By Elyse Derosia
I first met Christopher Gianunzio when he invited me to participate in Philadelphia Photo Arts Center’s Book Fair this past spring, and I was introduced to his work through his inclusion in Humble Arts Foundation’s The Collector’s Guide to New Art Photography Vol. 2. This long-awaited studio visit came about due to our shared interest in artist-made books, and after many discussions regarding contemporary photography.
Studio Location: Viking Mill building, Fishtown
Let’s start off with you telling me a little about your work and your practice.
I organize exhibitions as part of my day job and I think the process behind curating has seeped into my personal work as well. To me, curating is very much about producing a specific context around work in order to anchor it properly, which is also a very important component of working with photographs. Images (printed and otherwise) travel tremendous distances to be experienced, and in many cases the audience has little knowledge of their origins. I find that the journey from origin to destination can dislodge an image from its intended trajectory, producing an unexpected form.
I recently reached a point where I felt that I didn’t necessarily need to add any more images to the world, but rather thought about how something more substantial could be created by shifting the context of photographs already in circulation. Recently, I have been reorganizing archives of images that come from multiple sources. Although the content of much of this imagery varies, there is a common thread of “control” that links everything together, whether it’s the language, the contents or the context of the photograph. I have become especially interested in the editing process within my own work and the editing process of others, whether it is visible or not. What are the marks of editing? What is stripped away, what is left behind? Essentially, what is visible and where do the invisible lines of editing begin?
I am a strong proponent of publications as the final forms of photographically based projects. They create a context for images that the author has complete jurisdiction over, whether viewed in Philadelphia, Japan, or Brazil, now or 50 years into the future.
What is the story behind your book, Tactics? It appears to be a series of film stills, and the paper it’s printed on is very specific. It looks like some kind of security paper?
I had been researching forensic techniques for a different project and came across a video on e-bay that was intended for new employees of a very official organization. It was meant to instruct them on particular protocols; how to disarm a perpetrator, how to fingerprint a suspect, etc. The video was made in the 1950s and visually spans quite a bit of ground. The entire video is shot in and around some pretty intense modernist architecture, and many of the clips appear to have been made using a professional film crew with the intention of producing something cinematic.
As soon as I saw the film from start to finish I knew that I needed to extract some kind of narrative out of the raw material. The book itself functions as a survey of the architecture and the technology deployed at the time and it provides a series of portraits of field officers engaged in the training program.
The book is printed on a green security paper typically used for producing checks and other official documents. It adds some extra energy to the overall tone of the images and to the book as an object.
eBay’s so great. It’s such an invaluable resource to artists–a seemingly infinite trove of cultural artifacts. In addition to the video, you’ve bought a pretty amazing collection of commercial photographs. What is the best thing you’ve ever gotten?
I was beginning another project around 2007 that involved opening my adoption records and traveling to Denver, Colorado in an attempt to locate my biological mother. During the course of my research, I found a yearbook on eBay that contains portraits of both my biological parents whom I’ve never met. Perhaps not the best find, but certainly unexpected.
What are some upcoming projects?
The commercial photographs you mentioned earlier are slowly being shaped into something, perhaps a physical exhibition, probably a book. Tactics was shown as part of a few book exhibitions in Europe this summer, but I am also working on showing that series of photographs outside the book form.
What brought you to Philly and what keeps you here?
I lived here very briefly in 2006 and really enjoyed the city, so upon completing graduate school, it seemed like the right place to return to. I have never felt the need to live in NYC but I do enjoy traveling there. Philadelphia is perfect in many ways; it’s very close to a number of other large cities, the cost of living is reasonable and the creative community is very strong.
What are you really excited about right now?
Adam Broomberg & Oliver Chanarin, two photographers based in London recently published a book entitled People in Trouble, Laughing, Pushed to the Ground (Mack Books 2011). It was a commission produced with Belfast Exposed (www.belfastexposed.org), a repository of images generated during the IRA conflicts in the UK during the 1970s and ‘80s. I cannot really do the project justice with words, but the design of the book and the logic the artists employed towards reshaping the archive is tremendously inspiring. It is an amazing example of reaching into the past to propel photography forward.
All of my colleagues in Philadelphia are really pushing themselves and their work to new levels. It feels really amazing to see a community congeal and to participate in the process of moving it forward.
Christopher Gianunzio is an artist and curator based in Philadelphia. He has exhibited most recently at Le Garage in Arles France; International Fotobook Festival in Kassel Germany; the Chelsea Art Museum, and Skulpturenpark in Berlin Germany. Christopher received his MFA in photography from Syracuse University in 2009 where he co-founded the Urban Video Project.
He is currently the exhibitions coordinator at the Philadelphia Photo Arts Center where he has organized shows including the work of Kelli Connell, Doug Dubois, La Toya Ruby Frazier, Luis Gispert, Beate Gütschow, Klara Kallstrom + Thobias Faldt, Michael Schmelling, Taryn Simon, Chad States, Amy Stein and Mark Steinmetz. He is currently curating an exhibition examining amateur photography that will open at the Philadelphia Photo Arts Center in February of 2012.
Elyse Derosia is an artist and a co-director of Bodega, an exhibition and performance space in Philadelphia founded in 2010.