He acknowledges that his book collection is a disorder to which his viewing habits have accommodated themselves to such an extent that it now appears orderly. Subsequently, there is a material connection between his awareness of his books and his memory, such that losing a particular book can result in the feeling of a phantom limb, a sensation that something exists as it once did, where it is now gone.—David Schulz, The Library
This is one of the texts in The Library, a multilayered book by David Schulz exploring memory and creating a remembrance of his father through the lens of annotated books from his father’s collection. The book is a softcover quarto published in 2019 by Light Rail Works—Schulz’s own imprint—in an edition of one hundred. Within the book, there are three categories of texts: images of pages from Schulz’s father’s library along with ephemera found tucked into books (e.g., receipts); Schulz’s own responses to those items and content; and more free-form reflections by Schulz. The above quote is from the second category—a response to a text from Illuminations, a collection of essays by Walter Benjamin published in 1968—and also captures many of the ideas that are explored in the work. Interspersed throughout the book are also collages of forest images consisting of multiple overlaid exposures from the woods, adding to the density and opacity of the view. Schulz has commented separately that “the graphite black quality of the grayscale images echoed for me the graphite black of the texts in all my Dad’s books [Image 1].”1
Each form of text is presented in a distinct fashion, with material from the library presented as images of the book pages or ephemera including annotations. The descriptions are set in a simple plain font on a blank white (unpaginated) page, while the reflections are set in italics superimposed over blue-tinted photographs showing the blank endpapers of a book.
While at first appearing to be somewhat random, the content of the library selections emerges as a core part of the story. Those elements add to the themes in the book overall, touching on topics of memory, death, and moments in time with material from Miguel de Cervantes, Saint Augustine, Marcel Proust, Isaiah Berlin, Alberto Manguel, and many others. A page from Francis Bacon’s The Advancement of Learning (1605) on ciphers relates to the challenges in reading images and details (as well as being a recurring interest of Schulz’s). If readers are used to images of book pages as a general type, here the content is also very important [Image 2].
The forest images convey a sense of following a path—or perhaps getting lost. The forest is perhaps a reminder of hiding, difficulty in seeing, in catching only glimpses. But then Schulz notes in one of his reflections that, “My Dad was the forest.” Perhaps instead we are being led through the shelves/forest by a guide—or accompanying Schulz on a journey of (re)discovery? It is a relief not to encounter a page from Dante.
Schulz is an artist, teacher, and designer who has been involved in making, writing about, and curating photobooks for more than twenty years. There are several connections between this book and Schulz’s earlier work, as he continues to explore and develop a number of themes and works with the relationship of image and text. There is an explicit inclusion in The Library of material from Schulz’s first book, Non-Identifying Social, Genetic Report (1998), depicting his search for information about his birth parents and exploration of what it means to be adopted, with text from the adoption agency report overlaying the bottom of the images. In How the West Was Won. Copyright Applied For. (2013), Schulz makes extensive use of archival material regarding a pioneer pageant staged in Walla Walla, Washington, in the 1920s. That book includes an interesting and effective pairing of the images with algorithmically generated haikus drawn from words frequently used in related narratives. The Echo, a four-volume bookwork published in 2010, presented visual explorations of reading and change, and Echo_2 has a connection to the visual aspects of The Library with its outdoor landscapes and general palette/tones [Image 3].
While several books have leveraged images of book pages—not surprisingly artist’s book makers also tend to be bibliophiles—and many books have dealt with the loss of a parent or loved one in a rich variety of ways, for me The Library is foremost about the interplay of the texts—in terms of content, context, and presentation, and about reading, seeing, and listening. There are the multiple voices—his father’s in the objects, that of a neutral observer describing those objects, and finally, Schulz’s personal diaristic voice. It is a very quiet book; the reader is asked to pay close attention to hear those voices, and is allowed to interpret the accumulation in their own way and in their own time. The visual presentation and design are important complements to the words and serve to encourage the reader to slow down. The result is a very successful addition to the world of image-text, weaving together and effectively integrating a diverse set of textual presentations, and bringing a sense of order in the end.