Book Review: Mind the Gap by Joshua Lutz
By Emma Coyle
Joshua Lutz’s most recent publication Mind the Gap is a monograph printed by Schilt Publishing. It starts by saying "there are these two worlds vying for my attention at all times” and there is no better way to introduce this book that explores the balance between truth and fiction, color and its absence, coherence and confusion, and writing and photography. Looking at the images included it is impossible not to recognize the moments captured, they are the ones normally passed through without much consideration. Each snippet of writing exists in its own world and yet manages to feel as though they came from the same narrative. They range from short stories to almost Buzzfeed-like quizzes, but the varying forms only serve to show the relation to the images. Both existing between stories; in liminal space. Lutz centers the focus of the book on these moments.
Museé Magazine had the opportunity to speak with the author about his new book, his creative process and how he started including written work alongside his photography. Lutz’s books have been named Best Art Books by Time Magazine, Photo District News, and PhotoEye among others.
Museé Magazine: Congratulations on your most recent publication Mind the Gap with Schilt. It is described as an exploration of in-between moments. The monograph itself functions as an in-between place blending photography and writing. Do you often work with both art forms in your personal practice?
Joshua Lutz: I started working with text forms with my second book Hesitating Beauty. I don’t think I had the confidence to have been able to do that previously, with my first book Meadowlands, but I was grateful that Robert Sullivan had written the beautiful piece he created for it. There is something that happens in the space between text and image that was a perfectly suited format for Mind The Gap. The space I developed between the images and the writing is an attempt to create the conditions for a person to experience the work without having to specifically talk about the work.
Museé: The text that you have included in the book is a mix of narrative, questionnaire, and dialogue. Did the images come first or the writing?
JL: The writing came first.
Museé: When you were taking the photographs was it with the intention that they would be a part of this project?
JL: Yes, with the exception of two images that were made prior to the project, everything was done with the intention of responding to the writing I was already working on. I wasn’t always sure it would be a book, but I knew they were all going to go together in some manner.
Museé: Do you find that one of the two (writing and photography) informs the other or that they are equally balanced?
JL: That’s a great question. I am finding that so many of the inherent qualities of each medium inform the experience of the other in a really fluid way. For example, it never occurred to me that the nature of photography, coming from a place where it’s known for depicting truth, whatever that means, would ground the writing with a larger degree of authority. And in such a declarative way. At the same time, the fictional aspects of the writing perhaps create a less grounded experience for the reader when they interact with the images.
Whatever the case, it seems to be that whatever small amount of information someone finds in the book, that they believe to be true or fiction, creates a lens in which they view the work as a whole. I am not sure why this continues to surprise me considering in some way that’s what the work itself is about.
Museé: When it comes to creating a book, the order of the material is very important to the way a reader experiences the finished product. How did you decide the way you would put your photographs and text together and ultimately the order it was presented in?
JL: I took the process that I use for editing pictures and applied it to the writing. Basically I work with a lot of small boxes. I print all the images I am considering very small (10cm x 12cm) and carry them around in boxes. Whenever I have downtime I grab a box, shuffle them up, and look at them in a different order. Slowly I start to remove images and as they dwindle away I think about how they feed off each other as they are reorganized. Eventually I am left with one box of images and a series of pairs that build on each other.
For this work, I did the same thing with the text pieces. I printed them really small and cut them up to match the images. They went into the same boxes and got edited down the same way. I suppose all this stems from starting an art practice in a tiny studio in New York before I had space to move around. Now that I have some more space, I find working small is still the best way to visualize the larger ideas.
The order is detailed in the end pages with the historic and contemporary buddhist bhavachakra drawings. The drawings outline what is traditionally understood as various forms of rebirth into different states of suffering. This covers everything from the God and Human Realm to the Animal and Ghost realm. Each realm has its own unique characteristics but often blend quite seamlessly into each other. Western buddhists often interpret this as the psychological states that we get stuck in. We may feel great, better than everyone, and on top of the world–stuck in a god realm. Or we may feel like our needs are not being met and never will–stuck in the ghost realm. While completely not necessary to know about this when you read the book, each chapter is loosely divided into some aspect of what those experiences may be. To keep from floating or being completely out there, this provided a certain degree of scaffolding for me to build upon.
Museé: The majority of the photographs are in black and white, but occasionally there is one in color. As we continue through the book, the colored images increase in quantity. They certainly become all the more attention-grabbing because of their comparative rarity. Does this serve to support your interest in clarity versus confusion?
JL: I am so glad you picked up on this. Yes to everything. This is something that I avoided in my practice forever. Color and black and white photography rarely work together because they are each developing a different level of deception. When you experience black and white photographs you don’t wonder where the color is. We accept it as a level of representation and move on pretty quickly. The problem is when color comes in into play, it makes the black and white world look void of something. I was interested in this rupture between the two and how we transition from one to the other. It isn’t so much that the black and white represents one thing and the color represents another. I am more interested in the experience of going from one to the other and eventually transitioning.
Museé: Does the increase in color photography aline itself with the narrative arc of the book?
JL; As far as the arc, there is a sense that as the color increases we are perhaps seeing through the confusion, but then again that may not be the case. I love exploring the beginner’s mindset and how the act of simply thinking we are seeing the truth could be an obstruction to real clarity.
Museé: Reading the description of the book, it talks about how there are protagonists, signaling that this is a work of fiction. Yet, the material seems intensely personal. How do you manage to get that effect and do you find that you ever work with material that is personal or autobiographical?
JL: Now that the work is finished, this has become the most interesting part for me. As you mentioned, there are so many places where I talk about protagonists or address aspects of fiction. Yet somehow we are still clinging to what we believe to be true and of course the experience of the book changes accordingly. We see the thing we want to see or rather the thing we, personally, believe. I teach a class based on the Erorrll Morris book Believing is Seeing. In it Morris does a much better job that I could ever do at unpacking exactly why our belief system informs how photographs function. I could say it’s fiction, point to the fiction, create a storyline around it but if there is a tiny kernel of information we believe to be true nothing else matters, it becomes the lens for which we view the entirety of the work.
Find Joshua Lutz's Mind the Gap at: https://www.schiltpublishing.com/publishing/authors/joshua-lutz/