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Sanctus Sonorensis


Photographer/s: Philip Zimmermann

Contributor/s: none

Date of publication: 2009

Place of publication: Tucson, AZ

Dimensions: 10.75″x8.25″x1.5″

Edition size: 1000

Type of binding: Self-covering board book

Type of printing: Offset with gold foil titles and gilt edging on pages

Number of pages: 90

Number of pictures: 90

Printer: C&C Offset, China

Publisher: Spaceheater Editons

Designer: Philip Zimmermann

Editor: same

Language: English

ISBN: 978-0-9841980-1-6

Category: Artists’ book

Price: $50.00 USD plus shipping.

Summary: Sanctus Sonorensis is a book of border ‘beatitudes’. This work comments on the complicated attitudes of Americans on illegal immigration from Mexico. The cover shows a photograph of the area of Southern Arizona which is the most active in terms of migration across the Sonoran desert, and where thousands have lost their lives in the deadly desert heat. The interior pages show the progression of a typical high-desert day from dawn to sunset, mimicking the sky above an immigrant during a day’s desert passage, and accompanied by a single line of text on each two-page spread.

I had the germ of an idea for the book, and did some little preliminary sketches for it, during my sabbatical in 2003-2004. I was in a year-long residency at the Border Art Residency in La Union, New Mexico. I was taking a lot of photos of the incredible skies in New Mexico and Arizona while there, and they made their way into a lot of the work that I made during my year there. Living right on the border I was also very aware of the crossing of illegal Mexican immigrants, especially in a section of the Sonoran desert near Why and Ajo Arizona which I visited several times. In December of 2004, I was driving back into the United States from Mexico through the Lukeville border crossing. As I was traveling through the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument just inside Arizona, I was stopped for a couple of hours by several groups of uniformed men. Each group consisted of a large number of heavily armed Border Patrol agents on some sort of special operations. The agents eventually lead out of the desert scrub a large number of illegal immigrants who had been hiding in the mesquite and cactus as they attempted to head north through the park. They clearly weren’t drug smugglers. They looked too poor and were unarmed. They made for a rather moving and pathetic sight, and looked disheveled and dejected. I had never seen an operation like this up close and it was rather upsetting, and got me thinking about the life these people were trying to make for themselves and the efforts that we in the United States make to prevent them from coming here. Sanctus Sonorensis was a work that eventually came out of this experience.

The starkness of our immigration law in regards to undocumented workers was made evident again when I almost got my camera confiscated by the Border Patrol while I was taking photos of several busloads of undocumented Mexican workers being transported by agents back across the border into Mexico in Agua Prieta. The disparity between the unhappy apprehended Mexicans being returned back across the border and the reality of the fact that there are 460,000 undocumented Mexican workers in Arizona alone, seemed glaring. Most of them pay taxes while they are here and usually fill unpleasant and difficult jobs that most Americans will not take.

During the summer of 2006 I did a one month residency at Light Work at Syracuse University in New York State, and while there I completed two books that I had started work on earlier, Shelter and a finished inkjet version of Sanctus Sonorensis. Like some other books I have done, I planned on having two different editions, one inkjet and the other either offset or HP Indigo. After I printed about 5 or 6 copies of Sanctus on my Epson printer I realized that it was not feasible. Each book took almost $50 of archival pigmented inkjet ink and paper and had the familiar inkjet problem of fragile, easily scuffed, pages.

I was determined to raise the money to have it printed offset, which is my preferred printing medium. I had pitched the idea to Light Work since they occasionally will print a monograph of one of the artists’ that do a residency there. However it was a bit too large a book project for them to take on. After my move out here to teach at the University of Arizona in 2008, I tried getting a couple of grants to help with production costs, including one from the Arizona Council on the Arts. Unlike New York’s NYFA though, I found out that they do not give money to help with publication printing costs, not realizing that for artists’ book makers, this is like getting money for paints or film or whatever.

I decided to fund the project myself, though it was a real financial stretch. I knew that I wanted it to be a board book, a form that has no conventional sewn gutter since the spreads are printed as one sheet, using the paper as the folding hinge. This is terrific for images that cross the pages like the skyscapes I used. It seemed like the prefect solution would have been to have it printed in either the United States or Mexico in print shops that had Mexican employees. However, only printers in Asia had the experience to make a board book of this size. My sales rep, Frances Harkness, at C&C Offset Printing in New York (an “off-shore” Chinese printing company with a branch in NYC) had been a student of mine many years ago at Purchase College, SUNY. She knows artists’ books and, like many artists’ book-makers, I like to push the physical structures of the book form, and she helped with some suggestions as far as production. C&C is probably one of the most experienced board-book printers in the world, a funny niche production area for printing. They printed over 100,000 copies of Art Spiegelman’s In the Shadow of No Towers, another large board-book.

I wanted to really try to push the missal-breviary-beatitude idea by making it look like a sort of very high tech version of those Catholic book forms. I added gilded edges, the rounded corners and the gold-foil stamped titles to have a visual association with a religious book like a breviary or missal. The text is meant to be read out loud as if by priest or an acolyte standing in front of a congregation (and maybe even repeated back by their flock), and I wanted the book to have the right kind of look (or bling) for that task. This was a big improvement I think over the pigmented inkjet version that I had completed in 2006. I grew up in a very Catholic family and although I personally rejected Catholicism in my early teens, I think it is deeply burnt into my psyche.

The use of the cloud images, which follow the progression of a day from dawn to nightfall, was meant to visually represent the sky overhead as the immigrants trudge through a typical hot desert day. The first rays of light of day continue into hot mid-morning, to an early afternoon thunder storm followed by clearing skies and sunset. The beauty of the southwestern skies belie the dangers from the ambient heat and lack of available water.

I have always liked repeated –or almost chanted– texts. I used a similar device in my 1993 book High Tension, and admired it whenever I saw it used by writers that like Vladimir Nabokov and others. It seemed perfect for this book since I did feel it was a sort of meditation. There is a long history of repetitive chants in prayer and meditative tracts, from Buddhist mantras, to Christianity to Hinduism and on and on through most spiritual practices. Ritualized language can be an effort to make slow change through repetition. They can be both an effort to change and a way to deal with the fact that change may not come. Like many others, I am personally interested in art practices and work that initiates slow, deep change in the viewers/participants. I try not to create works that are basically “one-liners.”

Date and place of birth of photographer/s: January 24th, 1951, Bangkok, Thailand.


Book link:

Donated by: Philip Zimmermann

Related books:

Nature Abhors
Cruising Altitude
Report from the Other Side
High Tension

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iPL moves to Yale

iPL Yale

The Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Yale University recently received, through acquisition and donation, the Indie Photobook Library (iPL), a major collection of photobooks from Larissa Leclair ’03 M.A. The collection includes more than 2,000 photobooks from around the world along with related ephemera, archives of the iPL’s history, and Leclair’s personal collection related to self-publishing.

“We were delighted to work with Larissa to acquire this major archive,” says George Miles, Curator of the Yale Collection of Western Americana at the Beinecke. “These volumes build on an already great strength of the library and will surely be used extensively by scholars and students at Yale and beyond for a long time.”

The iPL focuses on self-published photobooks, imprints independently published and distributed, photography exhibition catalogs, print-on-demand photobooks, artists’ books, zines, photobooks printed on newsprint, limited edition photobooks, non-English language photography books, and more.

“This collection reflects a contemporary movement in publishing,” explains Leclair, who began collecting independently produced photobooks in May 2010, “and it allows for the development of future discourse on trends in self-publishing, the ability to reflect on and compare books in the collection, and for scholarly research to be conducted years, decades, and centuries to come. To have this work now at Yale ensures this legacy.”
Inspired by Wexler’s master class

The catalyst for her collection, Leclair notes, was Yale professor Laura Wexler’s “Photo Memory Workshop” master class at the Beinecke, which focused on Peter Palmquist’s Women in Photography Archive. “He had and his collection will continue to have a big impact on the history of photography specifically relating to women in photography,” said the alumna. “He was one individual collecting independently of an institution, making an impact and shaping history. What he had encapsulated for his collection was what I wanted to do for self-published photobooks.”

“As early as 2005, with photographers Stephen Gill, Rob Hornstra, Jason Fulford, and Alec Soth independently publishing amazing photobooks, there wasn’t a platform for the presentation of self-published titles. So the idea of wishing for a central place to look at self-published photobooks was in my head on the day I saw Peter Palmquist’s collection,” notes Leclair.

The moment spurred her own specific collecting, she says: “I was blown away that a single individual could follow his passion, create a collection, and in the process have an impact on the history of photography. I was not only interested in promoting these kinds of books but most importantly I was very interested in creating an archive for the long-term. So two weeks after that master class, with an idea, one book, and a Facebook page, I founded the indie Photobook Library, a browse-able archive for self-published photobooks.”

For Leclair, placing the iPL at the Beinecke fulfills an aspiration she had from the very beginning. “I always intended that the iPL would one day transfer to an established archive. I wanted it to be preserved and accessible to future photo-bibliophiles long after my lifetime. For the legacy of the photographers and photobooks that collectively make the iPL what it is, I am absolutely thrilled that these artists will be part of the Beinecke’s collecting history.”

[Yale Professor Laura Wexler presented the Larissa Leclair with the 9th Annual Focus Awards’ Spotlight Award for far reaching impact in the field of photography, October 2014. (Copyright Griffin Museum of Photography)]

Yale Professor Laura Wexler presented the Larissa Leclair with the 9th Annual Focus Awards’ Spotlight Award for far reaching impact in the field of photography, October 2014. (Copyright Griffin Museum of Photography)
The Beinecke has an renowned collection of 19th century American photographically illustrated books, including such classics as Alexander Gardner’s “Photographic Sketch Book of the Civil War,” A.J. Russell’s “Great West Illustrated,” Josiah Whitney & Carleton Watkins’ “The Yosemite Book,” and Ferdinand Hayden’s “Sun Pictures of Rocky Mountain Scenery,” as well as dozens of other, less well-known examples of the genre.

In the 1920s and 1930s photobooks continued to be a form of artistic expression but also emerged as a major vehicle of social commentary and criticism. The Beinecke holds first editions of such artistic works as Ansel Adams’ “Parmelian Prints of the High Sierra” and Taos Pueblo,” Walker Evans’s “American Photographs,” and Paul Strand’s “Paul Strand.” The Beinecke also boasts a wide range of such politically charged books as Julia Peterkin and Doris Ulman’s collaboration, “Roll Jordan Roll”; James Agee and Walker Evans’ “Let Us Now Praise Famous Men” and “Many are Called”; and Evans’s collaboration with Carleton Beals “The Crime of Cuba.” Yale’s library also holds first editions of all the important Farm Security Administration related books featuring work by Dorothea Lange and Margaret Bourke-White among other photographers.

“Robert Franks’ ‘The Americans’ is often seen as ushering in a new kind of photobook,” Miles observes. “We at the Beinecke have both the French (1958) and American (1959) first editions, as well as a complete collection of every book in which Lee Friedlander has ever published a photograph, while the acquisition of Peter Palmquist’s collection of women photographers brought more than 2,200 photobooks by and about women photographers.”

The iPL is particularly interesting in its own right, according to Miles. “While photobooks became more economical with the emergence of photo mechanical reproduction in the 19th century, they still required considerable investment and with the exception of a few very high-end artistic productions, they were commercial ventures that relied on publishers to underwrite production in the hope/expectation of profitable sales.”

However, the early 21st century emergence of digital photography and ink-jet printing dramatically changed the landscape for photographers looking to present their work in book-form. “Photographers can now self-publish their work in ways unimaginable 15 to 20 years ago,” he emphasizes. “They can distribute them through their websites and book fairs. This has allowed photographers to experiment in content and in form: to share images that commercial publishers might have been reluctant to take on, or to play with sequencing and/or narrative strategies.”

Leclair recognized the potential of this transformation when it was in its infancy and cultivated relationships with photographers. She has been a leader in creating this independent archive and identifying artists important to the contemporary movement in self-publishing, all while curating exhibitions and lecturing throughout the United States and in Canada, Guatemala, Mexico, Australia, the Philippines, and China. The alumna has built an “extraordinarily complete” collection of these books, according to Miles. “The staff at Haas Arts Library and I have been following and collecting photobooks, and when Larissa first approached us, I thought we would have at least half, if not more, of the books in her collection. I was way off. Our searching revealed that we had only around 10% of the collection.”

“Larissa started collecting this material at a critical time, when photographers started to reconsider and experiment with the printed book format through self-publishing,” notes Heather Gendron, director of the Robert B. Haas Family Arts Library at Yale. “A lot of these publications fall outside of typical library acquisition streams, making it a real challenge for librarians to keep up. That’s what makes this Indie Photobook Library so special. On the heels of the reopening of the Beinecke, this broadens the university’s holdings in a very contemporary way.”
“Essential records of human expression”

Miles says that the Beinecke’s growing collection of photobooks, including this new acquisition, complement important creative work across campus collections, such as the Arts Library and galleries, and the curriculum. “These materials in the Indie Photobook Library/Larissa Leclair Collection are essential records of human expression,” he notes, “and the Beinecke works to make sure they are accessible and used by students and scholars through our reading room, classroom visits, and our fellowship programs for graduate students and for visiting postdoctoral scholars.”

Barbara Tannenbaum, curator of photography at the Cleveland Museum of Art has described the Indie Photobook Library as “an indispensable resource for anyone interested in the contemporary photobook.”

The iPL also complements other collections at Yale, Miles adds. “One of the great strengths of the Yale Collection of American Literature are the many examples of poetry and short stories published by small, non-commercial presses throughout the country — ‘Little magazines’ as Pat Willis and Nancy Kuhl call them. They reflect the ways in which American writers have found to share their work. The photobooks in the iPL reflect a similar pattern in the visual arts and scholars will be able to explore and discover how these materials speak to each other and speak to the broader culture.”

Leclair says that the iPL inspired the creation of other independent photobook archives, including the Asia-Pacific Photobook Archive; influenced museum photobook exhibitions; and spawned the promotion and celebration of self-published photobooks. “I’m thrilled that the photographers in the iPL who challenged and subsequently shaped the current publishing industry will add to the continuum of printed expression at Yale along with cuneiform tablets, the Gutenberg Bible, Fox Talbot’s ‘Pencil of Nature,’ and works by Robert Frank and Ed Ruscha — adding to that Soth, Fulford, Fujii, de Middel, Galjaard, Cartegena, and Sancari, among many others,” she says.

With the iPL now part of the Beinecke collections, Leclair will promote its use with the library’s curators and collaborate on curriculum. The entity of the iPL is closed to submissions now, existing as a unique look at self-publishing from around 2008 to 2016. Leclair will continue to look at new titles and work directly with museums and libraries to collect self-published titles from around the world, directly connecting collectors and makers and shaping photobook history.

“Ahead of her time, Larissa’s farsighted vision will benefit future generations of photographers and scholars to come,” states Elizabeth Avedon, independent curator and photobook designer.

For more information on the Beinecke Library, visit:

Exhibition Catalog for “A Survey of Documentary Styles in Early 21st Century Photobooks”

More about the exhibition here, here and here.
Order the book here.
Thank you to Patrick Aguilar of Owl & Tiger Books who did such an outstanding job designing the iPL’s first exhibition catalog!

“…the Indie Photobook Library is fast becoming one of Washington’s more interesting small collections.” – Mark Jenkins, Washington Post Express, November 9, 2011

America in Color

America in Color

Title: America in Color

Photographer/s: Brian Dailey

Contributor/s: Wendy Grossman, Klaus Ottmann

Date of publication: 2013



Title: Grìmsey

Photographer/s: Cole Barash

Contributor/s: Ian Frisch

Date of publication: 2015

Grays the Mountain Sends (Second Edition)

Grays the Mountain Sends 2

Title: Grays the Mountain Sends (Second Edition)

Photographer/s: Bryan Schutmaat

Date of publication: 2014

Islands of the Blest

Islands of the Blest

Title: Islands of the Blest

Photographer/s: various

Date of publication: 2014

L.A., 1971

LA 1971

Title: L.A., 1971

Photographer/s: Anthony Hernandez

Date of publication: 2014


Title: Transmission

Photographer/s: Lucy Helton

Date of publication: 2015




Photographer/s: Jonathan Shaw

Contributor/s: Andy Adams, David Campbell, Charlotte Cotton, Donall Curtin & Nathaniel Pitt, Mishka Henner, Francis Hodgson, Dewi Lewis, Stephen Mayes, Katrina Sluis

Date of publication: 2014



Title: Crash

Photographer/s: Jonathan Shaw

Contributor/s: Foreword: Stephen Snoddy and Stephen Dutton Essay: Jean Baird

Date of publication: July 2009



Title: (re)collect

Photographer/s: Jonathan Shaw

Contributor/s: Foreword: Debra Klomp, Essay: Peter Ride, Essay: Jean Baird

Date of publication: 2006