Book: Pictures of People and Things I by Kramer O’Neill

Kramer O’Neill recently published a new zine, the first in what sounds like a long series. I asked him a few questions about the zine and some of the thoughts behind it.

Your statement says you’re planning to makeone or two volumes a year, every year, from now until I’m dead.” Why did you decide to organize your work this way as opposed to in a longer, multi-year book? I like the idea. Raoul (Gatepin) and I would often talk about organizing our work into chapters in a very similar way. I think there’s something appealing to archiving the work this way. It speaks to the history buff in me as well.

I was in the middle of putting together the water series [Till Human Voices Wake Us] in book form, taking out shots that had been in there before, thinking some of them worked perfectly well, but not in the context of that project. At the same time, I was learning the technical part of constructing a book by making that one, and I thought maybe these orphaned shots could be fit together with other ones, and now that I had the necessary skills, why not make that other, looser book? As it turned out, there’s a little image overlap between this book, Till Human Voices, and another project I did called ‘Same Time Every Day,’ but it didn’t really matter, because this set is its own thing; I was looking for a unique flow, and thinking about the page-to-page juxtapositions (James Turnley’s Two For The Road blog was definitely on my mind).

Amusingly, the spin-off book got printed before the book from whence it spun, and I ended up cutting a bunch of pictures out of Pictures of People and Things 1as the edit tightened. So then it’s like I’m back where I started: now those shots are orphaned from this project, and shouldn’t they have a home, too? It’s the kind of obsessive categorization that can drive you crazy, like The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, chopping up those brooms into ever-smaller brooms. I see why people favor more thematically-focused projects.

I’m very interested in the way words interact with photographs. How did you come up with the title? It seems to me to have a certain blunt neutrality to it, almost like you’re telling people they shouldn’t expect too much out it, which I kind of like. You put it pretty simply in your statement: “They are records of how the photons were moving around me at certain times in my life.”

Blunt and neutral: yes, that’s what I was looking for. I wanted a title that had no reference (possibly a side effect of working on a book with title stolen from T.S. Eliot), and I didn’t want to categorize it, because I wasn’t sure what it was. It’s not a “street” book, although there’s a lot of street photography in it. There’s also a lot of shots of people I know in relatively intimate settings, and of objects that I either saw for a second or that I’ve spent huge amounts of time with. And you can’t necessarily tell which are which; all are rendered strangely equal in book form. That bluntness and neutrality is what I wanted for the title. The concept is that there is no concept…which is itself a kind of concept, I guess.

Like my friend James (Luckett) says (paraphrasing of course), “It’s all conceptual.” That said, I’m really drawn to projects that openly embrace ‘time’ and ‘place’ which are two inescapable qualities of photography. Sure, I guess you can say the same about all art, but with photography (at least documentary) the influence of time and place are nearly impossible to avoid. I guess one could argue that the work should have an element of timelessness to it, but I kind of think that’s BS. Fixing projects around time and place, that might not have any other central theme is interesting. I think it’s definitely something we could see develop out of the street photography community but also the type of photographers that just go about photographing their lives day in and day out. I’m not saying this way of working is in reaction to long term thematic projects, but I definitely think the rise of the internet and the interconnectedness that develops around it could make this way of working much more visible. Not really a question, but I see some of those ideas in this zine.

I guess this might be a version of what you’re saying in a microcosm. Working on one very-tightly-edited, very location-specific project made me want to make this one. Which is not to say I call bullshit on “time and place” projects, but they sure can leave out a lot of interesting stuff. But then again, how do you work the orphaned material into something that works on its own terms? Time and place may be an arbitrary way to arrange things, but rules are useful; they can even lead to more creativity, as our minds try to work around constraints. And they tell us what to cut out, which is a really good thing to know, because damn, I am terrified of being boring.

But one kind of project leads to the other, and maybe the other leads you back again. Which is a bit like my initial concession: I’ll keep making these, because I’ll never know when the project is finished. Possibly because it never will be, until I am.

When should we expect the next one?

I’ve essentially already started it; it was the shadow book constructing itself from this one’s rejections while I was making it. But really, I need to finish Till Human Voices before I touch this series again, so I’ll say…winter. If I can keep myself away.

A5 sized paperback, 170gsm paper with 81 images. Printed in Italy. €15, worldwide shipping included. [It can also be purchased on his site or at Librairie La Manoeuvre in Paris.]