In a small town book publishing scene dominated at one end by children’s books and tourist guides and, at the other, by zines, Aaron Brumbelow’s handmade art books stand alone.
A SCAD grad (with an MFA in photography) and Armstrong professor hailing from Arkansas, Brumbelow has a fascination with handmade books as a new vehicle for photography. So far, he has created three pamphlet-style books, each printed on carefully chosen paper and hand-stitched by the artist. You may have seen them at the Art Market during the Art March: Eight Images of Savannah, Savannah in 3-D, and Eight Domestic Interiors.
Each book follows Brumbelow’s established format: a pastel, cardstock cover with geometric cover art and eight images inside on thick white paper. In this intimate environment, his photographs have the sort of breathing room, tactile quality and communion that they would never have behind glass, hanging on a wall. It’s all by design.
I was lucky enough to grab coffee with the artist a few weeks ago to learn more about his process and inspiration. Of all the names Brumbelow cites as creative catalysts (Brad Troemel of The Jogging, for instance) the name I was most surprised to hear was one I never would’ve drawn a parallel to: Tobia Makover.
“Two or three years after grad school, I went to see Tobia Makover give a talk at the Jepson Center,” Brumbelow explained. “I saw her encaustic work and I thought it was really interesting. She has this overarching idea with all these little ideas inside, but they’re all connected through this process. I thought it’d be nice to have something similar in the sense that no matter what work I’m doing; I can always put it into this certain format. Even if it evolves into a different format later on, I can have a simple format to showcase work in.”
Though the project only began this year, Brumbelow is already proving himself to be quite prolific, not to mention innovative.
Eight Images of Savannah (with its pared down version of a Savannah square on the cover) manages to touch several facets of life here in just a few pages. The entry point, as it is for many tourists and newcomers, is the Forsyth Park fountain; then we explore the city’s unique architecture; and finally there are a few images of quiet Savannah moments–a red balloon floating near power lines, ivy growing in a lane, a Victorian-style home glimpsed through the greenery of a spring day.
Savannah in 3-D (the cover design of which is, oddly enough, inspired by the typography of Netflix’s smash hit Stranger Things) is the strongest indicator of Brumbelow’s efforts as an innovator. Composed of eight mock-anaglyphs and packaged with a set of paper 3-D glasses, Savannah in 3-D takes viewers on a virtual tour of the city via still moments set abuzz by the 3-D effect. “It’s the most interactive photograph I can currently create on paper,” Brumbelow told me.
So much of what the artist works towards is grounded in an attempt to break free of the constraints of traditional exhibition methods.
“I’ve never felt that [my photos] needed a frame,” he says. “I value all my decisions; how much time I’m spending on choosing the right paper or the exact paper color I want to interact with the ink I’m using, the exact texture and weight. When I put it in a frame, it’s all lost. When I take it out of the frame and showcase the texture of the photograph, the image becomes more vulnerable and physical. I’m allowing people to actually touch the work.”
The tactility of Brumbelow’s work–as experienced via his books–grants viewers a new visual experience.
With three finished books under his belt and one more on the way soon, the artist shows no signs of slowing down soon.
In addition to his work on the books mentioned above, Aaron Brumbelow is the creator of the online magazine Touch.My.Prints. Click here to see more of his work. Click here to purchase one of Brumbelow’s handmade books or buy them at the Art Market at Sulfur Studios during the First Friday Art March.