Printed materials aren’t as common in today’s digital age, photographer Keith Yahrling said.
“But people still crave it,” added Yahrling, one of the organizers of the Philadelphia Art Book Fair.
The annual event showcases the work of printmakers and photographers. Visitors and exhibitors, mostly Philadelphia-based with a handful of visiting artists, shared and sold their wares at the Annex on Filbert Street from April 1-2. Seventy-one exhibitors participated in this year’s fair.
One of the exhibitors, Marc Fischer, saw the fair as an opportunity to “grasp the texture” of the artists and publishers present in Philadelphia.
Fischer, one of the creators of Chicago-based online publishing organization Half Letter Press, is just discovering the scene in Philadelphia during his second year participating in the fair.
“Chicago has zine book fairs,” he said. “Those tend to have a younger crowd with more personal and comic book writing. The New York Art Book Fair and the [Los Angeles] fair both have people selling extremely expensive antiquarian books.”
But Philadelphia, Fischer said, maintains a “good balance” of high-end publishers and less experienced participants in its market. He said most of the exhibitor tables were manned by the actual artist or publisher whose work is being shown, rather than a hired representative.
Until last year, the annual event had been held in the Crane Arts building. In 2015, the Annex at 830 Filbert St. became its new home.
“At one time [the fair] had a home with the Print Center,” Mark Vevle, founder of the event production company Fluxus, LLC and producer of the fair, said. “After that, it had a home with the Photo Arts Center. Two years ago, I was talking to both organizations and they were saying that they were looking to join forces and grow it.”
Yahrling thinks that it’s “important” to hold events endorsing artists that use the “printed object and printed form” because there are so many artists utilizing this medium in Philadelphia.
“The larger goal for the fair is to introduce people, who aren’t necessarily artists, to the thriving scene in Philadelphia,” Yahrling said.
“This is my second year coming, I’m still a novice,” said Hannah Bennett, the head of the University of Pennsylvania’s Fisher Fine Arts Library. “It’s so much fun to see the different applications and the different kinds of books.”
Bennett attended the fair hoping she would be able to include some of the featured works, like handmade zines and vintage photography books, in a special collection at Fisher.
“You just don’t see these things all the time,” she added.
“It really has to do with diversity, covering both printmaking and photography,” Vevle said. “We want to represent both the high and low end of the crafts. So, the high end would be that we have fine art books published by exhibitors like MACK Books from London. The lower would be handmade zines made by young college students here in Philadelphia.”
The combination of publishers and artists in one space lead to an “intense feeling of creativity,” Bennett said.
Not only was this an opportunity for residents of Philadelphia to be exposed to a wide range of individuals involved in the arts and publishing worlds, but also a potential networking experience for exhibitors.
“I don’t really know many people in Philly,” said Paul Shortt, an artist based in Washington, D.C. “It seemed like a good opportunity to come up and meet people. Maybe I’ll sell some stuff and break even, but that’s not why I’m here.”
The fair may last a short few days, but Vevle sees it as a way to help residents of Philadelphia be exposed to artists and publishers who are based in other cities.
“We want to make sure we have an equal mix of styles,” Vevle said. “We don’t have infinite room, so we have to cap certain categories. We also want to represent other cities. The idea is to grow our community here by letting people who live in Philadelphia get access to galleries and publishers from outside of Philadelphia.”
Erin Blewett can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.