I met Victor Sira this past year during my ICP-Bard MFA studies when he taught his infamous and very popular course, “The Book: Imaginary Studio, A Non Stop Process”. All of the students in my class raved about his cool demeanor, invigorating teaching style, deep knowledge of the independent bookmaking and general wisdom as an artist.
Through Victor’s class I began to think about presenting my own work within traditional and non-traditional book forms, something I’d never done before. I hope you enjoy my interview with this Venezuelan-born artist and book dealer. Follow Victor Sira’s Tumblr blog The Book Studio and on Twitter via @victorsira.
D&B: What inspired your love of books – was it photography?
VS: I came to photography and books because of the necessity to explain both my life at home in Venezuela and in the outside world. Unlike Europeans or US photographers I had neither a developed photography tradition nor a vast complex of cultural institutions that supported my work.
In making books I found a way to examine and preserve my own history. By editing my photographs in the pages of a book it allows me to recognize the fragmented aspects of my identity, to see how they enable me to become who I am.
For me each book is a new beginning; a platform to question what has gone before and where to launch a quest for new discovery.
D&B: A Japanese student at ICP once told me that the Japanese prefer collecting photo books than actual prints because of their limited living space. You recently visited Japan. Can you tell us a little about the photo book culture there?
VS: There is a great book tradition in Japan. Their original book called the Wahon (Japanese Book) is a side-sewn book. Its earliest examples came from China and then moved on to Japan between the tenth and seventeenth century.
In Europe, especially in Germany, the printing techniques are excellent but Japan has the best inks and papers. Most Japanese people have a great understanding of the quality and nature of these materials especially paper. They relish and value it.
D&B: Tell us about Book Dummy Press. What is your mission for this new enterprise?
VS: The ultimate goal of bdp is to ask questions, stimulate conversations and to communicate with our communities. I founded bdp together with my wife Shiori for it to be a place for the research, creation, documentation and distribution of artistically and educational-minded projects by using the aesthetic and communicative power of books, photography and the moving image.
D&B: You also teach bookmaking. What is the first thing artists/photographers should think about when setting out to make their own books?
VS: To choose a book format that best fits the subject and idea of the work. I will also say that a light, small and inexpensive book spreads your ideas faster than a big, heavy and expensive one.
D&B: Is self-publishing the best marketing tool for artists right now?
VS: In today’s digital context publishing books as a medium for distributing information like photography may be inconvenient. They are heavy, they get dirty and they fade with time.
They hold an amount of images that could be easily contained in a small, digital memory stick but, if we carefully study the relationship between photographs and the individual, what becomes important is how profoundly we can appreciate the images.
I think we may have a more pleasant user experience and can be more satisfied with images presented in a book that is made with papers of sensible weights and textures than with photographs that have become rarefied through compression into a small space.
D&B: What are some of your book hunting grounds (in NYC or anywhere)?
VS: The 3rd floor at Strand’s books store.
D&B: Which book in your own library is your most prized possession?
VS: Geohistoria de la Sensibilidad en Venezuela is the title of an impressive academic book designed by Álvaro Sotillo who is a Caracas, Venezuela Prizewinner of the City of Leipzig 2006 Gutenberg Award.
D&B: If money was no object, what book would you want to own?
VS: For me books are instruments of learning and teaching. If money was no object I would travel more often to research and document diverse book cultures.
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