Other Donkey Man Books

And now the moment you’ve all been waiting for: the other Donkey Man books!

It’s hard, I’ve found, to adequately write about artists’ books. They tend to be exceptionally tactile, so photographs rarely do them justice. Many of them are complete organisms, and if you look at only a page or two you’ll completely miss the point and impact of the message. Some make great sounds when you turn the pages. How am I supposed to share that with you online?

Eh. Pass the cheese, this wine needs a little something.

Going in alphabetical order, and skipping my own book, I present you with the ENGL 509 Donkey Man Book Exhibit of Extremely Photogenic Artists’ Books!

I Remember by Brooke Burton


I Remember is presented in a flocked satin folio wrapped in a lush satin cord. It takes some (calculated) effort to open it.


The book within is composed of a single altered photograph, replicated, and hand-cut…


…to create a tunnel which gradually eliminates the man and zooms in on the donkey.


The text is spare, showing – in increasingly agitated script – the narrator’s damaged relationship with her father. I liked this book in that it could be read in at least three words: at face value as a nice remembrance of a parent, at a deeper level as a stifled condemnation of the father as an ass, or through a Freudian-sexual lens tying in the text, imagery, odd appendages cut into the “frame” cover, and the slightly erotic nature of the outer cords. Also, this book offered up the opportunity for a full ten minutes of naughty innuendo, some of which went unnoticed, which amused this blogger disproportionately.

Photographs by Kim Labrum


Photographs is made from a like-new antique photo album, distressed and altered to replicate the subject’s actual photo albums.


The book includes prints of Anderson’s photos, including some of the ones that he doctored – with some skill, but plainly obvious (and funny) to contemporary eyes – as well as a number that Kim doctored herself in the style of Anderson.


The photos and pages are distressed within an inch of their life, and any abuse they may suffer at readers’ hands only adds to the effect. The large picture to the right in the above image is one where Kim, following Anderson’s tendencies, pasted an out-of-context American Indian into a photograph. This provides a lot of good opportunity for inside jokes.


The only source of text in Photographs is a letter to the author from a relative who has “found” one of Anderson’s lost albums and sent it along as a curio. The book is a fun hide-and-seek game of catching the doctored images (and discerning Kim’s work from Anderson’s, if you’re familiar with the latter) and a fine little commentary on Anderon’s artistic dishonesty. The idea of putting this falsified album in with Anderon’s actual things, and seeing if future book arts classes catch on, is very tempting.

Tergiversate by Sarah Lenz


“Tergiversate” means to turn ones back, as if to run away or flee.


This is a form called a flag book, which is – as I discovered – very fun to play with. It was almost like a slinky in book form.


One side of each flag has a portion of a photograph, while the other tells the parallel stories of Anderson’s first wife and oldest son leaving him.


On the reverse side of the accordian fold is Anderson, who – as an abusive personality – is pivotal to the upheaval in his family members’ lives. This book is not only great in that it draws parallels between two distant events in Anderson’s life but in the fact that it pulls together the verbal and the aesthetic so well. Sarah puts fledgling Photoshop skills to good use and has what looks to me like flawless technical execution as well. Pretty darn good for her first book!

Behind Anderson’s Camera by Earl Swopes


Behind Anderson’s Camera is presented in a wooden box covered with actual camera leather. The pull tab releases a fold-out section.


The book is almost like a museum exhibit. One panel includes a short biography of J.F. Anderson, and another talks about the kind of camera Anderson used. A third panel talks about the process of taking photographs using this kind of camera. The fourth text block is the colophon.


When the panels are folded back together, they form a replica of the camera, using photographs of the actual camera Anderson used. Apparently it was quite the ordeal to get the pictures just right, but the end result is fascinating.


Completing the interactive aspect of the book, the rear panel opens to illustrate how the pictures were developed. Photographs are included in a vellum “glass” case so that the reader can experience the sensation of pulling the photograph out of the camera, just as Anderson would have done. This is a beautiful work, and the expense Earl went to in creating it definitely shows and pays off. Very informative and engaging.

We’re waiting on one last book, and it will be interesting to see how the sixth member of our motley crew tackles this subject. I think it’s so interesting to see how people with different backgrounds can take the same story and the same photographs and come up with such completely different end results. It’s total creative playtime for growed-ups.

Regarding my own book, I think it went over well. I am continually surprised at my own inability to vocally explain my own work – I always just draw a blank, even after spending the past several hours thinking and writing about it. Hope I didn’t look like a total dope. If you’ve ever been unfortuante enough to be a person who is reading one of my stories you’ll know that I crave the experience of hearing other people analyse and critique my work, so I was a tiny bit disappointed to not get more of that in classroom discussion. (Not that I’d ever get enough of it to really be satisfied. I’m a total egotist in that way, I guess.) I did get some good tips for aging the paper if I want to try it, though.

::shrug:: I hope they liked it. I like it.

Well, anyway, there you are! Aren’t they fantastic? What do you think?


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