Sweat and Debt at the New York Art Book Fair

The thing about the New York Art Book Fair is that despite the masses of hipster humanity, it’s still worth going to. Exceptionally so. The fair buzzes, and the attendees are apparently actually looking to buy, not simply gawk and stare.  The result is a kind of energy that one finds only in places where ideals and wallets are both on display, and for artists—many of whom are trying their best to make a name for themselves—little more can be wished for. The crowd wanted to see challenging, engaging, weird, surprising art, and when people found what they were looking for, they pressed into tables and, from what I can tell, purchased. The fair is a place to find work that you can hold in your hand, pass around, and enjoy at a price point that is neither embarrassingly low nor ridiculously high.

Crowds inside the fair.

Crowds inside the fair.

For photography collectors and admirers, the show had a slew of riches. Besides the endless number of zines created by “photographers” (as a broadly considered term), the fair offered a “Focus” chamber for photography-only exhibitors. I was at the show for nearly four hours on Saturday, and at no point did I see the room anything but packed. Aperture was there, and in a neighboring space, the International Center of Photography had their table along with Bard’s MFA program not too far from bookdummypress and its intriguing and eclectic mixture of publications and prints. I was astonished at the stamina of so many of the people staffing the booths. It was impossibly hot, made worse by the swelling mashed-together, sweaty bodies of art hordes, but staffers smiled and engaged in gentle sales banter and transparent enthusiasm for art for art’s sake.  

Trying to pin down highlights to review in such a setting is well-nigh impossible, especially because my eye was drawn to so much of the ephemera floating around that I could hardly focus on just the photography. Plus I got a headache. Nonetheless, I want to single out Cesura, a photography collective based near Milan, Italy. I have never heard of Cesura, but I left their table feeling a mixture of embarrassment for not knowing them and pride for feeling as though I had discovered something special. 

Cesura is comprised primarily of fine art photojournalists, and judging by the range of the photographs, they travel around the world making their images. Pictures from the Amazon, of families and conflict in Afghanistan, funerals in India, Russian apartment rooms, and found photos from Detroit—this range seems to be the hallmark of the group as much as their keen eyes and their careful craftsmanship. Their books are, in a word, exquisite, and the prints they were offering were provocative in both tone and subject matter. 

The collective prints a news-rag style periodical, and although they are based in Italy, they clearly have an international audience. Still this was apparently Cesura’s first trip to the NYABF, and I hope they found it worth their time. If my reaction was indicative, it will have been. While I found myself able to resist making art purchases with my trusty friend Visa at other tables, at Cesura, I simply could not. I had no defenses against the beauty and allure of the work. So, I left their table with photography swag, and I arrived home with more food for thought, more awe at the spectacular range of artistic expression from around the world, and a tad more debt to be considered sometime around the second half of October. I frankly don’t know how anyone could leave the fair without the same exhilaration and burden.

Roger Thompson is the Senior Editor for Don’t Take Pictures. His critical writings have appeared in exhibition catalogues and he has written extensively on self-taught artists with features in Raw Vision and The Outsider. He currently resides in Long Island, New York and is a Professor at Stony Brook University.