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Behind the scenes in Curatorial: Making a Book with Candor

by Nathaniel M. Stein, Associate Curator of Photography


Curatorial Blog , Candor Arts , The Levee: A Photographer in the American South , Exhibition Catalogue

The film How to Make a Book with Steidl (2010, dir. Gereon Wetzel and Jörg Adolph) follows the process of realizing an artistic vision with publisher Gerhard Steidl. Steidl is revered for uncompromising dedication to the craft of printing, and indeed every facet of book making from concept to design to hand production to the packaging and shipping of the final product. After 40 years, his discerning catalogue reflects his place among the most respected and sought-after photography book publishers.

Founded in 2015 in a spare bedroom, the history of Candor Arts is a little shorter than Steidl’s, but no less defined by discerning dedication to vision and craft. When I met the Candor team at a photography book fair in New York, I knew immediately I wanted them to publish the exhibition catalogue for The Levee: A Photographer in the American South. Why? Their table was loaded with books of immense artistic, intellectual and physical quality, each weaving its artist or author’s vision together with thoughtful, purposeful design. It didn’t take long to discover the team’s values—summed up by the name Candor—extend from their approach to design right through their respect for collaborators and the art of bookmaking. Looking for beautiful, smart books, well made by good people?  Found.

The timing was right for Candor, too. As their work garners increasing recognition, they are attracting the interest of institutions as well as individual artists. The project I approached them with was a great fit—not a conventional exhibition catalogue, but a book meant to function as a meaningful exploration of form while presenting images and words by exhibited artist Sohrab Hura, curatorial essays on Hura’s work and the documentary project Postcards from America, and unconventional reflections from renowned photographers including Jim Goldberg, Alec Soth, An-My Lê, Mikhael Subotzky and Zoe Strauss. Following a volume for Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Photography in collaboration with photographic polymath Teju Cole, the CAM project seemed a perfect next step for Candor.

After many weeks of correspondence and a late summer manuscript submission, last week I went to the Candor studio in Chicago to talk with co-owners and designers, Matt Austin and Melanie Bohrer, about how texts and photographs will take shape through another set of creative acts involved in the design and construction of book. In practice, that meant finding words to set the mood for the project (gentle, embracing, tender... but also vibrant, painful and joyous). It meant comparing myriad papers and fabrics to get a sense of how they would look and feel in the hand of a reader, and it meant talking about how the structure of a book becomes an intentional expression of its meaning.

Please join us at CAM on January 24th for the release of The Levee: A Photographer in the American South—the book we are making with Candor!