Saturday, May 1, 2010

Daniel "Xox," not "Shoush"

In May 2009, I realized that doing a book meant more than getting money to do it. Tani Adams told me in a phone call that there was one person capable of putting together a photo book in Guatemala. That person was Daniel Chauche, a French-American photographer who has lived in Guatemala since the 1970s.

I did not know much of Daniel's work, but I had admired greatly his black and white portraits that appeared on the cover and interior of Victor Perera's, Guatemala: Unfinished Conquest (University of California Press, 1993). Daniel travels around Guatemala with a portable studio (white sheet, reflector) and different format cameras. While many of his photographs are posed, it is clear that his subjects are comfortable around him. Indeed, it is impossible to walk down the street with Daniel without half a dozen people coming up to greet him.

Daniel is also prolific. In 2009 he had a solo show at the Museo Nacional de Antropología in San Salvador, another at Panza Verde in January 2010, and in September he will have a third solo exhibition at Artecentro de Paiz in Guatemala City. His photographs are part of permanent collections at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, and the Mueseum of Art in Jacksonville, Florida, among others. Since 1983, Daniel's been the owner of the Sombra y Luz photo studio in Antigua, Guatemala. More to the point, he's a master photographer, printer and teacher. Almost every time I'm at Daniel's house in Antigua, a student is in the darkroom, trying to make the perfect negative or an acceptable print. (Daniel is pretty picky.)

In a nutshell, Daniel made clear what one needed to produce a book: high quality scans, designer, Photoshop expert, and a decent printer. Daniel re-wrote the book agreement by insisting that all these parties, first, be part of the process and, second, that they be first-rate. I will never forget the day when the organization administering the funds challenged Daniel on the utility of a designer. "Why do you need a designer?" they asked. Daniel looked at them and, without moving a muscle, replied, "So that page five follows page four." Since April 2009, Daniel has overseen virtually every aspect of this book right down to the publicity; in June 2009 he snagged interviews with Siglo XXI and Diario de Centro América; once I was so hungry that all I wanted to do was eat lunch (I don't care what anyone says about Panza Verde; I like it) and he handed me his cell phone and had me do an interview with Gabriel Arana of Siglo XXI. Then we had a toast.

In truth, what I learned about this process was how much I didn't know about the book process and I realized just how much I had been absent for when my first book was done, and what a different world it is now.

In addition, he introduced me to Guatemalans, including Andrés Asturias, the owner of Estudio A2, who held this book to high standards. Together Andrés -- more on him in the next post -- and Daniel saved this book from gathering dust in the sorry pantheon of photographic disasters.

More on Daniel Chauche's work:

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