From the outside, Yanni Florence - a Melbourne based designer and photographer - has a discreet online presence quite suited to his understated, 'self-conscious' practice. A professional with focused interest in the amateur, his photographs catalogue the eccentric in the un-designed, his graphic design a quiet support to its content. In a break from our usual interview approach, Yanni answered questions via email from Los Angeles, his responses accompanied by his recent photographs of its streets and suburbs.
It's book design. Most of the design is image centric and generally ordered so text and image are separate. My favorite book covers are ones without text on them. I came to design relatively late - mid 20s - whereas I have been taking photographs from age 11. I came to book design via studying as an Architect, and starting Pataphysics Magazine in 1989. But I got to architecture through looking at and collecting books on architecture full of photographs... so from books to architecture to designing books and taking and collecting photographs makes sense to me. Architecture - in theory and removed from practice - was compelling. In reality I found it a bit depressing. My favourite was Jean-Jacques Lequeu, and he built nothing - only drawings, really. I like suburban architecture which I take lots of photographs of. I also like seaside holiday houses. It's a kind of free form architecture where people have expressed themselves or participated in a dream. Often these buildings and environments are aesthetically off, but I also recognise a good look to them and hopefully the photographs show that. I don't like irony as an objective but there is irony in the high aesthetic that some of these places allude to.
I'm not sure you could call what I do 'archiving' as there is not much rhyme or reason to what or how I collect. The online Pataphysics Magazine archive would be looked upon fairly disparagingly by a real archivist. And if they saw the disarray of all the actual material they would be appalled. I'm not an expert or comprehensive in anything really. My photographs are un-ordered in boxes. Books are shelved in no real order. It's all quite neatly stacked and packed but I don't know where anything is. Sometimes that's annoying, other times it's quite liberating when I think of the hours it would take, being more disciplined and methodical would probably cause anxiety. Probably as way out of that anxiety I have an interest in chance and the oddness of things. I'm more of an amateur hoarder. I'm quite minimalist in many regards with design but in other aspects of things I'm not. For instance I have kept every utility bill I have paid for the past 25 years. I have no idea why. I'm not interested in Art as such but do find it interesting when it is eccentric and doesn't so much support reality.
I would not call what I do 'art'. Artists make and sell art and have gallery representation... I don't do any of that. The design ideas and aesthetics I use are all about the work in the book. But then again the images of the work in the books are not the actual work - like a photograph is not what it is a photograph of. Books and photographs are objects that have a fetish aspect to them. Imbuing books and photographs with object status can be good if it has some kind of material aura that we can feel part of. I'm thinking in a sense almost down to a molecular level. It can be depressing if it is alienating and we become subservient. I generally work with artists on books who want them not just to promote their work but are also interested in the book as a material object. I don't do many books and it's more of a hobby. I don't do it for commercial reasons which gives me a lot of freedom.
"Self Conscious" is a collection of photographs I took aged 11 to 18. "More Self Conscious" is the start of a collection of photographs taken from 18 to about 25. I was then planning to do "Even More Self Conscious" which was going to be photographs taken from 25 to 30 or so. But I got distracted and they are unfinished projects. There is something to be said for not showing work or waiting 20 or so years to show it. Some of the most satisfying projects are ones that just exist as ideas.
The blog is like the wall above a desk. Photographs are up there to see what they look like. Trying out different sequences and edits. I'm not sure who actually looks at them and am amazed at the amount of people who do. It's curious the Google key words that have been used by people to land on the site - "human looking animal", "photo of David Shapiro wearing sunglasses and smoking a cigar". The relative anonymity of the blog is good and big numbers don't really matter and are pretty hard to relate to. I do have an email list of friends and people who I have worked with and whose work I like and I send out updates to them when I post a new Pataphysics Magazine guest post. So in that sense the blog has an audience that means something to me. The post war Japanese photographers were more into books of photographs, rather than those exhibited in a gallery, and I follow that. For them I think it came out from a lack of gallery options. For me it's more because it allows you to work in private and unencumbered. I like the rhythm and motion of books, flicking from page to page. In terms of rhythm I'm very much into the idea of the jump cut, but having said that I'm careful my photographs don't mimic cinema and that's why I generally take photos in portrait format - as opposed to landscape which is more cinematic. The site is to some extent a staging ground for print publishing, with the guest posts being complied for hopefully a new issue of Pataphysics Magazine. The photographs come from all sorts of places, markets, dealers, op shops, found on the street and, of course, Ebay. And some of them I have shot. There is a huge market for vernacular photographs, but I pretty much steer clear of the more obvious collectable images and certainly don't see it as an art project. I'm working the slag heaps as opposed to the rich gold mines. Hopefully the photographs I collect are a bit different from what others would collect. Or at the very least the order I put them in is different. I go for a fairly wide range of photographs. At the moment I am into amateur, hand-coloured photographs. Like a lot of photography it's an attempt to reanimate. Really it's very science fiction and alchemical.
To me there are no bad photographs. A weed is just a plant out of place. I can't understand how anyone can throw away photographs. Even when I delete photographs from my digital camera I feel guilty, as if I have tried to hide something. There is so much pathos in albums of photographs that have been separated from their owners. The photographs that I take are very much influenced by the found photographs, more 'being in the moment' than the aesthetics. I take a lot of photographs just for the sake of taking a photograph.
There are so many images. I'm guessing that out of this and over time a more developed image language will eventually evolve. Just a few of the sites I like are ones that I think are part of this - Jah Jah Sphinx, The Shallow Depths and Qubik. They are streams of pretty much untilled images, and follow a referencing dialogue or some kind of association from image to image. My blog label list has grown over time. I'm not sure how sustainable it is but it works fine for now. Sometimes a photograph will suggest a new label and that will open up a way of seeing photographs in a different way. For instance, I found a photograph of a girl kissing a man and for some reason it looked like she was a vampire. Then I saw other photos in the same light and would use the label if I thought it fitted. Certainly the newspaper photo of Bashar al-Assad, clean and corporate, standing over a disfigured patient in a hospital bed fits the description. Sometimes I give the images titles as well as labels. This is harder as there is more pressure for that to sit right. I had an idea that I would title everything "untitled" but use all different ways, like "no title', "without title", "not yet titled" etc. I tried it a few times but it looked silly and stood out from the photographs too much. Some of the labels are ways of collecting images in groups so I can then track down. "Before, during and after WWII" consists of all these idyllic European landscapes. They are witness to what went on. But are also tied into the Germanic romantic and heroic nationalism that seeded the Nazis. I imagine that some may have been places where the resistance hid out or were tracked down and killed. I got quite carried away with all that. It's meant to compliment that great book of German army snap shots "Nein, Onkel". There is a tradition of ordering vernacular photography in themes or elements that repeat. 50 images of, say, a dog in human clothes. As if the repetition brings meaning. Maybe it does but is also a bit reductive. And I hope my labels don't do that. I hope they are odd enough and there is enough contradiction not to do that. It fits in with the poetry I like. I'm not the first or last who joins photography with poetry, my first introduction to that was a book Man Ray did including the poems of Paul Eluard. There are also some writers who are amateur photographers I really like, such as Emilie Zola and Lewis Carol. I just recently saw photographs that the poet Aram Saroyan took in the late 50s when he was only about 14 years old, of street kids in Italy, put to poems by Philip Whalen. The title of the blog 'collected photographs' itself is derived from the title used for many books of poetry, i.e.'collected poems'.
Here is an abbreviated list (guaranteed not all of it will get done):
- Walking the streets and taking photographs of houses and trees etc in LA. Doing that now.
- Design and publish a book of depression era photographs by Carl Mydans, edited and with text by Tom Clark. I'm late on this and am trying to find a good international distributor.
- Compiling photographs of and by Percy Grainger for publication in Pataphysics Magazine. They are of his clothes, instruments, museum, race theories, sexual pastimes, etc. I have the photos from the Grainger Museum and just now need to select them and get the Museums approval and their help on the captions.
- Frame all the "Before, During and After WWII" photographs in one very large frame with black card background. I have the photos and the black card. Just have to put the two together and take it to the framer
- Same size frame as above, frame a series of photographs just showing the back of them with their odd bits of writing ("love from Doris") and stamps etc. I still have to select the photos.
- "Specimen Photographs" of weeds in my garden.
- New issue of Pataphysics Magazine (the guest posts on Collected Photographs). Have started on the layout.
- Do crazy paving in our garden. Have dug up all the concrete.
- Take out life insurance. Have to settle on a price.
The final image is Yanni Florence, Self Portrait, 1983.
All photography is owned by Yanni Florence and used with permission.
The referrals began with Leah Jackson who referred Stephanie Downey who referred Chris Hill who referred Jonathan Wallace who referred Dominic Hofstede, who referred Paul Fuog, who referred Ben Edwards and Juliet Moore, who referred Ryan Russel and Byron George, who referred Dianna Snape, who finished the stream with Jessica Brent. We also introduced Matt Hinkley who referred Warren Taylor who referred Yanni Florence, who referred Liv Barrett, who referred Fayen d'Evie, who referred Masato Takasaka, who referred Madeline Kidd, who referred Meredith Turnbull, who referred Nella Themelios.
In May 2012, we began a new Melbourne stream with Oslo Davis. He then referred Alexander Stitt, who referred Mimmo Cozzolino, who referred Fysh Rutherford, who referred Simon and Jenna Hipgrave.
In March 2012, we went to Austin for SXSW, where the daily referrals began with Sonnenzimmer who referred Landland and Hometapes who referred Zorch, who referred Brian Maclaskey, who referred Bobby Dixon, who referred Brian Phillips, who, through some auspicious coincidence, turned the SXSW referral interview project into a perfect circle, by referring us back to Sonnenzimmer. Then there was a giveaway to celebrate.