On Press: Sue Michlovitz: Breathe in Water
“People can experience the benefits of the water whether they’re near the ocean, a lake, river, swimming pool or even listening to the soothing sound of a fountain. Most communities are built near bodies of water not just for practical reasons, but because as humans, we’re naturally drawn to blue space…but even if you aren’t in an area where there is easy access to water, you can still experience [its] emotional benefits. Many scribes, poets, painters, and sailors have attested to the feeling of wellness and peace that comes over them when they’re in, or near, bodies of water.” – Wallace J. Nichols
Book Artist and Photographer, Sue Michlovitz, has recently published a new monograph, Breathe in Water. The work and publication are a beautiful exploration of the power of water, from psychological, aesthetic, environmental, and memory-based perspectives. The work is a meditation on water as a connecting and calming force.
There are many approaches to book making today. Photographic artists approach the process in a myriad of ways from self-publishing, working with traditional publishers, producing a book in hybrid approaches, creating zines, and artist handmade books. Today we share one journey from concept to creation, as Michlovitz shares her experience from start to finish.
Sue Michlovitz is a visual artist working in photography, book arts, and mixed media. Exploring abstract forms to create her color photographs, her art shows scenes that may go unnoticed by others. Michlovitz is also a physical therapist (hand specialist), was a university professor, and a textbook author/editor. Her clinical practice, medical mission and community outreach volunteerism in Guatemala and on the Navajo Nation required astute observation skills of movement patterns and interpersonal interactions, skills that feed her artistic expression.
Michlovitz’s photographs have been shown at the State of the Art Gallery (Ithaca, NY), Camden Public Library (Camden, ME), Arts in the Barn at Cushing Historical Society (Cushing, ME), Cove Street Arts (Portland, ME), Photoville 2022 (Griffin Museum, Winchester, MA). Her books have been displayed at the Michael Good Gallery (Rockport, ME) and the Maine Museum of Photographic Arts (Portland, ME). Her handmade book Arts Muse was featured in the Griffin Museum of Photography virtual exhibit in Photography Book Initiative, Fall 2021.
She serves on the Board of Trustees of the Center for Maine Contemporary Art (CMCA), where she is a member of the Education Committee. She is a member of the MidCoast Maine Book Arts collective.
Michlovitz earned a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in Media Arts at Maine Media College, Rockport, ME and Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Orthopedic Physical Therapy at MCP-Hahnemann University (now Drexel University), Philadelphia, PA.
She lives in Camden, ME.
Breathe in Water
The look, sound and smell of bodies of water are prominent in my visual and tactile memories—calm waters invoke a blend of relaxation while revealing memories, reflecting on where I am in my life. Turbulent water stirs up my angst, creating a tension to pull through and restore calm. Visualization of water and breathing techniques are my preferred methods of meditation, which take me back to those reflective times. These feelings are the source of inspiration for my collection ‘Breathe in Water’.
Time spent by and in bodies of water have held importance and significance in my life—ranging from days teaching swimming and canoeing. I gain solace from kayaking in Midcoast Maine region to vacations by mountain lakes and ocean beaches.
This body of work is presented in a series of large scale archival pigment prints and as a fine press book.
Michlovitz shares her on-press experience:
My book designer Caleb Cain Marcus arranged for me to be on press at Robstolk (Amsterdam, NL). The book was printed on March 1, 2023 and then sent to the binder. I have included a sequence of images that in part describes the experience.
The pages were cut, folded, and sewn at the bindery. A hot foil stamp was used for the cover title and on the spine.
If you are doing an artist book and have the opportunity to go on press, do it! Decisions were made that day with me, that may not have happened in the same way had I not been there. For one example, when the inks were mixed for the title page, the printer and I reviewed a couple of different options and agreed on the best selection. I also had a greater appreciation of the importance of preparation and organization of files.
Congratulations on your monograph! Can you tell us the evolution of the book?
I have always been intrigued with the beauty in and mysteries within bodies of water. The character in my images is water, in all its forms and personalities.The restorative and meditative aspects of water are evoked within my photographs, as are figures that emerge within the abstractions.
In 2020, as part of my MFA studies at Maine Media College, I constructed a 28 image hand-made Japanese stab binding book, including images of water and ice from a trip to East Greenland’s fjords. This book was done under the guidance of Charles Altschul and Richard Reitz Smith. In the past 18 months, I added breadth and depth (sic) to that portfolio and ventured out into the world of portfolio reviews. From feedback I received, I felt more confident in evolving this work as not only an installation but in addition as a fine press book. Developing a monograph that told my story and relationship with water was an exciting and ‘doable’ way to bring my work to a broader audience than with a hand made book.
I began with 125 images and culled them down, then began working with an editor and consultant. We worked over a 6 month period to select, sequence, design (including select papers, determine book specs) and then go to production
What were your experiences in working with a book designer?
I liked the sophistication and simplicity of the books I had seen Caleb Cain Marcus create through his design company, Luminosity Lab, including a book done by Patricia Cristakos. (Where I first saw Caleb’s name credited to a work). I then ‘met’ him through the New England Portfolio Reviews, March 2022. And off we went. I added Melanie McWhorter to the team; we call ourselves “Team Breathe”. She came on as editor, essayist and overall consultation.
I had images. I had ideas. I had some notion of what aesthetic I was aiming toward. Without the guidance and expertise of the team, including designer, Caleb Cain Marcus, I may be still developing the book as a concept, but not as an actual finished piece. Caleb had a framework of what needed to be done and when and guided the process. He had a major role in layout and sequencing, materiality (papers), font selection, cover design and bookbinding method. I wanted a book that was important visually and tactilely. I also desired a book that could be easily held and lays flat when opened, so the images that crossed over the midline of the open page spread did not sink into the gutter. I had worked with two styles that met that criteria- drum leaf binding and butterfly binding-but both were hand-made. Caleb introduced me to Swiss binding method and that is what was selected for the project. He also arranged for me to be on-press at Robstolk, Amsterdam, NL for the day the pages were printed (they then went off to a bindery)
Caleb, Melanie and I met on a regular basis through Zoom. This past November, I went to Caleb’s studio in Brooklyn to select papers for the book. Touching and selecting the papers was an important element for me in book production.
Is the book self published or how does that work?
Yes, my book is self-published, but it took a team to put together to get the book out into the world.
My personal publishing experiences (from the mid 1980s thorough recent years) had been in editing and authoring physical therapy textbooks. I had a publisher who did all the design, production and marketing. This was appropriate for books that over the years sold tens of thousands of copies.
Unlike working with a publisher, the marketing and placement of the book falls all on my shoulders. I am seeking advice from the book’s editor Melanie McWhorter on how to organize and implement strategies for sales and already have some distribution venues as noted below.
Tell us about the Special Edition?
In this first iteration of distribution, there are 50 copies of the book designated as a Special Edition. This includes a book and a signed limited edition archival inkjet print (that fits within the book).
How do you plan to distribute the book? Where can we buy it?
My book is being distributed though a multi-tier approach. I am in the early stages of book PR and distribution. I intend the book to be in boutique book stores, in shops that focus on the natural world, with exhibits where my photographs are shown and through social media and my website.
In the short time the book has been available, it has been placed in a Symmetree Base Camp (in Camden, ME) that focuses on environmentally-sound products-clothes, books, outdoor products and ephemera. During Rockland’s First Friday Art Walk, June 2, my book and I will be at Arctic Tern Bookstore, where ‘we’ (book and I) will do a ‘meet and greet’. I have a solo exhibition opening June 29 at the Maine Jewish Museum, Portland, ME. In addition to 20 some framed photographs, the book will be available there.
On August 9, I am doing a talk (and showing my book) at the Rockport Library (Rockport, ME). The book and a few framed images will on display be in the library for 2 to three months over the summer.
You are welcome to come to Maine and buy a copy through any of these venues. But, I expect most of your readership will not find that too practical. So, check out my website for purchase.
There also will be updates on my Instagram page @s_michlovitz_photo
Was the process of concept to book more difficult than you expected?
The process of concept to book was flowing and organic with parts that all finally connected between the covers. It was more exhilarating that I expected, but not difficult. If you love what you are doing, it can be challenging but not difficult. Like every artist who does a book, my wishes are that others have a rich and immersive experience with the book and that each month less of the books live in my studio and are out in the world! Thanks for the opportunity to discuss the process of my book from inception to distribution.
Melanie McWhorter has been involved in photography for over 20 years working in fields of professional photobook production, photobook sales, and personal portfolio consulting.
Luminosity Lab, is the Brooklyn design practice of Caleb Cain Marcus. We are engaged in ongoing partnerships with artists, curators, publishers, and institutions. We collaborate with thinkers and creators to broadcast their passions.
Posts on Lenscratch may not be reproduced without the permission of the Lenscratch staff and the photographer.
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