Darius Himes in Conversation with Dana Faconti (Blind Spot)
I was living abroad when I first saw an issue of Blind Spot. I had recently completed my BFA in photography and was isolated from any art community. In reading the magazine, I felt like I had discovered a secret treasure trove. I still feel that way when I get a new issue.
Darius Himes: The mission of Blind Spot has always been to showcase unseen work by both well-know and unknown photographers. How has that mission grown and developed over the years?
Dana Faconti: We still aim to present new work, or work that has been overlooked for one reason or another, and it remains a priority to maintain a balance of established and emerging artists. When Blind Spot appeared in 1993, there were far fewer venues for artists working with photography to present their work, which made the impact of this mission profound. Twenty years later, the Internet and new printing technologies have proliferated on-demand books, websites, and small imprints; the number of outlets for photographers has increased greatly. The terrain for a small imprint like Blind Spot to engage new generations of image consumers is much more challenging now. We’ve responded to this by expanding our programming to include events, books, and online content, and by turning the magazine over to artist guest editors who provide distinct views on the role of photography within contemporary art. Artists remain at the center of what we do, and it’s particularly gratifying when they respond positively to our work. Ed Ruscha once said, “I was being forgetful while searching for a copy of Blind Spot. I looked for a good while then discovered it was on a shelf labeled Absolutely Most Unique in Any Storm at Sea.”
DH: Blind Spot is a very trim operation, accomplishing a great deal with modest resources. You perform the roles of publisher, editor, designer, production manager—among various other positions. What has been your approach to design—and has it changed over the last ten years?
DF: I was hired at Blind Spot fourteen years ago to be the assistant to the founding editor and publisher, Kim Zorn Caputo, and to be responsible for overseeing the nuts and bolts of our tiny operation—customer service, distribution, and the like. Having recently graduated from Parsons School of Design with a degree in photography and a focus in graphic design, Kim immediately made use of my layout skills and had me work on the issues with her. (She had previously worked with various designers, including Tony Arefin, J. Abbott Miller, and Tony Morgan.) The issues we produced together featured pieces of contemporary short fiction by writers like Dave Eggers, Jonathan Franzen, Joyce Carol Oates, and Lynne Tillman, and were very much under Kim’s art direction, which favored the use of multiple display typefaces and a lot of full-spread and full-bleed images.
When I took over the magazine I simplified the design and let go of the written components. For me, Blind Spot’s strength was in presenting beautifully produced images, and I wanted to refine the layout to better serve this purpose. At the same time, I was given the task of setting up a non-profit to take over the publishing of Blind Spot. That work led me, in 2007, to bring on Susan Barber as our art director; Su is responsible for creating the present design of the magazine. She’s an incredible designer with a deep appreciation of art and photography, and she works closely with the guest editors to adapt the format to their curatorial needs. I continue to oversee production, which is work I’ve always enjoyed.
DH: Very high production value is a distinguishing aspect of the magazine. The choice of paper stock and the standard of reproductions are superb. Why is that so integral to the experience of the magazine?
DF: The production value of Blind Spot is something I inherited from Kim. The magazine was begun as a side project while Kim was co-running a custom photography lab, Lexington Labs. Kim set out with the intention, strongly influenced by the magazine’s first associate editor, Vik Muniz, not just to create a magazine, but also to collaborate with the editors, designers, and contributing artists on making a piece of art. For Kim, that meant the publication warranted the same level of quality as the exhibition prints she was making for the artists that patronized the lab. Despite how financially difficult it has been to maintain this quality, especially since we produce the magazine and all of our publications in the United States, I remain committed to it.
DH: You’ve begun working with guest editors, inviting noted figures to work with the set parameters of the magazine. Have you enjoyed the process? Has that opened doors to seeing the magazine in a new light?
DF: Blind Spot has always been artist-driven. Vik was instrumental in shaping the publication at its inception, and the decision to turn the magazine over to artist guest editors was an organic development that now seems inevitable. The first issue with the coeditor role formalized was issue thirty-five, published in 2007. I had long been a fan of Jason Fulford’s work, so I asked Jason who he was excited about and he sent me a long and interesting list. From there I began looking for artists that I felt were pushing the medium or particular ideas about it that could be explored through the curation of an issue. I’ve largely given the guest editors complete freedom—with the exception that the trim size and page count remain the same. Taryn Simon was the first guest editor who wanted to change the layout of the pages. This was difficult for me at first but I was ultimately pleased with the resulting issue, and it opened things up for subsequent editors to work more freely within the format.
I’m careful to invite artists whose work I deeply admire, like Walead Beshty, Marco Breuer, Moyra Davey, Zoe Leonard, Tim Davis, Liz Deschenes, and James Welling, while also maintaining Blind Spot’s commitment to giving opportunities to exciting younger artists like Jodie Vicenta Jacobson, Arthur Ou, and Matthew Porter and Hannah Whitaker, who worked together on an issue. The guest editors have all been incredibly generous with their time and vision, and it’s been an extremely enjoyable process. To celebrate the magazine’s twentieth anniversary, I’ve invited Vik back to edit the fall issue, and Barney Kulok will coedit it. Their issue will draw from the magazine’s twenty-year archive, as well as introduce new and unpublished work.
Darius Himes is a director of Fraenkel Gallery. He was a cofounder of Radius Books and the first editor of the photo-eye Booklist, a journal dedicated to photography books. His first title, Publish Your Photography Book (Princeton Architectural Press), coauthored with Mary Virginia Swanson, will be reissued in a second edition in the spring of 2014. He lives and works in San Francisco but considers himself a global citizen.
The PhotoBook Review is a publication dedicated to the consideration of the photobook—focusing on the best photography books being published, from the coffee-table book to the handmade artist’s edition, and on creating a better understanding of the ecosystem of the photobook as a whole.