original intention or inspiration behind the image?

The photograph was taken as part of a larger body of work using the more informal Polaroid medium as another way of exploring colour in landscape and street photography. The project assembled a range of Polaroids taken over several years, up to the point that Polaroid ceased production of their SX-70 film in 2006. This image is from a smaller series focused on street photography that documents trade, domestic and institutional signs that communicate micro gestures available for decoding yet are undetermined, tentative and dependent on context for resolution.

The project ran alongside other long-term film based projects that I was working on in the US. This involved looking at the American social landscape from the perspective of a British/European ‘resident alien’. I photographed places, objects and people that contained evidence of temporary or transient states, othering, the exoticism and seduction of capitalism and the familiar and often banal iconography of American environments. This work is related to my own experiences as well as many of my artistic influences.

The original context for this project was as part of an exhibition that explored the tactility of polaroids as objects and a medium that is on the verge of extinction. I am currently working on a book project, that examines both the front and back of Polaroids as a means of viewing them as tactile objects, to extend this concept further.

SX-70 Polaroid film has a very unique quality particularly it’s chromatic range and high level of contrast. I like the idea that the Polaroid is recognizable as a three dimensional object as well as two dimensional image. Significantly instant film’s inherent tactility is part of the allure and aura of the medium, in a similar way to Daguerretypes over 100 years ago maybe. Polaroids can be read like signs in themselves, as objects they render the photographic surface visible, and lend themselves to labelling and classification.

Describe the image it was juxtaposed with in the book.

The Polaroid is the first image that appears in the book, since the image contains text, this is a nice bridge between the introductory essays and the free flowing images to follow. I particularly like the relationship and new context created by the image on the facing page which is formally distinct, yet shares many narrative characteristics – the discarded receipt speaks of a throwaway culture and the street as a possible repository. Both are evidence of codified commercial transactions that has the potential to be lost in translation. Further research reveals that they invite transaction or serve as a record of an exchange that takes place within a small family run business.

What do you think the effect of this new context is on the work, and what are your thoughts about that?

Well, firstly, in reproduction, the image has been stripped of it’s colour so loses some of its original impact, but it also gains a new immediacy. We are used to reading typography or texts in black and white in newsprint, so this image may be read in this new context as a direct message rather than a codified pictorial illustration, its banality emphasized by a reduction to the essentials of black ink on white paper stock. Associations may also be made with the 16th century concept of the Chapbook, which was a publishing form that provided an affordable way of disseminating ephemeral material. The sign photographed is in many ways just that, an ephemeral, transitory sign that probably changes from day to day. The photograph is fleeting as is the passer by depicted in the photograph. Polaroids themselves are not made to last, they fade, marking time passing. So there are various connections between form, content and process, here in this project – connections that I also enjoy pursuing in my own practice.

I generally display Polaroid images with their borders visible as they are part of the object and signifiers of a very specific and now almost redundant photographic process. The borders are absent in ‘Index’, so the reference to the image as object is lost and therefore becomes a pure image statement, severing its links with the medium. This allows it to flow more readily into the next image refuting any temptation for the viewer to draw conclusions on the specifics of the medium employed.

In regards content, the Polaroid documents the promise of a ‘good hair cut’ displayed on a cheap advertising board, which lacks the sophistication of modern communication, but transmits an idiosyncratic charm. The translation omits any decorative, manipulative language commonly associated with any kind of promotional strategy.

What interests me about Index is that it is neither decorative or manipulative, instead it allows the reader some freedom in drawing their own stories from the repurposed nature of the text and image. So the effect of this new context on my work does primarily what I have been exploring for a while – providing multi vocal narratives from what might initially be read as fixed signs, the move from a structuralist to post-structuralist reading.

You can find out more about Mark's work here. 

p.13. Christophe Le Toquin

What was your contribution to Index?

I collected a discarded ticket for mobile phone credit that was thrown in my front yard, then did a reproduction on a black background, like a piece of jewellery.

What was the original intention or inspiration behind the image?

The idea was to collect some modern material that are very common in our society and which are become contemporary wastes. This could be a projection of a contemporary archeology.

Describe the image it was juxtaposed with in the book.

A wooden panel installed on the sidewalk to advertise a hairdresser shop. There is also a funny similarity of shapes between the panel and the way my ticket is folded, both in a triangle shape.

What do you think the effect of this new context is on the work, and what are your thoughts about that?

The juxtaposition brings a new context to the object. I could easily imagine the ticket collected on the sidewalk, transported by the wind, and without reading what's on the ticket, this could be a receipt from the hairdresser. We could probably start to create a complete story, moving from a photo to another.

Find out more about Christophe Le Toquin here. 

p.19. Sarah Bodman

What was your contribution to Index?

The note sating “Chip will pick you up at 7.45 not 7.30, Jeff”

What was the original intention or inspiration behind the image?

It was Halloween, the note was left on my bag in the workshops at MCBA, Minneapolis, Friday 31st October 2008, organising a lift to a party. We had only just arrived in town so it was a really nice surprise to go to a proper Halloween bash and I had a great time.

Describe the image it was juxtaposed with in the book.

A family (?) portrait, they are all standing outside and they have coats on so they they look like they are waiting for someone to take them somewhere.

What do you think the effect of this new context is on the work, and what are your thoughts about that?

I like it, the little girl at the front is smiling, so hopefully they were off to a party too. It is a good link to the context of the note, to go out and have some fun! (although the older girl behind doesn't look quite so pleased so they might be about to leave for a boring family do).

Sarah Bodman also contributed one of the essays which introduces the book. Find out more about her work here.

p.25. Anna Mcquillin

What was your contribution to Index?

The contents of a letter found at a Market in Chesterfield, Derbyshire. The letter was written on the 3rd September, 1944 by Elsie-May Bunkle to her husband Harry during his naval service in the Second World War.

What was the original intention or inspiration behind the image?

To create new meaning by situating the contents of the letter in a new context. The letter belonged to a collection of twenty and I have used it previously in an instillation. The instillation consisted of twenty photographs evidencing the sculptural form of each letter, opened to expose the rigidity of their folds and wear. The contents of the letter was read out loud, recorded and then played out in whispers, sequenced so that it could be heard at various positions in the exhibition space. This collection was displaced by the coupling of other found material, a super8 film bought at a flea market in Grenoble, France.

Describe the image it was juxtaposed with in the book.

The contents is laid bare, typed without date or signing or any punctuation. The resulting narrative can be found in the middle spread of the book and serves as a textual break from the other image-based material.

What do you think the effect of this new context is on the work, and what are your thoughts about that?

The wholeness of the collection is already compromised by the singularity of the letter – it presents only one side of the correspondence. The letter receives further abstraction in its placement within Index (as a textual break). It is made effective through the absence of any contextual details. This offers the text up for re-appropriation, rendering the narrative anew, fictitious, a touch absurd. The narrative is made real by the participatory role of the reader.

Find out more about Anna's work here.

p.26, 27 & 46. Meral Güler

What was your contribution to Index? What was the original intention or inspiration behind the image?

Two of my photoworks are included in the project.

Car Crash, pages 26-27: 70's Cadillac Deville on Hwy 62. California. Jerome, the owner ask me to take this photo for an insurance claim.

Mojave Desert Map, page 46: Roaming the Mojave Desert in extreme heat, I got lost. This map was drawn up by Edith, as she recounted the numerous UFO sightings she had witnessed.

Describe the image it was juxtaposed with in the book.

Image Page 26-27 stand alone double page. On page 47 is a french hand written note which I think translates “Celine the silent “

What do you think the effect of this new context is on the work, and what are your thoughts about that?

The potential of any project is dependent on its purity. My photo works are items as evidence in relation to a scene. The Information modified in the context of this book creates new dialogues from its originality and has believability and a substantive reality.

Find out more about Meral Güler here.


We thank all the artists for their contributions and we will continue this feature in PART 2. You can buy Index from Cafe Royal Books at their website, here. 

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