log.1 James Jennifer Georgina (2010)

         The aim of log. is twofold. First, to give a factual description of content and form of photobooks in the tradition of new documentaries that have been signaled in the past calendar year. Taking into account strategies of editing and selecting, be it self-made photographs, or  images found in public and private archives, reproduced post cards, amateur photographs from family-albums or documents from corporate inventories. Second, to give insight in the reception of the photobook. HOW has the book, over time, been received and assessed by critics, in online art reviews, in daily newspapers and professional magazines, on blogs?

James, Jennifer Georgina (2010) was launched during a book salon at the University of Amsterdam, Bijzondere Collecties, just after the summer of 2010. Two of the main actors, James and Jennifer, were present. Georgina, their daughter, was at the time studying in the US. Bookshop Nijhof & Lee, in fact just recently located in the same university building, has the most accurate content description of this non conformist artist’s book. Designer Irma Boom was sharing with the public, the many different stages of the unusual book design, showing several of 17 dummies. 1.136 postcards have been written between 1989-1999, all related to one family. One postcard for every day they were apart. A rather uncommon story of the Butler’s family unfolds in the notes, handwritten and mailed from mother to daughter. All taking place during a 282.000 miles trip in the first ten years of Georgina’s life. The journey was undertaken by James and Jennifer to fight James’s addiction to alcohol. The production of this remarkable book took two years. Costs: over 250.000 euros. This unusual ‘taxi-yellow’ volume, large and heavy as a brick, fits into a cassette. Most striking is its unique and innovative binding method: a threefold embossed  spine. The volume, in a limited edition of 999 copies was sold on the day of the presentation for 666,00 euros. The selling price was, then, 999,00 and is now 435,00 euros. The story unfolds through 210 reproduced postcards, 1 on each page, a selection of family photographs and a series of therapeutic dialogues. The transcription of the dialogues was an idea of Irma Boom. In fact, conditional for her taking part in the project. The book is a ‘memoir’, a physical evidence of a family affair, made public. The 210 selected postcards, some are handmade collages or family pictures, are followed by 21 unedited dialogues, conversations that were recorded 10 years later, in the hope to achieve some sort of closure. The volume is prompted by Georgina’s 21st birthday in celebration of which the 210 selected postcards have been reprinted and transcribed. The content is divided into 6 chapters: ‘beginning’ is a biting introduction by Jennifer. ‘I took him on road trips to dry him out’; ‘The postcards’ – reproduced in landscape format is text and image and transcription, each on a separate page – and many more in thumbnails; ‘stop’ is a statement by James, looking back on rehab, anger, ‘the battle with the bottle’ since 23rd August 1999; followed by ’21 conversations’ between the family; ‘perspective’ is written in 2006 by, then, a 17-year-old Georgina. ‘I would stay with my English nannies in the south of France while my mother fought the drinking in a foreign country’. [..] ‘She sent me a postcard every day, many of which she made herself. On one side she glued pictures, maps, articles, or invitations. On the other side was the lesson of the day. “Don’t ever be dependent financially”. “Rely on yourself first”. ‘Don’t mary a man with crummy shoes”. “A woman must never seem in a hurry”. The volume opens with three stately portraits by Erwin Olaf of James (1936), Jennifer (1945) and their daughter Georgina (1989). James Butler is the son of Richard Austin Butler, Chancellor of Exchequer.  Jennifer is the adopted daughter of model Orlene Gladstone (Miss Camel). In the 1960s and 1970s Jennifer herself was modeling for Chicago’s American and later became a writer. Her father, George Gladstone was leading a medical practice in New York.

From ‘Beginning’: ‘In these cards there are 142 prison visits with and without HRH the Princess Royal. Whole generations of ants in picnic sandwiches. There are 37 references to Spanish Farmacies to buy Grippal, the only miracle cure for flu. 2 bullfights. 1 speeding ticket. 53 unpaid parking tickets, 13 cancelled flights. Delayed trains. Many ferry crossings then, sous la manche, the Channel Tunnel. When launched Pavarotti sang. 1 bomb scare. 1 puncture. Petrol empty twice. 205 church stops, candle after candle lit in hope. Hidden drink, broken promises. French stamps more elegant then British, but British stamps more quirky. In those 10 years we took 205 flights, we drove 268,162 miles. We traveled to save James and to shield our daughter from drink’s indignities’. (6-7)

Conversation one started 28 November 2009 in the process of surviving together. One quote from each family member:

Georgina: ‘What if I woke up at forty and I find out I ‘m like Daddy’? (935)

James: ‘And Mumm didn’t even know how to get a cork out of a bottle’. (936)

Jennifer: ‘Why do you like putting me down? Why can’t you acknowledge what I have done instead of putting me down in such a nasty tone?’ (944)

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For more reflections on the making of JJG, its design, and an interview with Jennifer, which is a revelation in itself.

James Jennifer Georgina has been reviewed mainly in the art world, like in Mr. Motley , a review in Dutch, in which the different postcards sent by Jennifer are categorized.

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