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Interview with Cesura Publish

We talked to the creators of one of the photobooks made people talk in 2012 and that nicely surprised me because of its concept and production. It’s about Found Photos in Detroit (Cesura Publish) and behind it are the italian photographers Arianna Arcara and Luca Santese. A book about the decandence of the city that was one of the economic foundations of USA.

Photobook cover.

Seeking Magazine: ‘Found Photos in Detroit’ belongs a sort of photobooks which has appeared in the last years, based on the edition “fotos halladas”, or compiled of a personal folder or external folder. When did you start to work in this project?

Cesura Publish: We Started this project in 2009. We made two different trip in Detroit, the first one was August 2009 and the second was January or February 2010, for 6 weeks-span of work. We where searching for a stare at the real economic crisis in USA. Our first goal was to make a photo-report project about the city. But then we started finding scattered photographs around the city, inside broken houses, near dismissed facilities or police stations. Right away we figured we had it: those forgotten pictures were the ultimate image of the crisis and desperation around us.

SM: Behind the book is the economic crisis and how it affected Detroit. There are other books about the decadence and derelicts of the city, but your book goes further than the ruins and the transformation of the urban landscape. How far does ‘Found Photos in Detroit’ takes us into the history of the city and its people?

CP: As soon as we indulged looking though this lost pictures, we were stroked – fallen in love so to speak; we thought we could have done a better job working on this material, actually produced by the people themselves that lived through the fall of the city, instead of us taking pictures of the aftermath of the crisis.

SM: For the publish of this book you have counted with a huge graphic material that you found in the city of Detroit, this is the case of letters, family albums, polaroids, police files and so on. How was the process of getting this objects? and how did you realize that you get enough material to perform a photobook?

CP: Once we found the first sparse pictures, and got persuaded by the direction of our project, we started a methodical search for lost photos around the city. By six weeks we had gathered about 1500 items. Back in our home studio we went directly to the editing process to assemble an exposition, and from there the project has brought us to this publishing.

SM: In my opinion, the design and concept of this book is made with judgment. It is a publication like a photo album or even a journal which you may think is a story told from photos of somebody. How did you work in the production and design phase of this book?

CP: Our aim was to consider the found material as an archive, and work on it as such – both the exhibition and book were prepared on the base of this concept. The point for us was to establish this collection as a legit archive, and that explains the keeping of the photos’ original size; but at the same time we wanted to properly express the feeling of desperation of the city, so – mostly toward the end of the book – we enlarged the size of some images to help conveying his feeling. The book has different levels of meaning to be read through, but the fundamental premise to any of those meanings is that we, as authors, didn’t take any of those pictures, everyone of them was collected directly from the streets. That’s why the cover is so restrained, and neither of our names or others information are printed.

SM: The book really transmits a sense of loss and despair which is almost suffocating. How much can the book be a portrait of the American society itself, the racial conflicts or even the problems of capitalism?

CP: It is difficult for us authors to step in the discussion of social issues of today’s American society, nor is our intention to express any judgement. Vince Leo, art writer and contributor of the Little brown Mushroom magazine, wrote this in his review: “In the process, they have also created a powerful document of contemporary Detroit that moves beyond the bailout and the romanticized urban ruins of good times past to address the human tragedy that are the results of inequality, racism, and political impotence. That said, there’s no walking away from the fact that these images and their subjects tell another story. As so often in the past, these African-Americans have been reconstructed into a narrative not of their own making, revealing their utter representational powerlessness, no matter the intentions of the current powers that be. That is the agonizing contradiction at the heart of Found Photos in Detroit: that the source of its power as a social critique is made possible only by appropriating the despair of the abandoned.”

SM: Since the book is mainly focused on portraits of Afro-Americans in groups or individually which give us a sense of identity and community. Can we say that the Afro-American culture is the key narrative of the book?

CP: The project doesn’t pretend to tell the History of the City of Detroit and its Inhabitants, in no way. As the title says, this work is a collection of found photographs, and the 90% of these happened to portrait Afro-American individuals. Eventually, it was a consequence more than a choice.

SM: Many of the photographs are damaged and even diluted by scratches and various stains, perhaps there is a certain parallelism between the destiny of the photos and the people in them. Can we understand that as an allegory of the pass of time and vanishing of reality?

CP: The broken state of the pictures is easily mirroring the late history of Detroit, for sure. But more than the evident comparison between the conditions of the photos and the city’s, it was relevant to us the restoring and reinstating of the memory contained by such images, which got lost altogether with the pictures. The condition of these photographs is mostly telling because of the obliteration of the memories, stories and feelings they used to contain.

SM: From the beginning of the book there is a repetition in the layout of photographs, first some faded Polaroids that are beyond recognition, then photographs in which we can see the people to finalize with faded photographs again Did you wanted to reflect by the means of photography the processes of the memories, remembrance and forgetfulness?

CP: Our intent is not about suggesting a one-way interpretation of a story – on the contrary, we support an open reading of the work. The editing of sequences, as the one you referred to, is intended to reach for the reader’s experience, in order to find personal, inner meaning – not guided by any interpretation from our part. In relation with the condition of photographs, sequencing is an instrument of help to preserve the fragile state of these images-objects, and more so to preserve the memory they contain.

SM: You have made an edition of 1,000 copies. How is it being the response of the people?

CP: Found Photos in Detroit is a self-pulish book. The intention to preserve full autonomy over the project led us to not follow the route of publishing houses, but independently manage the production and distribution of this book.
Definitely a hard, demanding work for both of us, but the book is gaining positive reviews and generated a good deal of interest. We are satisfied and happy with the results so far.

Interview by Andrés Medina.

Translation by Marco Antonio.

©Photobook and photographs by Arianna Arcara & Luca Santese.

1 Comment

    so good. well done interviewer.

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