Art + Design

Library of Dust


Yesterday was a big day for Bay Area photographer David Maisel. First, he gave a lecture about his beautifully enigmatic work to a packed house at the Marin Headlands Center for the Arts. Second, he received an advance copy of Library of Dust, his third monograph and a book whose substance and quality are a source of pride for everyone here who worked on it.


David Maisel in his Headlands Center studio with Library of Dust proofs affixed to the wall.

David and I had met years back through the local photo community, but it was on a trip to Portland for a review at Photolucida where we spent some concerted time together, discussing a mutual love of the work and writings of artist Robert Smithson over a fish dinner in a hotel restaurant. Since then David published two monographs, and his star has dramatically risen, both critically and commercially.

As someone who admired David’s work, I was honored that he came to Chronicle to discuss publishing his third book. In some ways quite different than his haunting aerial landscapes of desecrated environments, Library of Dust is intense and dark, but also intimate, thoughtful, and extremely moving. But like his other work it allows the viewer to stare into troubling places, which are also mirrors to ourselves. In depicting copper canisters containing the cremated remains of patients from an Oregon state psychiatric hospital–which over time have corroded and bloomed with secondary minerals–Library of Dust goes where few contemporary art projects dare to.



With the help of the very talented designer Bob Aufuldish and in-house designer Brooke Johnson and production coordinator Tera Killip, we arrived at a rather large format for this book: 17 inches high. Seeing the reproductions at this size, along with a color range that really pushed what can be done with four-color printing, make for an immersive experience that affects everyone who holds the book.


David’s studio with large Library of Dust prints

At last night’s event, David gave an overview of his work that kept the audience spellbound, many of whom were there to see musician and fellow Headlands Center artist-in-residence Will Oldham. The audience was rapt as David scrolled through his major bodies of work, save for occasional gasps at the more astonishing images and poetic turns of phrase; when the lights came up an enormous round of applause erupted. It’s just the start of what promises to be an extensive lecture and exhibition series for David, and a promising preview for this major photography book. Thanks David, for making it happen with us.


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  • the Book Tamer May 27, 2008 at 11:23 am

    Very profound yet simple this metaphor of the rusted cans. It takes indeed great power to catch such a mental space and reveal it within pictures. I bet the book offers a rewarding experience. Can you recommend more of David`s work?


  • Martin May 28, 2008 at 7:12 am

    Very beautiful, you show more with your photos of cremains than I see workign with them in real life.


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