If you go to Dashwood Books these days, the first book that David Strettell will hand you is probably “Four Thousand Threads,” a printed stream of hilarious, contemporary photos gathered from every corner of the Internet. The book reads like a comic strip or a well curated Tumblr feed, each image plays off of the one before it and sets up the punchline for the one that follows. We chat with author Dick Jewell about the images he found and how they wound up in his book.
We can’t go through your latest book “Four Thousand Threads” without laughing hysterically. Was it the intention?
Ahhh I’m glad to hear that you’ve got a copy of my latest book there. Well it wasn’t the over riding intention to create a hysterically funny book, so no. It was rather intended as a serious attempt to navigate a route through images shared online in order to reflect on how digital photography was influencing changes in human behaviour, so saying I’m never adverse to the inclusion of humour in my work when possible.
I think it’s important to add in this instance that here all humour is intended in a positive light, that is, it's humour of people having fun rather than being laughed at, but then this is my interpretation and it's obviously down to individual perception on reading the threads.
It is also an incredible sum of work (quite infinite), how long did it take you to do it?
Ahhh yes, the aspect of images going online and the research of them is indeed infinite, which is one reason why I wanted to publish my threads in print, to historically record a glimpse of the state of play now, as imagery progresses so rapidly online. I worked at it consistently for two years, though my original intention wasn’t toward producing a book.
Please tell us about “The impending moment” and why you are interested in it.
Hehe, you also asked me if I I’d illustrate my answers with images so here’s one:
I appreciate “the impending moment” primarily for the photographer’s acute timing but also the fact it’s so loaded. Yea, all pictures tell a story but here we’re left hanging mid story and speculating, did the lads eat their lunch? Is that a selfie at the railroad crossing? Does the girl in the convertible end up stuck in the toilet? Let’s say I‘m interested in the piquancy in the poignancy.
In your foreword you quote John Berger, “Memory is not unilinear at all.” Does “Four Thousand Threads” propose a mental path specific to printed images?
What I was referring to was the way the mind links things, from a cross reference of associations, personal, historical, political, dramatic etc. In the book I am attempting to present a train of personal thought within the context of social experience, social memory whilst we are all contemplating them from our history of personal experiences. With presenting the images fifteen or sixteen to a page the thread is both linear and referencing previous thoughts. In the wider sense I’m just encouraging people to look and consider the broader contexts of digital imagery whether printed or online.
Why are you interested in the influence of memes on human behaviour?
I enjoy the company of people and think it’s important to understand why people are behaving in ways that might otherwise seem inexplicable. Then there’s also the possibility that ignorance of memetic behaviour could easily find you as the butt of a joke rather than being in on it!
You wrote: “Personally, I admire bombers who exhibit the combination of an extreme grimace with a creeping demeanor.”
It’s in the timing. I’ve noticed that this bomb, currently performed by girls, occurs when the photographer is trying to capture a moment of intimacy. It’s an act that the photographer can clearly see is a bomb but at the same time is possibly improving the composition of his shot so he takes it, He knows the relationship of the bomber with the main subject of his picture, whereas we’re left to ponder it.
I also like to think that this sort of bombing has a far wider potential, my daughter and I currently practice it together, when the opportunity arises, to add a surreal element to tourist pics.
How do you handle copyright for these photos?
As an artist who generally works with appropriated and found imagery my work deals with putting images into a new context. Here I consider the book the same as one long photo collage. All the images have been appropriated from the web on pages sharing images often with notation that they have been shared on thousands of pages; hence it is nigh impossible to trace the source of who originally shared it, let alone took it.
If someone was actually to pursue me for copyright infringement I consider “Four Thousand Threads” as one piece of work, maybe they would be due a four thousandth of any profit that I make from the work? Or maybe they’re not due anything as it’s not in digital form, the colors have changed, it’s a different size, probably cropped and in a totally different context. Or another way to consider it is as Ben Shahn put it, Art always has its ingredient of impudence, its flouting of authority, so that it may substitute its own authority and its own enlightenment.
There are three photos in the book that I do know the source as they are from well-known photographers. In Richard Billingham’s case it’s a total wrench, as his works were originally analogue but are now being shared within a digital context—I'm referring to his flying cat in the living room image; total respect to Richard that this and many other images that he captured, not in my book, for instance the ball about to hit someone’s head, again originally in his book “Rays a Laugh,” or Ray falling over in front of the stereo are similar to other threads in my book, now facilitated and proliferating due to digital evolution. Paul Russel’s work on the other hand has been totally fuelled by the digital revolution, his images are an examination of how human behavior is affected by the environment; I find it totally fitting to include them both as ultimately my book is about humanity via photography in its broader sense.