Tom Lascell

Black & White Photography

Ravages of Time:
A Collaborative Artist Book Project

Ravages of Time



Ravages of Time is an artist book project created in collaboration with paper and book artist Drew Luan Matott and black and white photographer Tom Lascell. It is comprised of a series of twenty-four black and white photographs, plus cover and end pages, depicting the power of weather and time on man made structures and artifacts. The hand crafted artist book features both accordion and gate fold pages designed to be viewed one page at a time in a traditional manner, or by pulling out one of four accordion arrays, to view a 'gallery' or sequence of six images at a time. Viewers are also able to experience other arrays for viewing by selecting their own unique page fold options. The 8" x 8" x 1" square format is meant to be viewed closely in hand; the tactile feel of the handmade book and the unique page turns are as important as the images themselves. To us, the element of surprise was paramount. In our design, we sought the "unique" page turn, hoping to provide the lure to be read, and reread, each time encouraging a different viewing experience.

The images are from original silver gelatin prints, scanned to digital at SUNY College at Oneonta in the spring of 2007. A limited edition of thirty books were printed on Stonehenge 100 pound paper in Canton, NY. The text was printed on a Universal Letterpress III at the BluSeed Studios in Saranac Lake, NY and were hand bound by the artists at St. Lawrence University in Canton, NY. The books are numbered and signed by the artists on the colophon.

Because of its unique design and construction, copies are intended for college libraries and 'book art' archives to be accessible to aspiring book artists. A limited quantity are available for sale to individual collectors. A proof and several of the original prints that inspired the collaboration were shown in exhibit at the BluSeed Gallery in Saranac Lake, NY in June of 2007.


Ravages of Time


About the collaboration

Drew contacted me just before Christmas of 2006, asking me if I was interested in collaborating on an artist book with him. I was, of course, flattered that another artist liked my work enough to consider doing a collaborative book. So, I said, "Yes! Absolutely!", even though I hadn't the vaguest idea of what I was getting into. As it turned out, Drew didn't understand that much about black and white photography, nor did I know anything about making an artist book. And so the adventure began!

We corresponded by email over the next few months, pitching ideas and concepts to each other, learning a little bit more about each other's medium with each exchange. I didn't know a signature from an end page. He didn't know about wet darkroom process or rendering highlights or finding details in the shadows. So we learned together as we embarked on our collaborative venture.

Drew was an MFA candidate at Chicago's Columbia College studying paper and book arts. I am a traditional black and white film photographer from upstate New York. We met professionally at the Green Door Studio in Burlington, Vermont, home to The People's Republic of Paper where I rented darkroom space and was a member of the studio collective. Drew was the founder of the studio before leaving Vermont to earn his masters degree in Chicago.

As we began our creative collaboration, we began to discuss the meaning of working collaboratively, how did we stay true to our respective aesthetic sense and mediums, yet create something unique for us both, marrying the two art forms. The first paste up was slapped together in January, 2007 to better understand the mechanics and aesthetics of our original concept. Lots of paste; little sophistication. But it gave us a model to hold in hand. And, best news of all, the unique page turns worked.

"In the course of our discussion Drew and I have, of course, come upon the very real problem of working with two very different artistic mediums, each having its own distinctive characteristics. For most fine art print photographers, there are normally only two methods of exhibiting work; either matted and framed for a gallery show, or presented as a 'coffee table' book. Each approach highlights the quality of the original print. For the book artist, the challenge is not how to mount and bind beautiful photographs (that's been done already, quite successfully), but how to create a distinctive book form that shows off the paper and binding. For a collaboration to work, each artist must feel uncompromised as to their individual standards, yet be able to produce a work that meets both their needs. That was our challenge: How to remain true to your artistic self and medium while creating some sort of artistic synthesis, without creating a 'thalidomide bastard' in the process."


Ravages of Time


As we discussed our vision for the book, back before we had selected images or suggested a title, or even a theme, we focused on how the book would feel in hand. We wanted a dynamic tactile experience. We wondered about intimacy and size and heft. We wanted to inspire a different way of viewing the contents. Not just another 'coffee table' book, viewing one image at a time. Turn the page ... view another. Turn the page ... view another ... turn the page .... We wanted to provide freedom of choice for the viewer, provide them with a medium for creative exploration. After all, it's the viewer who brings his own sense of wonder and discovery to the artist's table. If you can't engage the viewer, why bother sharing the book? We ended up with a traditional gatefold for the timid, and an accordion for the more adventurous, combined in one viewing experience. (And it has been a joy to watch the first time viewer pick up the book. They start by opening the cover, then slowly turning the title page to view the first image, then turn a second page ... then a smile comes over their face as their fingers discover the feel of the deckle edge that 'teases' to be pulled from the spine revealing the first accordion array. We think of it as tactile learning; once discovered by the hand, there is a compulsion to pull out the full array.)

The images ultimately chose themselves. They are a series of silver gelatin prints taken over a span of two years that had not found a proper 'home'. A few had been shown in a gallery exhibit, but they needed a new venue to effectively tell their story. By cropping them to a square format, they came to life in book form. The theme flowed from the images, and ultimately the title to capture the mood. The end pages became 'visual' bookends; the cover completed the symmetry.

We knew there would be text, but didn't know what would compliment the images. A poem, a social commentary? Original words, or borrowed from another artist? We started with a short poem. It had the rhythm, but the words didn't resonate. We then moved on to a brief artist statement I had written, thinking it would be printed on the back end page. It had some of the words, but it missed the mark. Drew rewrote the passage, focusing on the developing theme. Now it had rhythm. A final editing matched to the images; we were able to generate page turns.


Ravages of Time


We had agreed on the concept and mechanics, selected images, written the text and developed a paste up version. But we still had to bind it. While our creative spirit helped us solve aesthetic problems, we were stumped by the practical considerations of devising a binding that would support the pages and page turns, yet let us attach the cover to the dynamic contents. We thought of a glued perfect binding, but the spine would crack with repeated use. We explored a screw post binding, and while it seemed strong enough, we didn't like the way it restrained the page turns. And aesthetically, it looked and felt too much like a scrapbook. No, we needed a sewn binding to fit our aesthetic needs. But how do you sew signatures together that allow for both gatefold and accordion viewing?


Ravages of Time


Images were scanned to digital and saved in high resolution format (1440 dpi for the cover, 720 dpi for the pages) at SUNY College at Oneonta. They were laid out in Illustrator in Chicago and at the Green Door Studio in Burlington, VT.


Layout Diagram


After adding text, we printed on Stonehenge 100 lb paper using an Epson 2200 inkjet printer at the Community College of Vermont in Burlington. And it took forever to print a three page image array, then flip it over to print the next array on the back, always preserving the original deckle edge. But we were disappointed. Even though we had solved our layout and print quality problems through trial and error, the pages appeared too brown. Our original concept was based on a classical black and white rendering; these were too 'chocolate'. Interesting perhaps, but not what we envisioned. So we printed enough to bind three complete books - new paste ups so we could work further on our binding problems. Frustrated, we walked away from the project for three days, trying to find a new perspective. We didn't want to look at the printed pages; we needed time to refresh.


Ravages of Time


We regrouped at the St. Lawrence University paper studio to assemble and bind our books. We had book board for the cover, needle and linen thread, lots of binding paste; but no black binders cloth for the spine. We improvised with black artist paper, backed by Japanese rice paper for added strength.

And our chocolate pages? Shazaam! Now they were black! Stupid us! As artists, we know that light is made up of a full spectrum of colors, not just white. In Burlington, we were printing black ink on a warm cream-colored paper, viewing the results under fluorescent lights. No wonder they looked brown! But in natural light, the brown had given way to a soft black. What we had considered an aesthetic disaster had been rectified.

We bound three proofs, using slightly different techniques on each, to see what worked best. Different gluing patterns to join the page arrays, different end pages printed on different papers, different binding stitches to see which was strongest, different spine attachments to see which functioned best given our intended viewing mechanics. Back in Chicago, Drew printed and bound two more; he changed the font and bound the spine with black binders cloth. We now had five volumes to ponder. We've watched new viewers engage the proof for the first time, seeing their interest as they discover the unique page mechanics. We've strengthened the binding so it feels more solid in hand. We've repositioned the cover image to be more dynamic. We've scored the accordion pages to fold more crisply and lie flat when constricted. We've tipped in end pages and colophon so they provide extra strength when sewn into the signatures.


Ravages of Time


A proof was shown in exhibit at the BluSeed Studio in Saranac Lake, NY, along with several original silver gelatin prints that inspired the collaboration, in June 2007. Proofs have also been shown in exhibit at Northern Kentucky University, the University of Alabama and SUNY College at Oneonta, and was included in a juried exhibition at the Suffolk Museum (Suffolk, VA) in March 2008.



Then, as so often happens, life got in the way. Drew was engaged in his final MFA project and thesis; I started experimenting with alternative photography process and printing on hand crafted papers. The end result was a hiatus from book production. It took several months to get back on track. We realized that we had already accomplished most of the goals we had set at the outset. We had designed a new book form, we had resolved our technical problems and created something aesthetically 'wonderful' and unique. The creative spirit and challenge that initially brought us into the collaboration had largely been rewarded. But we still had chores to do. Ultimately, we broke the final production into discrete stages; printing the images, letterpress printing the text, and the binding and final assembly.

The images were digitally printed in Canton, New York in May of 2008 on an Epson 2200. It was an initial struggle to layout the pages on 8 x 26 inch Stonehenge paper due primarily to our insistence of keeping the deckle edge. Establishing the proper density of the black images took some trial (and lots of error). The solution lay in switching out the black inks and lying to the printer. I had always assumed that the Adobe software programmers knew what they were doing when they wrote the output commands. But then I realized they were just 'techies', not artists, so hadn't anticipated my particular needs. At first, I thought it was somehow 'sinful' to lie to the computer, that I might end up in a continuous cyber loop if I 'fudged' my output parameters. But since I 'lie' to my camera when I override its internal light meter or 'adjust' the ISO setting to reposition middle gray, I shouldn't have been so intimidated.


Letterpress Printing


The Roman 18 pt. text was printed on a Universal III Letterpress at the BluSeed Studio in Saranac Lake, NY in August. Setting the lead type, establishing the proper letter spacing and punch depth on the first page took several hours; the actual print run took twenty minutes. Subsequent pages were much faster since most of the aesthetic decisions had been made at the outset. The colophon was printed in 12 pt. type.

Binding and final assembly was completed over three weekends at the print studio at St. Lawrence University in Canton, NY. The hidden sewn binding utilized a French stitch using waxed linen thread. Two three-page arrays were joined at the gutter, then the four leafs were sewn into a paper spine backing to create the signature block. The paper spine insured the proper spacing within the gutter, allowing enough room for the folded accordion arrays to prevent billowing of the cover. We reinforced the spine with paste saturated binding gauze, then inserted the signature block and head bands into the cover using black binders cloth over the spine. The colophon and first image of the array are separated by blank tipped in leafs, providing extra strength to the sewn binding and overall symmetry to the page turns.


Drew Binding


We were able to produce a book true to our own aesthetic sensibilities without compromising our individual standards. We were able to create a new viewing experience for our audience, hopefully adding a new book form to inspire other creative artists to expand their horizons. Because of its unique design and construction, we hope to place copies in college libraries and 'book art' archives to be accessible to aspiring book artists.

As for the collaboration, the initial brainstorming was the most fun, the most creative. It was accomplished through telephone discussion, exchanged emails and file attachments. Distance and time zones were not an issue. The actual production was more problematic, since we tried to do it together. Given our individual travel schedules and other commitments, scheduling periods of time when we could work together was a challenge.

But as an added benefit, the project fostered new ideas and artistic directions for us both. I have been introduced to the paper and book arts, and have recently embarked on a project utilizing three dimensional self portrait masks, made from paper pulp, and have dabbled with paper sheet forming for alternative process printing and broadsides. I even have a book idea or two. As for Drew, he's been teaching entry level black and white photography and working in the darkroom, incorporating photographic images and pictographs, utilizing a single candle flame as a light source. We have certainly gained an appreciation of each others artistic medium, and are taking what we've learned from each other as a jumping off point for our own artistic expressions. We've also found that creativity is not a linear journey; it has twists and turns and any single idea can take you off on a new path of discovery, only to find that a creative thread previously discarded proves to be the crucial 'eureka' moment urging you on to new horizons.


Tom Lascell
November 2008


Ravages of Time


Ravages of Time was completed in November 2008 and is now available for purchase directly from the artists. It is a limited edition of thirty hand crafted books; they are numbered and signed by the artists on the colophon.


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