Francesca Tamse is a lens-based artist living in London Her work manifests in prints, books, sculptures, and videos and is concerned with constructions of history and the relationship between the sciences and the humanities. Since she lives abroad, we caught up over email.
The last time we saw each other was in New York when I was working at the School of Visual Arts (SVA) in their photography department, back when you were a student. You’ve since moved to London where you attended the Royal College of Art for their master’s program in photography. What’s keeping you busy there and where are you spending most of your time these days? Yes, good ol’ SVA. After graduating, I took some time working at the Royal College of Art (RCA) and working in Student Union-related work. It takes up most of my week. On the weekends, I work in a studio in London. Access to technical facilities is a plus to be working
Before moving abroad, you worked at Dashwood Books and were involved in the New York photobook community. Are you similarly connected with the publishing scene in the London area? In what way?
Yes, I used to work as a Shipments Manager at Dashwood Books. I loved being immersed in photobooks. It was definitely an education in terms of photobook publishing and exposure to the photobook community. Since getting my MA from RCA, I have been working closely with publishers in London, certainly. There’s a linkage between New York and London. It’s a small community, so you’re bound to know someone and what they’re up to across the pond.
Do independently published or produced photography publications and artist books enjoy the same kind of popularity in England as they do in the US? There’s a thirst to make and publish your projects as a photographer. I think there are many ways you’re able to achieve this. Self Publish, Be Happy have been a benchmark for contemporary photography and self-publishing in London for the past six years and have led the self-publishing charge in major book publishing events such as Offprint, which is going on its third year at the Tate Modern.
What I’d like to see is a platform where you are able to do a zine swap or share DIY artist zines in the manner that 8-Ball Zines (in NY) have revolutionized this format in the last five years. Maybe they need to come and visit London to start a frenzy.
What, if anything, does the London photobook community have in common with that of New York? Or, perhaps even broader, do you see any key differences in the publishing scene in the US versus in Europe? I think there’s a very polished and considered finish in the presentation of photobooks here, compared to ones in the US, but that’s definitely up for debate. When I was working at Dashwood, I was exposed to so many EU-based photobooks, such as ROMA Publications and Kodoji Press, and the design is absolutely considered. I think both tend to look for printers outside their respective countries just to try out different printers. Guests tend to ask where a publisher printed such-and-such a book, and usually it's through word of mouth that you establish the printer you like working with.
Have you noticed any particular trends in small or independent publications in England that you don’t see in comparable releases stateside? I think the book launch is a celebration in the same degree as a gallery opening, here. The publication is considered equal to work on the wall.
In 2013, you self-published a little book called neo Ancient Sites. Could you describe loosely what the book was based on? How did you conceive of the project? What was the occasion for publication? neo Ancient Sites was my first self-published book, published through Conveyor (now out of print!). It examined art history textbook images, their multiplicity and relationship to travel photography and destination. Each copy of the book was accompanied by a photographic slide. I conceived of the project while working in the slide library at the School of Visual Arts, sifting through thousands of slides, looking for duplicates. I took all these duplicates home and started digitally scanning the images, and so began my travel-book-sized publication. This coincided with my BA show at SVA in 2013 and also with my employment at Dashwood Books, an environment that pushed me to make my first book. It was well worth it.
How did your book Sculptural Planes come about? Can you talk about the project a little? Is it something that was conceptualized as a book from the start, or are these images sourced from other bodies of work? Sculptural Planes is more of an exhibition catalog, a breadth of my work. It was edited so that there was still a gestural movement within the pages. Most people have asked what it’s about—it’s a compression of my current practice. There isn’t any text in the saddle-stitched book, but it did come with an enamel pin that was designed to accompany it.
Can you tell us a little bit about the production process? Where and how did you print and bind it? How are you distributing the book? The production was done in a timeframe of two months, in time for Offprint London in 2015. I printed the book with KOPA, a great print company from Lithuania, again from word of mouth. At the moment, the book is available at Village Books (Leeds), TiPi Tin Books, and Tenderbooks in London. You can purchase it online as well.
Your publication Sculptural Planes was made in conjunction with the Offprint London at the Tate Modern. Can you tell us about that? How does Offprint London compare to the New York Art Book Fair? Is there a different vibe? What’s the energy like? Offprint London is smaller compared to NYABF. It’s still in its early years in London, but nonetheless it’s an event that UK publishers will be participating in. You won’t find the zine tent or gallery publishers (I don’t think), but you will find dozens of performances and workshops based in photography and publishing. The last two years have been led by Self Publish, Be Happy.
I noticed that the young male figure is a recurring element in many of your images. Could you talk a bit about the evolution of this aesthetic decision? Why the male figure? Or, why any figure at all? My practice evolved incredibly after my first book, moving out to London and setting myself to work on a master’s. It was important to me that the young male figure be present in my work, and the gestures he’s been posed with are equally important. The short answer is that he represents the privileged, white male throughout Western history, like in German Romanticist paintings, and he is also emblematic of the early photographers who surveyed the world’s landscape through the lens.
British Empiricism seems to cast a long shadow on your projects. Could you tell me a bit about what attracted you to this history of thinking? How has it interfaced with your long-standing interest in geology? It was the archive that began all this thought about the construction of history and about the male-dominated construction of Western history. Geology just became an example of empirical thought for me, and of Science’s long-standing debate with Art and Design. Geology’s language of the earth was something I could not immediately put myself in, and I could only be an observer. I came to follow geology students during their field trips to take photographs of them.
You make videos, still images, books, and photographs with a sculptural presence—does any one of these individual mediums have particular primacy for you? I find that I demand a balance with all of these mediums. I ask myself questions such as, what would the image look like next to another surface, or how does its installation move the viewer in the room? I ask myself what the dialogue is between images of the figure and a physical object, and whether they are reliant on each other. Is there hierarchy?
So, what are you working on next? I am working on a few projects throughout the year and a summer group exhibition organized by The Plantation Studio and Aldama Fabre Gallery in Bilbao, which focuses on the sculptural surfaces that photography can convey.