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The Mass is pleased to present Toluca Éditions.
Time Capsules of Photography
The professional photography studios that proliferated in Japan in the 1860s initially produced portraits, in the form of daguerreotypes and then ambrotypes. Ten years after the introduction in 1848 of the camera into Japan by Shimazu Nariakira, who would later become the feudal lord of Satsuma, the opening up of foreign concessions in the country’s principal port cities provided Japan with Western technologies, including photography. Although the use to which it was put ―mainly portraiture and landscapes― was similar to its country of origin, the practices that developed in Japan around this remarkable, recently imported invention differed. Unlike in the West, where the glass plates were generally set off within a gilt frame, photographs were stored unframed in boxes of Japanese cypress wood, conceived in the manner of the tomobako, the boxes to be found accompanying any work of traditional craftsmanship. These boxes would generally include a mention, written in ink, of the date the image was captured and the identity of the subject. This traditional practice of preserving portraits, and the call inherent in it to a more private contemplation of the images, has since been lost in Japan, owing to the generalized use of photographic prints (on either albumen or gelatin silver print paper), which created the more lasting format of the photographic album. And the development of photographic printing techniques has in turn replaced this more personal practice by the photobook, whose crucial role in the place of photography at the heart of twentieth-century visual culture is well known. The integration of photography into publishing, in book form, has rendered its connection with text, and therefore with literature and theory, inseparable. Today, in an age of dematerialized photography and digitalized portfolios, the idea of photographs on glass plates in an ornamented box has something of the air of a fossil.
Nevertheless, a sumptuous and uncompromising approach to publication has made the photographic object endure by renewing it. Halfway between the boxed set and the photobook ―itself threatened by the digital dissemination of images―, Toluca Éditions has been creating unique photographic objects for fifteen years now. The principle is simple but unprecedented: an original case contains a combination of sheets bearing unpublished texts and original photographic prints. A photographer, a writer, and a designer submit individually the component parts of a work which is then put together and published by Toluca Éditions.
The publications of Toluca Éditions have maintained the text element of the photobook. This is still more striking in that the texts are not analyses (as in a monograph) nor accounts written by the photographers themselves (as in the works of Chris Marker or even of Nobuyoshi Araki), but constitute rather a work in themselves, with a supple yet intimate relation to the visual world of each series of photographs. Toluca’s publications have also preserved and developed the photobook’s relation to twentieth-century cultural production techniques, through the incorporation of three practices of the multiple: photography, text, and design. These three creative disciplines are based on a technical infrastructure that implies serial production. In this sense, each one of the publications of Toluca Éditions is a contemporary cultural object par excellence.
In an art of the multiple ―as is thrice the case here―, the very principle of the limited edition is an arbitrary decision, often motivated by commercial calculations: why limit the run of a photograph or a print ―which is multiple by nature― to just a few dozen copies, on the economic model of a sculpture? At Toluca Éditions, it is precisely the sculptural quality of the design applied to the production of each title that justifies the publication of small runs: the box contains a total work at the intersection of design, literature, and photography. An essential component in the appreciation of any one of the publications of Toluca Éditions is precisely its texture. Not only the grain of the photographs (and Toluca Éditions displays on this point a versatile taste, from the cleanly defined images of Candida Höfer to the supersaturated images of Tokyo produced by Daidō Moriyama), but also the search for the most appropriate paper (a constant also of quality photobooks), as well as a container which, in its material and its form, will crystalize the themes of the photographic and literary world it encloses.
More fundamentally, the uniqueness of Toluca’s productions resides in their complexification of the temporality proper to photography. Each photograph has its own temporality, marked initially by the moment at which it is captured, and by the semantic references of the image, which are then modulated by its intersection with a text. This ensemble, once it has been acquired by a collector, undergoes a slow aging process, protected from the elements, in its custom case. Every copy of Toluca’s limited editions is therefore a time capsule.
When it is opened, the case provides a space appropriate for a non-linear publication. The choices provided by a number of unbound sheets allow the photographs and texts to be explored as in an exhibition, reminiscent of the paradigm of Marcel Duchamp’s La Boîte-en-valise. Instead of a binding, one may find some folded sheets. The folds create not only a compartmentalized space and a new dimension, but also endows the reading of them with a different timeframe. The fold is a non-verbal frontier.
Let us imagine now the little universe formed by the forty-two titles published by Toluca Éditions, side by side in the same place, like so many microcosms, each one containing its own timeframe and a unique vantage point on reality. Photography lovers can only await with impatience the editions to come, which will continue to infuse new life into this complex, unique, and effervescent publishing venture.
Associate researcher, Intermediatheque, University Museum, University of Tokyo.
Toluca Éditions is an extraordinary publishing house based in Paris, founded in 2003 by Alexis Fabry and Olivier Andreotti. Each project is the result of a close collaboration between an artist using photography, a writer, and a designer, who contributes a custom-made slipcase. The ‘artist’s book’ as it had been understood since the early twentieth century, has given way to a hybrid art object, which occupies a novel position in the field.
Olivier Andreotti is a graphic designer and artistic director. He works in a range of different fields, including regular publications, limited editions, exhibition catalogues, corporate identity, signalling systems, and exhibition design (at the Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain, the Jeu de Paume, the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, the Musée d’Art moderne de la Ville de Paris, and the Museo Universitario del Chopo in Mexico City, among others venues), as well as on special projects for various prestigious brands, including Louis Vuitton, Veuve Clicquot, Hennessy, and Van Cleef & Arpels.
Alexis Fabry is the curator of the Leticia & Stanislas Poniatowski and the Anna Gamazo de Abelló photography collections. He has curated numerous exhibitions, including Urbes Mutantes (International Center of Photography, New York, 2014), Latin Fire (CentroCentro, Madrid, 2015), Daido Moriyama, Daido Tokyo (Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain, Paris, 2016), Transiciones (Círculo de Bellas Artes, Madrid, 2016), and Géométries Sud (Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain, Paris, 2018). He works as a consultant for private collections and is deputy artistic director of Hermès Maison.
VOL. 42 • Thomas Ruff, Patrick Bouvet, Herzog & de Meuron, World Wide Cloud, 2018 © Toluca Éditions