Melissa Catanese—beyond making her own work—is the North American representative for the UK-based publishing company MACK, and is also the co-founder of Spaces Corners, a photobook gallery in Pittsburgh. She was short-listed for the Paris Photo – Aperture Foundation First Photo Book Award in 2012, was an artist-in-residence at the Carnegie Museum of Art, and her photobooks can be found in many library collections. We had a chance to speak with Catanese about photobooks, her many tasks, and her upcoming F295 lecture.
F295: What aspects of the photobook drew you to the medium?
Melissa Catanese: As a student, I became focused on working with groups of images and how meaning and narrative can be shaped through editing and sequencing. This was at a time when print-on-demand technology was becoming readily available and you could upload a file and have a book delivered a week later. Print-on-demand revolutionized working with groups of images and it became clear to me that first and foremost my work belonged in book form.
F295: In your opinion, what qualities come together to create a “perfect” photobook?
MC: I have to reference avid photobook maker John Gossage here. Gossage claims a great photobook is a combination of great work, work that functions in a concise world in the book itself, design that compliments the subject, and content that sustains ongoing interest from the viewer. For me, a perfect book considers these qualities and inspires curiosity. It’s open enough for the reader to enter and provides more questions than answers.
F295: What goals or ideas drive the your photobook gallery and project space Spaces Corners ?
MC: We don’t aim to be a comprehensive bookshop, but rather a curated selection of what we (Catanese works with her partner Ed Panar) believe are among the most exceptional artists and publishers making books today. We represent important contemporary themes in photography and try to distill them in a playful and pleasurable way.
F295: Will you or Spaces Corners be participating in any upcoming events that you can share with our readers?
MC: In addition to exhibiting at f295, we’re involved in a number of exciting collaborations over the next few weeks. We’ve selected a group of photobooks made by women living in the US to be featured throughout April at 76<100 in Garfield, a traveling pop-up shop for gender wage equality. In May, we launch the publication A People’s History of Pittsburgh: Vol 1, a project we initiated with the support of The Hillman Photography Initiative during our residency at Carnegie Museum of Art. A People’s History invited the local community to upload photographs and stories at nowseethis.org. The project grew into a digital archive of over 1,500 images. Later this month, we’ll discuss the surprises and challenges of editing the archive into a book, offering a behind the scenes look into the making of the publication during a bus tour offered by Open Engagement.
F295: Can you tell us more about what’s involved in maintaining your various roles of artist, publisher, and retailer?
MC: Luckily, all of these roles are connected in some way and inspire each another. Looking at books is an important part of my process as an artist. I gain a lot of inspiration and encouragement from others and try to soak in as much as possible. As a retailer, I’m constantly reviewing books and trying to keep my finger on the pulse, while filtering out the noise and selecting books we believe suits our vision. While representing a publisher based in the UK, I’m on the other end of that discourse. I maintain communication with other booksellers to ensure they’re updated with news regarding the catalog, relevant press, and artist’s activities.
F295: What would you hope people take away from your upcoming F295 lecture?
MC: Ideally, people will leave knowing more about what goes into both making and distributing an art book. There’s no one correct perspective, but I want to share my experience in the hopes that attendees leave inspired and motivated to pursue their personal endeavours!
Spaces Corners will be exhibiting their books at the F295 trade fair at the University of Pittsburgh’s Frick Fine Arts building on Thursday May 28 from 5-9pm. Stop by and say hello to Melissa and Ed!
Read more about Catanese’s lecture, Contemporary Photobook Perspectives.