Affective Misplacement and the Image City

Published in Rereading Empathy edited by Emily Johansen and Alissa G. Karl, 2022. From the editors: "If we all had more skill with empathy, so the claim goes, we would all be better citizens. But what does it mean to empathize with others? How do we develop this skill? And what does it offer that older models of solidarity don't? Why empathy-and why now?

Rereading Empathy takes up these questions, examining the uses to which calls for empathy are put in the face of ever expanding economic and social precarity."

A re-framing of empathy and the call to empathize in relation to images and image makers as part of a capitalist reification process that advantages those empathizing at the further expense of their subjects. Inspired by Ariella Aïsha Azoulay's Potential History: Unlearning Imperialism, it discusses complicity and consequences of the empathetic photographer and critic's privilege relative to photographic subjects as part of an imperialistic system.

Images and photobooks relative to Rochester, New York (aka the Image City) are the case in point.


Blurred Library

A collection of essays on metaphors for critically reading books by artists.

From Cuneiform Press: "Shaw’s versatility as a scholar and artist allow him to take a holistic approach to his subject that is historical, conceptual, anecdotal, contemplative, and engaging. Blurred Library is an indispensible contribution to the field of artists' books, essential reading for emerging and seasoned artists and scholars alike. Lavishly illustrated throughout by photographer Doug Manchee."

Cuneiform Press

Reading Breath: the Later Bookworks of Deborah Boardman

A reflection on books and death in relation to Deborah Boardman's mostly hand-painted artist's books.

This was commissioned by curator Jessica Cochran for the Boardman exhibition "Painter, &" at Hyde Park Art Center, Chicago, IL 2018-2019.


Inverted Mountain, Some Associations

A writing on Trevor Parlo Clement's inimitable photo-bookwork and installation at Spark Gallery, Syracuse, NY, 2018. From the installation announcement: "INVERTED MOUNTAIN re-purposes the cathartic language of hardcore-punk and noise music, the conceptual geography of Dante's Purgatorio, and the despondent atmosphere of sci-fi cinema, in order to weave a labyrinthine and disjointed narrative of willful disillusionment and destructive purification. Described is a journey towards, and then through, an anonymous city; a location with a dual identity as both place and process. The city acts as a stand-in for the orthodox structure of social coercion. The institutional power of society is designed for quiet violence; quicksand. The currency of this violence is sexual. Identities are forged on the bedrock of gender, and the codes which contain them. Control is practiced by cooking the code-book, by manipulating the social DNA of the user from beneath their consciousness."


Notes from the Ground

Essay published in JAB 36 (Journal of Artists' Books) Fall 2014

From the essay:

"Over the three years I worked on my latest book, The Ground—a kind of memoir about a different book I buried in Pennsylvania mixed with images of hydrofracking and other mining sites—my studio and creative process have been in a state of perpetual interruption without grounding. The following is an anecdoted topography of my constantly transitioning studio practice while working on The Ground."


Collecting Trash

Essay published in Mimeo Mimeo #8: The Curators’ Choice Issue, Summer 2013

“When it comes to collections I find interesting the tension between what will be kept or thrown away. The few things I have selected here all seem to have been made for the sake of experimentation and could have been mistaken at some point for garbage. I am not saying this to denigrate the stuff selected; or the makers;or that which we have collected at Visual Studies Workshop (VSW), though a few of our archives were literally saved from the trash.”

Mimeo Mimeo

Conversation Starter

Interview with Myra Greene published in My White Friends, Kehrer Verlag, 2012

From the interview:

“TS: What was the starting point of this project? Is it one you have long thought about doing or did something specific set it in motion?

MG: In previous projects, I made a lot of self-portraits and objects that related directly to my black body. Over time I struggled with the concept of commodified blackness and how an art object helps to promote that idea. But at the same time, I was having conversations with white people about how they digested that commodification…”

Myra Greene

Immersion: a Conversation

Essay and linked interviews with artists Emily McVarish,Jody Zellen, and Janet Zweig published in JAB33 (Journal of Artists’ Books),Spring 2013


Strategic Linkage: Binding and Sequence in Photobooks

Essay in Aperture’s The Photobook Review, Spring 2012

From the introduction:

“The way images and texts bind together to form narratives is critical to a photographic sequence. I’m using the word binding in the conceptual sense, how images mentally link to one another or to a text. Photo sequence combines images in a specific order to create a context for meaning to be inferred between the images. There is a wide range of different sequence modes as well as variations on prototypical sequence styles. A mode I’ll single out here binds subject matter in photographs to create metaphors.”


Doug Manchee

Essay published in Contact Sheet 157: Light Work Annual 2010

From the essay:

“Doug Manchee spent four years photographing in the Research Center at Visual Studies Workshop in Rochester, NY… Manchee did not set out to document objects in the Research Center or record the state of the place in time. His approach is more equivocal and evocative, and his photographs of the archive summon the search, but forgo the retrieval, of memory. Manchee conceptualizes storage, a key concern of out time, and what is archival about the mind.”

Blurring the Library

Essay published in The Blue Notebook: Journal for Artists’ Books Fall 2009

From the essay:

“It follows that a paradigm of blur could be initiated to organize volumes in the library, “recognizing the unclarity of unclear things,” in order to break down rigid borders placed in the mind, such as name, title, medium, and date, and open up new vistas of creative search. We believe this in turn would enable sustainable browsing, exact visual attention, and draw out clear ideas found in the blurry situation. As we imagine it, the catalog is unnecessary in a looking research library. A person would never need to know where a book is in the library except that it is here and from there the person may examine where here is exactly.”

Highway 24 Unvisited

Interview with artist and theorist Chris Burnett published in JAB24 (Journal of Artists’ Books), Fall 2008

From the interview:

“TS: I think we can all imagine scenes of the road as an empty vista: the one-point perspective, the narrow opening as seen—perhaps,through rows of trees, or buildings, or signage on either side. Is the empty vista meant to represent the road, or is it meant for mental picturing?

CB: The empty vista is the vanishing point that overturns many of the road qualities that you mention: the one-point perspective, the narrow opening as seen  ...I like how you put it emphasizing the phenomenon"as seen." ...The device bears on our ultimate goals here to explore how road literature and the experience of the road itself might serve as a way to re-envision the book. This is the aim of much artists' book-work, of course,and seeing how they deal with the road unpacks how they intermesh text with image; vision with mental acts.”

Enfolded by Holes

Essay published in The Blue Notebook: Journal for Artists’ Books, Fall 2008

From the essay:

“I have come to think of an open book as a hole or an opening. Picture an open book in your mind’s eye and what do you see? I see one dominant but blank image with a line down the middle, a slight staircase stack on the right and left hand sides and all of this framed somewhat by the cover. I would say the staircases on either side are signs of the past and future while the dominant part of the image is like the present. Not to change the nature of the discussion entirely, but I often feel like I’m personally wrapped up in the present even while it seems missing and separate from my sense of self. I’m more likely to be conscious of where I once was, or where it is I will be, over any conscious awareness of myself in the present moment. I think of an open book similarly, that it is centered on what is present at the moment and therefore represents a gap, an opening, between past and future pages.”

Portfolio published in Afterimage: the Journal of Media Arts and Cultural Criticism Vol. 35 no. 3, 2007

Walking Through Walls

Essay published in The Blue Notebook: Journal for Artists’ Books, Fall 2007

From the introduction:

“In a spatial context, interior is synonymous with intimacy. Walls make for interiors. That which is before a wall is distinctive from what is behind it,and the same applies from the opposite side. A book’s pages and walls go hand-in-hand; a page may be seen as a wall, defining spaces within the delimited book. I’m interested in the shared boundary of a page, or recto/verso, as a point of singularity. What is the potential for the shared boundary to distort space and time?”

To Figure Out What is Happening

Interview with Johanna Drucker published in JAB21 (Journal of Artists’ Books), Fall 2006, and excerpted in Druckworks: Forty Years of Books and Projects by Johanna Drucker,” published by Epicenter Press, Chicago, 2012

From the interview:

“TS: You’ve called your book Damaged Spring “a work of darkly figured reportage, synthetic, contemporary, [it] interweaves personal anecdotes, tales of friends and family life, and current events,” and so I wonder, would you be willing to spell out what reportage means for you? Are there other, similar examples of reportage that have inspired you?

JD: Reportage is my term for that figuring out—for trying to understand how one is produced as a subject of language and the cultural symbolic while also struggling with the individual particularity of historical/situated/individual identity. I've never been interested in autobiography—too fictional, too self-indulgent, too normative—but I find the problem of understanding one's self as a historically specific subject very compelling. …Identity is always relational, systemic, and particular.Individual subjectivity is both structural (position) and particular(inflection). I wanted the images and text to show that in Damaged Spring—to be about the attempt to describe one's position from within unfolding events.So it was written as the spring unfolded, not after the fact, though of course I edited and shaped it.”

Reading as Prowling, Book as Cage

Essay published in The Blue Notebook: Journal for Artists’ Books, Fall 2006

From the essay:

Tyger Tyger burning bright,

In the forests of the night:

What immortal hand or eye,

Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

—William Blake

“Without belaboring all the things I do not know about “The Tyger,” I can’t help but consider the irony of our planets most deadly, destructive beast as imagined in shuddering calligraphy by William Blake. Chinese medicine and aphrodisiacs use tiger parts. Poachers are after their striped fur. Half of the world’s tiger population exists in cages in the United States. Blake’s tiger metaphor of inexplicable human violence inverts itself when we humans became the tiger’s only true predator. We capture and display ourselves, in other words. But then we know this—Blake knew this. It is why he committed “The Tyger” to its cell of paper and pigment. What he couldn’t know,I imagine, is how we might interpret this poem now that tigers are an endangered species. Time confines the book.”

Using Format