Digital Guide to Photography: An Interview with John Houck

Blonde Art Books recently had the opportunity to speak with John Houck about his ongoing series of books titled Digital Guide to Photography.

“Digital Guide(s) to Photography – An expanding series of books generated with custom written software. The software generates every combination of pixels for a given grid size and set of colors. The project is working toward generating every combination of pixels possible on a modern digital display, thus producing ostensibly every digital photo that could ever exist. This set would even include the image of you reading this text.”

The Digital Guide books are available for purchase through the artist’s website.

The unique Digital Guide books will be included in his upcoming exhibitions TO UNDERSTAND PHOTOGRAPHY, YOU MUST FIRST UNDERSTAND PHOTOGRAPHY opening on June 28th at Kansas Gallery, New York, and on June 29th at Bill Brady / KC, Kansas City.


BABS: Can you start by talking about the difference (and/or similarities) between the process, modes of creation, and display for your Digital Guide to Photography as opposed to your photography practice?

JH: The Digital Guides are fairly accessible in comparison to my other work. They are physically smaller and don’t require framing. They are more direct and intimate. Printed books in general, are one of the most intimate experiences I can think of. I rarely feel more introspective and present then when I finish a book.

It is difficult to chart this continuum of accessibility when most of my work is available online. For this reason, each Digital Guide book is a unique piece. I only publish a given system of colors and grids a single time. In this way, it is slightly different from a book with an isbn number. A lot of my work is unique when it takes physical form. I want to counter the easy and somewhat false experience of my work online.

BABS: Is the book a mode of display, an extension of your current practice or an artwork on its own?

JH: I think about the book as diagrammatic of my work. Most bodies of work that I make also have a related book in some form. Books are the best way to think through a project. Studying architecture as an undergraduate there is a lot of emphasis placed on making diagrams. I still draw an endless number of parti diagrams anytime I have a pen in my hand. This notion has found its way into my working methods as an artist in the form of the book. A book often serves as a diagram for a body of work.

BABS: Do you consider the content of the Digital Guides to be strictly images, a visual language to be read or viewed as such, or a new (digital) language to be learned and deciphered?

JH: I think of the Digital Guides as an absurdist language-game. They are an exploration of the material of photography; as the “material” of the photographic negative moves from chemical to coded means. This
move is a linguistic one as the image is now backed by a language rather than a chemical substrate. I wanted to push on this material, and making a book was a good way to experience this language-game outside of the computer monitor.

BABS: Your work often either alludes to an object or becomes one in the form of a book or folded photograph, can you talk about this further?

JH: I suppose to go back to the idea of a diagram, a lot of my work is similar to a diagram in that it is caught somewhere between a language and an image.


BABS: How do the books relate to your Aggregates series as opposed to the less abstract photography series?

JH: They function the same in any case, the book works as a diagram of the larger body of work. It’s the site of genesis for most of my projects.

BABS: Have you exhibited the Digital Guides on their own?

JH: I first exhibited books as part of a show at Tony Wight Gallery in Chicago last winter. My upcoming solo show at Kansas Gallery in New York will have a book display in it.

BABS: How many books have you produced?

JH: I make a few Digital Guide books each month as an ongoing practice. I print them and hand stitch the books. I like having this kind of repetitive work, it keeps me in the studio and is kind of automatic at this point. The false work provides a good balance from the anxiety of creating something new. The Digital Guide books are unique. I like that the system that generates the books is nearly infinite in combinatorial possibilities, yet each book only exists as a single physical entity. Maybe I’ll go back to editioning my books when I get tired of making them by hand, but for now I’m going to push on.

BABS: What are you reading right now?

JH: I’m currently taken with a Martin Barre book and the essay by Yve-Alain Bois at the beginning of the book.


Houck’s photographs are currently on view at On Stellar Rays, New York through June 3, in the exhibition ‘Towards a Warm Math’ curated by Chris Wiley.

Image courtesy of On Stellar Rays, New York

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