David Strettel, Dashwood Books

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David Strettell
David StrettellPhotography by Derek Peck

David Strettell is the founder and owner of Dashwood Books, a tiny but enormously influential photography bookstore located on Bond Street in the Bowery section of Manhattan...

David Strettell is the founder and owner of Dashwood Books, a tiny but enormously influential photography bookstore located on Bond Street in the Bowery section of Manhattan. Since opening in 2005, Dashwood has become New York City’s insider resource and social nexus for the latest in contemporary international photography. With an impressive run of book releases, signings, and talks by some of the leading names in photography today, as well as pursuing its own publishing projects and being known for stocking unique titles, rare collectors’ editions, and short-run monographs of self-published work, Dashwood has come to present a broad but distinct range of today’s photographic work through the curatorial passion of one man. Previously, Strettell had assisted Mario Testino and then worked for the legendary Magnum Photo cooperative for 12 years. After leaving Magnum, Strettell says he took six months off to decide what was next for him, and chose to open Dashwood. Recently, I met with David at his East Village flat for tea, conversation, and to take a few pictures of the man behind the books.

Is there a book or exhibition during your Dashwood career that you’re most proud of or that’s most memorable?
My first Dashwood publication, The Chance is Higher, by Ari Marcopoulos, and my most recent, Life Adjustment Center, with Ryan McGinley. I loved Ari's work and had gotten to know him through the store and we’d been searching for a publishing project to do together. He included a few large Xerox pieces in a gallery show in New York in 2007 and I asked if he'd be interested in publishing a book of them. Gilles Gavillet of Gavillet & Rust in Geneva who Ari had worked with a few times designed the most astonishing and original book. Even though we printed only 700 copies with a special edition of only 50 copies it was really well received and allowed me to consider the possibilities of a publishing business in tandem with the bookstore. Then, one of the opportunities that project led me to, was collaborating with Ryan McGinley on two monographs published last year (2010). Ryan has a rabid following in the US, Europe and Japan and yet had published relatively modestly produced books. I decided on his series of black and white studio portraits, something of a departure for Ryan, to pull out all the stops and publish something of really exquisite quality. Our second collaboration was a more modest affair printed for an exhibit last October at Ratio 3 in San Francisco. The result of a two-hour design meeting and printed on a breakneck schedule, the finished product was a perfectly elegant cloth-bound book. I'm really proud of it.  

During our meeting you spoke of your observation about art photographers tending to fall into one of two categories, those who create to hang and those to publish...

Yes – I feel that photographers can generally be divided into two camps: those whose work is best suited to the wall and those best suited to the page. For instance, the work of Berd and Hilla Becher, whose obsessive documentation of industrial architecture has become so iconic it seemingly would be best suited to the page, but even though their books are impressive it is their prints that are almost always more compelling. Similarly, the rest of the Dusseldorf school – the German photographers who emerged in the 80s and 90s who were students of the Bechers, have produced some very fine photography books: Gursky's Montparnasse and Thomas Struth's Museum Photographs, to name only two. But the oversized prints they produced and that became synonymous with contemporary photography in the 90s have an unparalleled presence in person.  On the other side, almost exclusively the Japanese – with the notable exception of Hiroshi Suigimoto – are more comfortable on the page where their work is consumed in sequences. It’s an idea first mentioned to me by Bruce Gilden, one of the photographers at Magnum where I worked for twelve years before opening Dashwood. He curiously described himself as a photographer whose work was best suited to the wall and yet belonged to a cooperative most associated with the press and printed documentary work and is a book nut with an extensive photo book collection himself.  

You mentioned that Robert Mapplethorpe's work is what initially opened your eyes to the power of photography. Can you tell me more about that, and note a couple of other photographers who have been pivotal in developing your viewpoint as a curator and publisher?
Mapplethorpe had an exhibit at the ICA in London in 1983. It got a lot of attention because it was censored – there was one image that you had to be sixteen to view (I was seventeen at the time) a self-portrait of Mapplethorpe looking pretty manic in leather chaps with a bullwhip up his ass. I found it pretty shocking, but apart from that what stayed with me was the really obvious tenet of photography that it gave you access to places that otherwise you really had no hope or business being exposed to. Beyond mere voyeurism – it drew you into a world. Yes it was stylised, yes it had artsy Classical affectations, but it was undeniably real. These guys were not poseurs; they were plucked from a genuinely exotic place, the sex clubs of New York in the 70s and 80s and revealed to me, some spotty kid in London. I soon became fascinated by other worlds that photographers allowed me to indulge in: Helmut Newton's chic eroticism, Nan Goldin's downtown scene, Anders Petersen's Cafe Lehmitz in Hamburg, William Eggleston's Memphis, Robert Frank's melancholic America. 

What current projects are you working on?
My main projects this fall are to launch of a series of moderately priced monographs produced in small editions (250 to 500 copies). They will introduce a variety of contemporary photographers and reintroduce largely unknown work from the past to a contemporary audience serving as a reflection of Dashwood's own curatorial theme. I'm also planning to publish two additional books: one by the writer and curator Jocko Weyland called "The Powder" about his obsession with ski culture in the late 70s/early 80s; and the other is a documentary project by English photographer Jack Webb called "Jack Webb Suspects his Parents". Jack put an ad in the paper in England inviting couples to allow him to photograph them having sex. They are completely non-idealized, non-erotic and both raw and astonishingly beautiful at the same time. We are also planning to co-publish a book with Jason Nocito entitled "I Heart Transylvania".