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Matthew Carson's Bookcases

By Peggy Roalf   Thursday May 7, 2020

Pimp Your Bookcases continues this week with Librarian Matthew Carson, co-Founder of  10x10 Photobooks. His own library came to my attention through his “Unpacking the Collection” series on Instagram.

Peggy Roalf: When did you realize that books would be important in your life? 

Matthew Carson: I have always loved reading and I have adored books from a very young age.

PR: When did you realize that you had become a true collector of photo- and artbooks?

MC: I actually do not think that I have become a true collector yet. There are so many ideas and collection possibilities that I haven’t explored, let alone realised. There are many materials that I need to add and acquire. The glass is half empty.

PR: What were you studying [or involved with] when you decided on your career choice?

MC: The first job I interviewed for after graduating university was for the Bodleian Library in Oxford. I got the job. But I was unable to accept the library position as it really didn’t pay enough and I really needed some money to pay for food and a roof over my head. Working in a library has always been the dream. Some years later I went back to school to get my Masters in Library and Information Science, with an archives certificate.

PR: What is the first photo-or-artbook you ever bought and why did it catch your attention?

MC: When I was a teenager I met the artist Jamie Reid and bought his book Up They Rise: The Incomplete Works of Jamie Reid (1987). I got a signed book, inscribed to me by one of my favourite artists.  I adore his work and politics and Druid origins. We went to the same art college (though not at the same time). Robert Frank’s Lines of My Hand (1972) was also an important early purchase for me. It was an insider’s book. A manual on how to be an artist.

PR: What was the last photo-or-artbook you purchased?

MC: I have been trying to be conservative with my acquisitions.  We are living in times with little to no money after all. But I just bought a copy of The Saxons of Transylvania by Pascual Martínez and Vincent Sáez, published by Overlapse at the end of 2019.

PR:: What is the next photo-or-artbook you might purchase?

MC: My strategy at the moment is to buy smaller books and zines, as well as primary source materials and counter culture oddities.

PR: Is there a rarity that somehow got away that you regret not grabbing when it was affordable?

MC: Yes, this happens all the time. As I cannot pay collectors’ prices I have to rely on my nose to be there first and make the purchase when it is it 40 bucks rather than 400 bucks.  There are so many great books and you cannot own them all.  Apparently.

PR: What went into your choice of bookcases — any research? Any seen/envied among friends/colleagues?

MC: I currently have two bookcases in separate rooms in my apartment.  The first book case I bought 15 years ago at a furniture shop in New York around 23rd street. Cannot remember the name of the shop, but it was a going out of business deal. It is lovely, comes apart in four sections. It has glass doors. The other book cases I built in with the help of my friend Miguel. Floor to ceiling. Max out the space.

PR:: What you like most about your bookcases?

MC: Access and being able to reach the materials. With the help of a library chair, for the higher items. When I am in the room I can see all of them clearly and that tangible reference is important to me. Each book is a small universe and each book comes with its own acquisition narrative. Each book has at least two stories.

PR:: Are they everything you every hoped for or is there room for improvement?

MC: Oh, there is always room for improvement, but I needed something quick and cheap. Solid wood, attached to the wall, well supported and white paint. It is very simple and it work’s very well.

PR: What went into your research and design process when you contemplated building your own?

MC: I moved into my new apartment in October.  I knew the wall where the book shelves would be built and I had an electrician put in three overhead lights. This was before the shelves were built, I was just imagining the shelves on the empty wall.

PR: Have your shelves ever collapsed under the weight of your books? Or have your photo-and-artbook caused any other type of disaster caused by big heavy books?

MC: Surprisingly not as yet. My greatest fear like many collectors are things like mold and sun damage.  When I moved into my apartment there was another available apartment of the same size on the sun-drenched south side of the building. The realtor was confused as to why I chose the one I did. If I want the sun, I can go outside.

PR: How you organize your photo-and-artbooks?

MC: Idiosyncratic organization to be honest. As a librarian one would expect there to be more order than there is. It is a work in progress. I do know where to find most things. I dislike too formal an order at home; at work that library order is vital. At home my order is more organic. It is more loosely arranged to my current ideas and projects.

There are some well-defined sections; books on books, photo and print identification books, poetry books, etc., and then there are some more jumbled sections featuring psycho geography texts, situationist texts, occult, Druidry and magic, cannibalism, political texts, art theory. The archival boxes mainly contain zines, slim artists’ books, odd pamphlets and newsprint materials. 

PR: What do you do when you run out of shelf space?

MC: I have already run out of shelf space. I already need to build more shelves.  But I am also in the process of scaling back my collection and selling some of them on. Historically when I do that, the problem is that I tend to buy more book to replace the ones sold. Space is always an issue with city living. In the last few years I have consciously acquired fewer books. Well, certainly slimmer volumes.

PR: Have you ever had to move your library? What are the best and worst things about moving this kind of collection?

MC: Yes. Never move. No matter how well you pack those books and materials there is always a little damage.

PR: What are the best bookcases you have ever seen and what do you envy about them?

MC: I am a librarian. There are the most amazing libraries all over the world with some seriously beautiful ways of displaying books.  

PR: Can you advise the readers on anything you feel should be avoided in the planning and construction/installation of bookcases?

MC: In your home library always plan for growth.  Plan for easy access to all your materials. Create a space of pleasure and serendipity.

On the institutional level, BEWARE Architects. Many Architects have a fantasy idea of what a library should look like based upon architectural ideas like lots of light and opening up the space. I have seen cultural and educational institutions create “libraries” that look like wallpaper from the "Joe the Juice" bars rather than functional places to experience materials.

PR: Would you say that being a bibliophiles a form of madness?

MC: It is an acquisition disorder. It is a healthy madness.

Matthew Carson is a librarian and archivist who has worked at the International Center of Photography and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. He has worked as a rare book dealer and an independent curator and he is also a co-founder of the 10×10 photobook group. He is a member of the SAA (Society of American Archivists), ARLIS (Art Libraries Society of North America) and has been a committee member for over a decade at the Contemporary Artists Books Conference (CABC) at the NY Art Book Fair. He is a bibliomaniac. pimp_bookcase

 

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