• Ruta Saksens


This week we are asked to think about all the books that we have at home and that we find crucial, inspirational and useful for our projects. And when we are talking about books, we should look at such important aspects of books like book design (texture, shape, size, weight, binding), ecological and cultural impact, and its moral value to the author and/or the community.

Fig. 1: Saksens 2021. A dog shaped pilebrary [photographic image]

Let’s look at some basic aspects of books. According to the online Cambridge Dictionary (2021), a book is ‘a written text that can be published in printed or electronic form; a set of pages that have been fastened together inside a cover to be read or written in; a number of one type of thing fastened together flat inside a cover’. This means that a book is an object that holds a collection of something or a mix of things: text and images on paper or other material, and/or physically inserted objects (like coins, stamps, etc.). What holds these things together is binding (glue, thread, plastic spiral, etc.), unless it’s an electronic book, in which case it is an object that contains digital data of text/images. Johannes Gutenberg’s invention of mechanical movable type in the 15th century was a turning point in the history of books. With the help of mechanical printing the content became reproducible on a larger scale. The weight and size of books downscaled and became easily movable objects containing information that could then travel around the world to reach a wider audience. Other important turning points in the history of bookmaking, in my opinion, are the authorship law (crediting the author), the invention of audible books and e-books, and most recently the ability to self-publish. Anyone can be a writer nowadays.

Fig. 2: Saksens 2021. Free exchange library in Amsterdam area [photographic image]

However, due to this, the online market is flooded with books, including artists books about photography. On one hand it’s absolutely wonderful to have a variety of subjects and types of books available. The reason for a book’s existence will vary, from being purely entertaining to being scientific. Some books are published in large quantities, and other books in limited editions. Not all books will stand the test of time in a reader’s shelf. Quite a big role in it plays the aspect of human migration in the modern world. According to a research done by the United States Census Bureau, ‘it is estimated that a person in the United States can expect to move 11.7 times’ in their lifetime. I believe that from all the possessions people own, their libraries will not be the ones that will move from a place to a place along with people. Some books will, for sure. But I doubt that all of them will make it to the next house and then to the next one and so on. Throwing a book out of a shelf is certainly not something I would recommend to do. There are plenty of book donation options, as well as free street libraries where one can leave unwanted books so that others would have an opportunity to have them.

Fig. 3: Saksens 2021. Pilebrary [digital photographic image]

Most recently my reading attention is drawn to photography-related books. Many of them have given me inspiration, like Elliott Erwitt’s book ‘Dogs’ (2008) with Elliott’s street photography containing dogs and Rafael Mantesso’s book ‘A dog named Jimmy’ (2015) that is basically a collection of images of Jimmy presented in an adorable way, showing Jimmy in humorous situations. Mantesso’s photographs are clever and many are created to achieve the effect of intertextuality. On the downside, the book doesn’t contain any page numbers, which doesn’t seem practical to me. Some books on my bookshelf are purely theoretical and informative, like Roland Barthes ‘Camera Lucida’ and John Berger’s ‘Ways of Seeing’. Some of them I have downloaded from an online source and printed out, like Susan Sontag’s ‘On Photography’, because reading from screen for a longer period of time hurts my eyes and I really like the tangible feeling of holding a book and being able to highlight important parts in a book with a pencil.

Fig. 4: Mantesso 2015. No title [photographic print in a book]

Nowadays the way how and where a book is being published has become increasingly important. When publishing a book, sustainability is an aspect to consider. A book printed in China for a European market, such as Diana Markosian’s ‘Santa Barbara’, doesn’t seem to be an appropriate publishing choice in an era of climate crisis. Luckily, there are several options how to be more environmentally friendly in book publishing, for example, using recycled paper and environmentally friendly inks like in a book ‘Hands at Work’ by Heron Moon Press (2009) which contains 100% recycled paper and soy-based inks. Another option is to use a CO2 neutral publisher, like theprintspace.com and to indicate it in the book (like Stuart Waplington’s recent book ‘How to Show your work’ (2020) has it indicated on its back cover).

Furthermore, there’s a tendency for photographers to see a book as the main outcome of their projects, but there are plenty of other options available how artists can show their work, such as physical installations, online 3D art galleries, indoor exhibitions, workshops, zines, cards, postcards, printing on objects so that they become travelling galleries, live/recorded performances, and other alternative outcomes. During the week 7 seminar of this module, the course leader Gary McLeod shared his opinion saying that:

‘I’m not sure the world needs any more photography books.’ (McLeod 2021)

McLeod continued emphasizing that ‘there are an awfully lot of photography books in the world now, and there’s an increasing similarity, shall we say, between certain physical books.’ It’s getting more and more difficult to stand out between millions of books published every year, and an artist can become unnoticed in the sea of similar books. Therefore, it would be useful for artists to consider also other project outcomes.

Since there is no sequence in the photographic work of the Human-Canine Bond project, I have considered having an installation as the outcome for the current module. More specifically, I have become interested in producing a travelling gallery. Currently I am looking at an option to transfer my photography on wood and then make wooden baskets that would fit on the front parts of bicycles. In 2013 I moved to Amsterdam, sold my car and changed it to a bicycle, which has become my primary means of transportation. This type of transportation is very important for the Dutch people, and they do tend to travel with their small sized dogs in the front baskets of bicycles. Rafal Sulowski (2019) claims that in 2019 it was estimated that there were around 847 000 bikes in Amsterdam. The idea of doing this installation came from a combination of having a front basket myself and meeting several dog owners who put their dogs in front baskets when travelling by bike.

Fig. 5: Saksens 2021. A dog in a bike basket [digital photographic image]

Fig. 6: Saksens 2021. My bike basket [digital photographic image]

Therefore, I have been looking at ways how to transfer prints on wood. So far I have tried out a method of printing a photograph on a transparent print material and transferring it directly on wood.

Fig. 7: Saksens 2021. Experimenting with transferring a print on wood [video]

However, this technique doesn’t work well with detailed prints, so I am going to look for other ways to transfer prints on wood. There’s more than one way to crack an egg.


CAMBRIDGE DICTIONARY. 2021. Meaning of book in English. Available online from: https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/book [accessed 15 July 2021].

MCLEOD, Gary. 2021. ‘Week 7 ML seminar / office hours’ [seminar]. Falmouth: Falmouth University, 13 July 2021.

SULOWSKI, Rafael. 2019. How many bicycles are in Amsterdam Netherlands? Available online from: https://amsterdamhangout.com/how-many-bicycles-are-in-amsterdam-netherlands-infographic/ [accessed 15 July 2021].

UNITED STATES CENSUS BUREAU. 2020. Calculating Migration Expectancy Using ACS Data. Available online from: https://www.census.gov/topics/population/migration/guidance/calculating-migration-expectancy.html [accessed 14 July 2021].


Figure 1: SAKSENS, Ruta. 2021. A dog shaped pilebrary [photographic image]. Private collection: Ruta Saksens.

Figure 2: SAKSENS, Ruta. 2021. Free exchange library in Amsterdam area [photographic image]. Private collection: Ruta Saksens.

Figure 3: SAKSENS, Ruta. 2021. Pilebrary [digital photographic image]. Private collection: Ruta Saksens.

Figure 4: MANTESSO, Rafael. 2015. No title [photographic print in a book]. From Rafael Mantesso. 20215. A dog named Jimmy. [unnumbered pg.].

Figure 5: SAKSENS, Ruta. 2021. A dog in a bike basket [digital photographic image]. Private collection: Ruta Saksens.

Figure 6: SAKSENS, Ruta. 2021. My bike basket [digital photographic image]. Private collection: Ruta Saksens.

Figure 7: SAKSENS, Ruta. 2021. Experimenting with transferring a print on wood [video]. Private collection: Ruta Saksens.

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