Victor Sira of bookdummypress

ICP School alum and faculty Victor Sira on the ideal bookstore and his favorite photobooks of all time.

Pauline Vermare: Would you tell us about bookdummypress?

Victor Sira: Bookdummypress (bdp) started out of our apartment closet in New York as an online store. I have been making book dummies for a long time and collecting photobooks for several years when I met Shiori. With her background in Japanese visual culture and our common interest in books, we founded bdp in 2011. The name bookdummypress came out of an exhibition Photographer’s Book Dummies that I curated at the Education Gallery of the International Center of Photography in 2008. About a year ago, we opened a bookstore on the ground floor of Mana Contemporary in Jersey City. We carry books of all interests from poetry to painting to photography.

The bookdummypress (bdp) store at Mana Contemporary in Jersey City, NJ.
The bookdummypress (bdp) store at Mana Contemporary in Jersey City, NJ.

We are neighbors at Mana Contemporary. Your space—both a bookstore and a gallery—is an inspiration to all of us. How would you describe it?

Thank you, that means a lot to us. We strive to keep the space influx with creativity—to be a place of discovery where you stumble upon old and new. We are always alert and receptive, though we never know what we’re going to end with. Some books are not always easy to grasp. We display books in a way that allow visitors to have multiple encounters with the same book and different things may become apparent each time. Newly discovered aspect of the book can be a source of a great idea.

Exhibitions at bdp are connected to the books. From the beginning, we have been closely collaborating with artists who have significant bodies of works in a book form—not only as a convenient showcase of a portfolio, but also as a medium with its own possibilities and limitations. We work intuitively; we don’t have specific schedules. Ideas and artworks come in drip by drip. When the cup is filled, it is natural to put together a show.

Victor Sira, co-owner of bookdummypress (bdp).
Victor Sira, co-owner of bookdummypress (bdp).

How did you become interested in photography, and more specifically in photobooks?

I was five years old when I first sensed and felt books. It was at my father's workplace, the printing press of a military school in Venezuela. Books have always been a part of my life; they are my preferred tool to learn and experience ideas and cultures. I got interested in photography through photobooks, which led me to study at the International Center of Photography.

What is your relationship to ICP?

I graduated from the General Studies Program in 1991. I have been in the faculty of ICP-Bard MFA program since 2009 and teaching "The Book: Imaginary Studio, A Non Stop Process."

You showcase many young photographers in your space, including ICP alumni, through their books (often self-published), prints, etc. Do you feel that the book is still a popular medium for their generation?

Yes, the book is a popular and relevant medium for young photographers. Self-publishing is relatively easy and inexpensive these days, which gives freedom for experimenting with own work. For instance, participating in a book fair is much cheaper than art fairs. This generates a dynamic environment; ideas can spread faster with books than exhibitions. We often have the first encounter with someone’s work through a book. It is how we get introduced to young artists' sensibilities and ideas. From there, conversation starts and the possibility of future collaboration originates.

Shiori Kawasaki, co-owner of the bookdummypress (bdp) store.
Shiori Kawasaki, co-owner of the bookdummypress (bdp) store.

You are from Venezuela, your partner is Japanese, and you live in New York. How would you compare the relationship to photobooks and photo bookstores in these countries and cultures?

As a young teenager grew up in the late 1970s in Caracas, I frequently went to many local museum bookstores, especially because I wanted to see their catalogues. They tend to be playful, imaginative, and unconventional. These publications were dedicated to the quality of paper and the use of minimal resources and often designed/illustrated to make the most of one subject.

Japanese book culture is more diverse and inventive. It goes back at least thirteen hundred years for them to develop and experiment book making. They even had the concept of self-publishing or artist books back then. Bookselling history is almost as long as bookmaking, which is perhaps one of the reasons why there are much more bookstores than in Venezuela or United States, although their role is changing, and yet they still try to keep the values of “local bookstores.”

One thing in common for all three countries is, many traditional local bookstores are disappearing and remaining or newly opened bookstores are experimenting new ways to function and draw attention. They transcend the traditional role of selling books; not only offer idiosyncratic selection of books and classes but also function as a gallery and event space. Relationships are created when a space ceases to be merely a merchandising outlet and instead become a place where passion is shared. In addition, we have Internet and social media, which offer possibilities for creating contacts worldwide.

Books on view at the bookdummypress (bdp) store at Mana Contemporary in Jersey City, NJ.
Books on view at the bookdummypress (bdp) store at Mana Contemporary in Jersey City, NJ.

Your five favorite photobooks of all times?...

There are many so I edited down to seven, some classics and new ones. Not in any particular order.

  • Robert Frank's The Lines of My Hand
  • Gerhard Richter's Atlas
  • Paolo Gasparini's Retromundo
  • Curtis Hamilton's Tar Beach Blind
  • Andrea Stern's The Wrong Road Trip
  • Yoshihiko Ueda's At Home
  • Lucy Helton's Actions of Consequence

What is the ideal bookstore?

A place where you can find something unexpected—and where aesthetics and cultural values are created through the choice of books carried and exhibitions organized. An environment that expresses the delicate balance between pleasure we get from "things" and pleasure we get from "freedom from things."

What is your next project?

We are preparing a 400-page publication that brings together 105 of my bookdummies from 1993 to 2015; it provides an insight into my process of making books. The title is Bookdummies: Imaginary Studio, a Non-stop Process 1993–2015, which will be printed and bound in Japan. The book is available for preorder here.

Visit bookdummypress (bdp) at Mana Contemporary on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday from 11 am–5 pm or Thursday and Saturday, 12–6 pm.