Gary Green (GG): I don't know when I first discovered Morandi's work but I've loved it ever since. Because he was a painter, I never had any notion of a direct influence of his work on mine. I understood, to some extent, that his work was about the illusion of paint, space, scale, etc. So I never could find a way into his work through my own but it had been on my mind for many years. In addition, I've always admired the indexical attributes of photographs like those of William Henry Fox Talbot -- a few shelves of books, objects made of glass, for instance. Through the work I've done photographing collected objects (a series devoted to personal and institutional collections of objects ranging from early books, natural history subjects, personal and idiosyncratic objects) I began to feel that I needed to explore my interest in the still life, that is the simple idea of visually relating one object to another. I had a sabbatical year from teaching in 2014 and 2015 and I decided then that I would go outside my comfort zone and explore ideas I'd been meaning to for a long time. I started by making a pilgrimage to his home and studio, Casa Morandi, in Bologna.
When I spent a month in Assisi I set up a still-life studio outdoors and made photographs using found objects, bottles, rocks, roof tiles, etc. and starting building little set-ups for photographing. I did that with no sense of how it would all turn out. I found the way of working refreshing but was very unsure of the result. The following winter, after printing a lot of the work from Italy I began putting a book idea together and it quickly became clear to me that the book was about Morandi and not Assisi or any other place I'd been on that trip. The idea felt like a gift. I see the resulting book now as an homage, an ode to Morandi.
Making a book is never easy. Have you ever done a book before and what were your main assumptions when approaching this new publication? Which photo book influenced your design process or how you wish the book to look like?
GG: I've made a few books before in different ways. I published a Blurb book titled History about five years ago. I've also made a number of handmade, small-edition books. One was a two-sided accordion-fold book. In 2008 I made a large album-style book with a varnished birch cover that contained a series of photographs I made in the North Maine Woods. The design of that book was meant to reflect the nostalgia for the very idea of the "North Maine Woods."
Cover of the book After Morandi by Gary Green, Urbanautica Collections by L'Artiere
The design of After Morandi presented itself pretty naturally. I'm kind of old-fashioned in my design sensibilities and most of the time I go for a fairly straight layout (no bleeds, no pictures over the gutters, generous white space around each image, etc.) that doesn't intrude or overwhelm the photographs themselves. I wanted to make the book tall and thin because it seemed an ideal proportion to evoke Morandi himself as well as his tall bottles and vases. Or it could have been that I had ordered a large amount of 11x17 paper to be used horizontally for another project that I set aside for this one. I think that's all true. So I decided to print a limited edition of this work, in this case vertically, as an oversized book. Eight of these inkjet printed editions got hand bound and became the prototypes for the final book. We scaled it down a bit—thanks to you, Steve—which was a great idea. I think it serves the modesty of the presentation more effectively and works better in a proportional way to the thinness of the volume. I also like the length, which is 32 pages. You can look at all the pictures slowly and carefully but still be through in a very reasonable amount of time. I hope that invites many more complete viewings!
Book After Morandi by Gary Green, Urbanautica Collections by L'Artiere
In terms of the way the photographs relate to each other, I think of books like The Pond by John Gossage, or the newer series of Robert Frank books with the thin Davey-board slipcases. Many books by Robert Adams are influential. With these types of works, the book is the thing. The photographs are engaging and beautiful, but the book—the sequencing, the length (or shortness), beginning and ending, even the spaces—gives the work its total strength. It makes them worth owning and looking at many times over many years. I would also relate this work to books of poetry, musical works, or short film pieces.
If it's true that your work is a homage to Morandi, I still found that unlike the work of Joel Meyerowitz—who in his own words decided to sit «at Giorgio Morandi’s table in exactly the same place that he sat for more than 40 years»—it is more a poetic interpretation and less a didactic imitation. Somehow it's as if you had tried to breathe the essence instead of registering the appearance. This led you to trace Morandi as well in Assisi, and probably in your daily life. That having been said, I was wondering, Gary, after this book, and your visits to Italy, how all of this has affected your connection with Morandi's work?
GG: The book was intended as a kind of visual poem, an ode to Morandi. I like making books where different genres of photography (still life, landscape, architecture, etc.) are in dialog with each other. It makes the work more complex and, in the end, I hope it's a richer experience and encourages more thoughtful viewing.
The idea of the work feeling poetic rather than literal is probably due to my having had no preconceptions in making these particular photographs. So the editing, design, and sequencing was created after seeing all the work together and then making decisions that strengthened each one but also put it into a larger context, that of a kind of conversation with Morandi. I think that's probably the most accurate way I can say it. I give my advanced students an assignment that prompts visual conversations with photographers they connect to in one way or another. Maybe I was subconsciously doing my own assignment!
My connection to Morandi's work is stronger than ever but I think only time will reveal how his work and my connections with Italy will influence me and my work. I'm now hoping to visit his country house in Grizzana Morandi, where the artist painted many of his landscapes. I don't know what that will lead to but I'm open to wherever that takes me.
I know that you're working to introduce the book and your work through an exhibition at the Museo Morandi in Bologna next year. How does it feel?
GG: I'm very excited about showing the work at Museo Morandi in Bologna next year! In addition to their amazing collection of Morandi's work (I spent a couple of hours there during my recent visit) the museum has presented many other shows by contemporary artists influenced by Morandi including Tacita Dean, Wayne Thiebaud, and the Bechers. Being part of that history and having a museum exhibition of this work in Bologna is a great honor.