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FAIR WITNESS: Street Photography for the 21st Century

Introduction

FAIR WITNESS has been the focus of my photographic life now for more than three years. This Kickstarter campaign has been almost a year in the making and, if it is successful, the Italian publisher Damiani Editore will make the book part of their Spring 2015 catalog.

The idea for the book came to me in the form of a serious challenge from Eli Reed. Eli, a 30 year member of Magnum Photos and a professor of photojournalism at the University of Texas, happened to live in Austin while I also lived there. Unbeknownst to me, he had been following my PAW (Picture A Week) galleries on my web site for some time.

Once I accepted his challenge, Eli mentored me, assisted me in early edits, introduced me to the first publisher I spoke with, and has generally encouraged me. I am happy to say that he and I are now good friends.

Eli and I will be teaming up for a street photography workshop as one of the rewards for this campaign.

FAIR WITNESS momentum has been slowly building and, with a go-or-no-go July deadline from Damiani, so that the book can be ready in time for their Spring 2015 catalog, the time for this campaign has arrived.

Dancers By Bus, Austin, 2010 (pg 17)
Dancers By Bus, Austin, 2010 (pg 17)

Statement on FAIR WITNESS

I am a Fair Witness, not a participant.
— from Stranger in a Strange Land

For reasons both within and beyond my control, I have lived more as a witness to, rather than as a participant in, much of my life: a voyeur. I cannot photograph a loving couple without envy. I cannot photograph a beautiful person without longing.

“Any photographer who says he’s not a voyeur is either stupid or a liar.” — Helmut Newton, Photographer

“There’s a kind of beautiful loneliness in voyeurism. And that’s why I’m a photographer.” — Alec Soth, Photographer, Magnum Photos

I wander big city streets among people who have relaxed into the chaos, and they were mostly unaware of my presence. I look specifically for humor, irony, pathos, unusual juxtapositions, curious faces, and real or imagined stories. Each of the photographs inFAIR WITNESS occurred in my path, unplanned, and would have evaporated within seconds, if I had not been ready with my camera.

In this way, the photographs in my book capture fleeting, almost invisible, moments of the 21st century. In art history, an artist of the Symbolism Movement sought to make the invisible visible. Essentially, I am a Symbolist who carries a camera.

There are very few artists who create genres. Picasso and El Greco did. The vast majority of artists, even those with a unique vision, work within an existing genre which, for photographers and artists alike, is their chosen visual language. The genre through which I see is traditional, classic street photography.

Lion Tamers, New York City, 2008 (pg 47)
Lion Tamers, New York City, 2008 (pg 47)

Why Kickstarter? The artist-funded book.

Ask any reader, publisher, or bookseller what has changed in the world of books over the past decade or two, and you’re likely to hear “everything” as the answer.

Remember Borders? B. Dalton? Waldenbooks? What’s the first place so many people go to when they do want to buy a book — usually with big discounts off the local book store price? That’s even if you still have a local bookstore.

In the old days, publishers paid for all aspects of producing a book, including paying artists an advance plus a promise of future royalties, in exchange for the right to publish an artist’s work.

Times have changed. With the disappearance of so many independent, local booksellers and the downward pressure exerted by large chains and Amazon.com, publishers can no longer afford to take chances on a new artist.

In response, a new model has been born: the artist-funded book. That’s where Kickstarter and you come in.

Senior Bike Admirers, New York City, 2008 (pg 129)
Senior Bike Admirers, New York City, 2008 (pg 129)

FAIR WITNESS is such an artist-funded book and a labor of love stretching back three years or more.

I am excited to have this opportunity to see the book — with the imprint of a major publisher on the spine — come to life. Taking the artist-funded bull squarely by the horns, I have launched this Kickstarter campaign to raise the roughly $20,000 required to bring FAIR WITNESS to the bookshelves. If the campaign is successful, the print run will be 1000 books.

It’s important to remember that Damiani is no johnny-come-lately to the publishing game and that they have a reputation to protect so they don’t take their commitment to this project lightly.

Their part of the bargain is to create a book that lives up to their own standards and becomes an exciting part of their catalog for years to come.

Orthodox Giraffe, New York City, 2012 (pg 25)
Orthodox Giraffe, New York City, 2012 (pg 25)

Notes About the Rewards

  • November delivery is an estimate. It is possible the books will be ready sooner — but I’d rather deliver early than late.
  • For supporters in the EU, I am doing my best to arrange a shipping point in Germany so you will not incur customs expense when receiving your rewards. It may also be possible to partially refund some of the “outside the USA” shipping expense you are required to pay. No promises at this point but I will do my best to keep your shipping and customs expenses to a minimum.
  • Regarding the limited-edition silver gelatin fiber prints, each contributor will be able to choose any photograph from the book to be one of their prints. The prints will be editioned by size and numbered depending on how many of each is selected. For example, if a single person selects Orthodox Giraffe of one of the three sizes offered, it will be numbered 1/1; if two people select it, the prints will be 1/2 and 2/2; and so on. Silver gelatin prints of any FAIR WITNESS photograph will be ONLYoffered through this Kickstarter campaign so they are all but guaranteed to be very rare. All the silver gelatin prints come from Digital Silver Imaging in Belmont, MA.
  • Prints offered at lower reward levels will be printed using Epson Exhibition Fiber paper using the truly archival Piezography process which guarantees absolutely the finest quality inkjet print.
  • The 6×9″ prints will be delivered in 11×14″ paper and the 10×15″ on 16×20″ paper so they can be easily framed.
  • The three-day workshop with myself and Eli Reed will take place in a city to be determined and on a date in Spring 2015 which will be arranged to accommodate everyone’s availability to the best of our ability.
  • Thanks to:
  • The FAIR WITNESS T-shirt looks like this:
86_009_Flag + Skull, New York City. 2009 (pg 175)
86_009_Flag + Skull, New York City. 2009 (pg 175)

What is a Fair Witness, really?

A Fair Witness is a character type from the 1961 science fiction novel Stranger in a Strange Land by the American author Robert A. Heinlein.

I am a Fair Witness, not a participant.” is a phrase that I borrowed from Heinlein.

Stranger in a Strange Land tells the story of Valentine Michael Smith, a human who comes to Earth in early adulthood after being born on the planet Mars and raised by Martians. The novel explores his interaction with — and eventual transformation of — terrestrial culture.

A Fair Witness is a fictional profession invented for the novel. A Fair Witness is an individual trained to observe events and report exactly what he or she sees and hears, making no extrapolations or assumptions. In Heinlein’s society, a Fair Witness is a highly reputable source of information. By custom, a Fair Witness is never addressed directly and is never acknowledged by anyone present.

A Fair Witness is prohibited from drawing conclusions about what they observe. For example, a character in the book is asked to describe the color of a house seen in the distance. The character responds, “It’s white on this side”; whereupon it is explained that one would not assume knowledge of the color of the other sides of the house without being able to see them. Furthermore, after observing another side of the house one should not then assume that any previously seen side was still the same color as last reported, even if only minutes before.

Funeral Home, Austin, 2008 (pg 85)
Funeral Home, Austin, 2008 (pg 85)

About David Lykes Keenan

David Lykes Keenan, Dave, moved to Brooklyn, New York in the Fall of 2013 after 35 years living in Austin, Texas. He has been photographing on and off since being presented with a clunky East German camera in 1968. Since 2003, he has been steadily reinventing himself as a fine art photographer. In 2006, he stepped away from a software business he founded 20 years earlier to pursue his passion of photography full time.

About Eli Reed

Eli Reed has been a photographer for over 40 years and joined the prestigious Magnum Photos agency in 1988. His first book, Beirut, City of Regrets, was published in 1988. He is perhaps best known for his 1997 book, Black in America, in which he documented what it is to be African-American in the late 20th century. As well as being an active world traveler and photographer, he teaches photojournalism at the University of Texas at Austin. A retrospective of his work is due very soon from UT Press.

About Damiani Editore

Damiani was founded in May 2004 as the new publishing branch of the printing company, Grafiche Damiani, in Bologna. Damiani was set up in the 1950s to specialize in art and photography lithographic printing.

Today, Damiani continues this long-held tradition, aiming at producing volumes characterized by high handmade quality and innovative technology. What distinguishes Damiani is the attention devoted to exploring and understanding the forms of the contemporary imagination.

Besides the projects concerning the unpublished activity by leading figures from the art and photography world, Damiani also constitutes an observatory of the new generations of international artists and of social phenomena, which meet with the solid architecture of accurately edited books, creating real art objects.

Eli Reed talks about FAIR WITNESS, a video!

Acknowledgements

FAIR WITNESS was designed by Jean Page.

My thanks to Eli Reed, Roy Flukinger, Elliott Erwitt, Mary Ellen Mark, Andrea Albertini,Tom Smith of Leica Camera, Chris Durkin of the Leica Store SoHo, and Eric Luden of Digital Silver Imaging. Special thanks to Dan Milnor, photographer-at-large for Blurb, who gave me the kick in the pants I desperately needed to finally put the first book dummy together.

Just as importantly, thanks to my family and friends who have encouraged and supported me during the past three years or so as FAIR WITNESS took shape. And, thanks to everyone who came into contact with this project, believed in it, and who went to work sharing and doing what they could to get the news out about this Kickstarter campaign.

And if YOU are new to this project, have gotten all the way down to the end of the FAIR WITNESS story, thanks for your interest and I hope that you will support this campaign by choosing one of the rewards and/or sharing this Kickstarter page with others.

Here we go!

BACK THIS PROJECT > GO TO KICKSTARTER

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