Oftentimes, the cost of printing photographic publications can inhibit their production and distribution. Digital platforms like Facebook have become the major mechanism for image dissemination, leaving a little ache in the hearts of those of us who still cherish the analog experiences of the Instamat over Instagram. Enter Obscura Land, a new Detroit-based quarterly publication, which cannily bridges the gap between virtual and IRL photographic circulation, and provides subscription tiers to meet photography junkies at every level.
The project was co-founded by two Detroit-based photographers, Noah Waldeck and Daniel Eller. Eller is a creative director at BxB Media, as well as an installation artist, filmmaker, photographer, and community organizer, including the development and documentation of Pingree Farms since 2009. He's also a fine art photographer, curator, and expert printmaker, who received his bachelor's degree in photography from the College for Creative Studies in Detroit. Waldeck is an active member of the local photographic community, and Obscura Land is an extension of his ongoing work as founder and curator of the contemporary photography gallery and publisher Subjectively Objective. Waldeck also serves as a board member at the Detroit Center for Contemporary Photography.
"Since the beginning of 2015, I've been doing Instagram features where I showcase a selection of 12 images from each artist," Waldeck says. "Beginning in December of last year, I also began publishing a twice-monthly Mini Monograph series of 'zine-style 10-page books, typically based of an artist's Instagram feature."
Waldeck, who also operates Light & Ink Imaging, a custom lab that provides artists with fine art printing and associated services, has published 22 of these Mini Monographs to date and is leveraging his expertise in fine art printing and monograph production to support Obscura Land's on-demand subscription format. The project's inaugural collection features Detroit photographers, including Carlos Diaz, who is known for local subject matter, such as documentation of the elaborate yard set-ups of the homes of Latino immigrants in Southwest Detroit. Beyond Borders: The Homes of Southwest Detroit developed organically out of a series of immigrant portraits that Diaz worked on in 2010.
"During the process of making the immigrant portraits, I simultaneously audio- taped conversations with my subjects," Diaz says in his artist statement about the project, selections of which have been shown at the Detroit Institute of Arts. "As a result, each individual's set of circumstances detailing their trip north beyond the border came to light. My general knowledge of the immigrant experience, I had learned from my father but the explicit details revealed by each immigrant's story were beyond my imagination.
"Since I was not from Southwest Detroit, these walks through the neighborhood were an attempt to connect with the people and the place. In the end, this experience became both a tangible and transcendent way to identify with the people in my portraits."
Native Dutch photographer and powerhouse of portraiture Corine Vermeulen is also a featured artist among this first collection of photography books, postcards, and fine art photography prints. Vermeulen has traveled internationally, collecting images of everyday people that radiate human connection and exacting technical skill, and her several series of various Detroit communities — including Your Town Tomorrow (Detroit, 2007-2012) and Thanks for the View, Mr. Mies — demonstrate the trust and connection she is able to forge with her photographic subjects. These are a few of the 20 featured photographers who offer diverse perspectives on Detroit, a city with innumerable and simultaneous truths to encounter.
Obscura Land is designed around three tiers at different price points — Meat, Meat + Potatoes, and Meat + Potatoes + Gravy — which accommodate subscribers in their desire for just the basic monographs, or extras like postcards, hand-printed slipcase, and a fine art print. This first collection has a short run — it debuted at the opening night party on Saturday, Nov. 19, and was available only through Nov. 30 — but it will be followed by Obscura Land's second-quarter offering, which will roughly coincide with Subjectively Objective's two-year anniversary and be a survey of the best work Waldeck has featured, but hasn't already been published as part of the Mini Monograph Series.
"I'm currently working on the build-out of a physical gallery space for Subjectively Objective, where hopefully I'll begin having shows next month," Waldeck says. "I'm also going to expand to doing more in-depth web features, along with artist interviews, to coincide with the gallery shows." The contents of the subscription tiers change in format each quarter, with the Meat of Obscura Land Volume 2: Subjectively Objective consisting of two, approximately 60-page bound books, one featuring landscape and the other featuring free associative conceptual work. Altogether, it will include work of more than 50 artists.
In a sense, Obscura Land is not just a service for people who continue to carry a torch for printed matter — it's also a great opportunity for photographers usually restricted to digital presentation to see some of their images take physical form. As we become increasingly inured to seeing photographs on a screen, it is heartening to see an effort directed toward low-risk models for making printed photographs a part of our daily fare.