Carlos Chavarria

Artist Blog by Nicholas Albrecht

I met Carlos in San Francisco about 3 years ago, and we have since become good friends. His knowledge of the history of photography, particularly the history of the photobook, is impressive. I find all his work, including the editorial assignments, to be inspiring. In this post I would like to talk about The Sketchbook.

The Sketchbook is comprised of found images and images taken by Carlos, either from personal projects or editorial assignments. In his words »The Sketchbook is a compilation of ideas, references and photographic notes.«

When looking at work that uses found images I often wonder if that use is some form of mimicry or if it actually leads to something, something to which those images are essential. My first exposure to the technique was through Wisconsin Death Trip by Michael Lesy. In an interview with Robert Birnbaum, Lesy says about his work “… you can create something that’s a puzzle that can be worked but that always leaves the person unsatisfied, leaves him wanting to work it again, to solve it better.” This notion seems to be a big part of many great photobooks, regardless of where the images came from. In the case of Wisconsin Death Trip, the use of found images seems to be essential to the scope. The next book that really drew me in is Dive Dark Dream Slow by Melissa Catanese, where she edited images from the collections of Peter J. Cohen. In the book, Catanese draws upon the evocative qualities of each single image in order to create a narrative within the book. It seems like some of the images contain a formal structure that makes them great images, regardless of context and/or author. This led me to think about the pure formal qualities of an image, and not the purpose for which they were made.

I asked Carlos how this started and what criteria was used to select the images. He pointed out the image of an African American in a bathtub that he had found. He mentioned the attraction he had towards that image and in some way the mystery that it contained. That image, I’ll venture to say, contains something that is powerful.

So what I find so engaging about The Sketchbook is not the nostalgia of found images, but the selection process of images that, regardless of their context, are incredible. These found images would then inspire him to make new images or create visual associations with ones he had already taken. As he says, it becomes an exercise in rhythm and narrative.

Throughout the two books, there are clues that lead you from one image to the other. The covers and back covers are related to each other, and if you pay attention to sequencing, it seems like you could almost start at either end. Ultimately I think Carlos’ vast knowledge of the photographic language and the photobook shows in these very thoughtfully put together narratives.

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