Interview with the Jury 2017: Dieter De Lathauwer

by Unseen July 28 2017

As we approach the deadline of the Unseen Dummy Award 2017, we spent the last few weeks getting to know the jury members in a series of conversations. This week, we talk to the visual artist Dieter De Lathauwer, the winner of Unseen Dummy Award 2016, who joins the jury panel this year, about his own experience of having a dummy transformed into a published book.

In his photobook, I loved my wife (killing children is good for the economy), Dieter De Lathauwer presents a visual investigation into how the Austrian landscape was marked by the trauma of the second world war. From 1939-1941, the Nazis initiated what was known as the T4 Programme, involving the murder of people seen to bring no profit to society. Framed as acts of euthanasia, this mass extermination is known to have claimed the lives of around 200,000 people. With 70,000 of the lives taken in Austrian territory, De Lathauwer travelled to psychiatric institutions across the country to find out more about this horrifying past.

What timeline did you work with to create the dummy?
The book took about three years from the research stage to publication. At the beginning of 2013 I started doing research. Six months later, I went to Austria to shoot for ten days, which was short but very intensive. I let the images rest for some months after, but I struggled to find the right balance between the emptiness of the images, the overwhelming nature of these events, and the information that I needed to convey. A workshop with Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin was a turning point for me as their simple questions stopped me from jumping from one idea to the next. After deciding to focus on the T4 Programme rather than landscape or roadtrip, I started searching online for historical footage, and finally I discovered some propaganda movies on this specific subject. In December 2015, after a few try outs, my final dummy was ready.

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At what point did you start working with the designer Nick Lambrecht, and what was his input in your collaboration?
I had collaborated with Nick before for my self-published publications Sado and Nightlife. Nick and I had a creative brainstorm process where I would suggest ideas, sketches and moods and he would react via email. Every now and then we would meet to make a miniature version of the book and look at paper samples before making the final decisions. Nick was helpful in finding different sorts of paper, coming up with the design for the book, contacting the printing house, and helping me make decisions about the hand printed stamps that appear on the booklet. Andrea Copetti from the Tipi Bookshop in Brussels also gave extremely valuable feedback. 

There is a striking difference between the cover of the dummy and published book. Can you tell us a bit about the transition?
The main question I had to ask was, how can we improve the dummy? The more I had it in my hands, the more curious I became about how it would work with a soft cover instead of the dummy’s hardcover, which I had chosen due to its sturdiness and formality. Financial issues lead me to questions of how to make the object better, but also cheaper to produce. I also had to think about how to use text and whether to integrate it into the book, which lead us to the idea of a dossier, or a medical file. During the transistion, the portrait on the cover went from full bleed to a passport sized image. The image shows a man who says ‘I loved my wife’ comes from a propaganda film making a case for euthanasia in support of the T4 programme.

Were there other changes in the form or content that were necessary in the transition from dummy to published book?
The editing and sequencing of the photographs remained mostly the same apart from some adjustments to the starting sequence and the images near the end. Funnily enough, the image that I decided to remove from the book is one of the biggest and most important prints in the exhibition, but the sequencing, rhythm, flow, (dis)equilibrium and tension in the book worked better without it. The paper in the dummy was Mohawk paper from a print on demand company, but the fibres are oriented in such a way that it felt too sturdy, so I searched for a creamy, rough, uncoated paper, which luckily also turned out to be cheaper. Another major change was the inclusion three essays by Dr. Erik Thys, Dr. Herwig Czech and by Joachim Naudts, which represent artistic and historical perspectives on the project.

De Lathauwer_Dieter_cover_0.jpgCover image of I loved my wife (killing children is good for the economy) © Dieter De Lathauwer

What was the workflow between you, Lecturis, and Wilco Art Books?
The dummy was sufficiently good for Lecturis, but I wanted a designer, a printing proof and a lithographer to ensure the images maintained their subtle tones and gradients, so I funded these myself. The most exciting moment was when Nick and I finished the design and the book transformed. I still remember the moment I first showed it to Paul from Lecturis, who noticed and understood every little detail and acknowledged all our choices. Wilco Art Books did a brilliant job, they’re a very professional and high quality printing house with great service.

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What advice would you give to anyone sending a book to a dummy competition?
If you are questioning whether the dummy is ready for submission or not, it probably means that it isn’t. I recommend talking to lots of people, which helps grow confidence and the ability to talk about your book. It’s a good way of noticing what keeps people’s attention and makes them excited. I would recommend keeping it simple and being honest and straightforward with how you talk about your work, whilst of course maintaining enthusiasm. This implies that you understand what you have done and the choices you have made.

More information about the Unseen Dummy Award 2017 can be found here