Evelina Kerpaitė, Nails

JTF (just the facts): Published in 2015 by NoRoutine Books (here). Hard plastic front and back covers enclosed with a blue rubber band, 48 pages in an accordion fold, with 40 black and white photographs. Includes a short text by the artist. In an edition of 99+1AP. (Cover and spread shots below.)

Comments/Context: With the burst of creativity that has enlivened the photobook world in the past decade, the dividing line between an “artist’s book” and a broader distribution photobook has become increasingly fuzzy. Self-published and small run photobooks are finding larger audiences than ever before, and mass market titles are adopting some of the original features that were once limited to quirky hand made books. For photobook lovers and collectors, this chaotic mixing is altogether exhilarating.

One of the great joys of artist-made books is that they can take all kinds of risks that would normally scare off typical publishers. Lithuanian photographer Evelina Kerpaitė’s small book Nails is an elegant example of a book that couldn’t possibly fit the demands of a large publisher, but whose right-sized cleverness makes for a memorable artist’s book.

The 40 black and white photographs included in the book all fit a standard form. They depict a single bent/used/discarded nail against a mottled blank background, each print sized one-to-one with the actual scale of the original nail (i.e. they’re pretty small). In each case, Kerpaitė has gone on to carefully fold the physical print, hiding the portions of the nail that are bent or damaged. The result is a parade of nails that are each perfectly straight from head to sharp tip, their functionality magically restored, with their lengths varying depending on how much folding was required to straighten out the form.

To be sure, this is a limited conceptual idea. But there is an effortless grace to it that is crisp and wonderful in this book form. Leveraging the object quality of the prints, her folds are like origami, bending back and forth at varying angles, some doubling up like fans or skew twists, all in the pursuit of an illusionistic straight line. And just as there is a nearly limitless supply of bent nails out in the world, her folded prints pile up into a deep taxonomy (“an archive of useless things” she calls it), each nail requiring a different combination of folds to make it true again. The almost comic but quietly smart simplicity of this idea has an echo of John Baldessari’s brainy conceptual games from the early 1970s, where the fundamental nature of photography was being tested using thrown balls, carrots, and green beans.

The book itself is constructed with an equal measure of thoughtfulness. Reproductions of Kerpaitė’s folded prints are each centered on a single white page, and the pages (with images printed on both sides) have been connected into a long accordion fold. The result is an intimate book that unspools in your hands, with folds constantly opening and closing. The two ends of the paper accordion are glued to two pieces of thick black plastic, which act as the front and back covers – to “read” the book, you flip through in one direction, turn it over, and flip though in the other, constantly folding and straightening, just like the nails. The whole thing is held together by a thick blue rubber band so the book stays closed. And while such flights of publishing fancy might seem pretentious or overdone in most circumstances, in this case, the features of the book are perfectly aligned with the folded reality of the photographs, with a form follows function kind of clarity.

To my mind, this is a best of breed example of how a small self-contained photographic idea/project can be transformed into an enchanting book. It doesn’t seem possible that a catalog of bent nail still lifes could be compelling, and yet Kerpaitė’s intelligent approach has made us stop and pay attention, encouraging us to discover a hidden vein of nuanced richness in her humble overlooked subject.

Collector’s POV: Evelina Kerpaitė does not appear to have gallery representation at this time, nor does she seem to have an artist website. As such, interested collectors should likely follow up directly with the publisher, NoRoutine Books, via their Facebook page (linked above). For New York-based photobook folks, our copy of Nails was found at Printed Matter (here).

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