Damien Poulain / Oodee
Since 2011, independent publishing house Oodee has built a name for itself, releasing monographs by established artists such as Viviane Sassen and Pieter Hugo, as well as newer talent. Under the banner of POV Female, Oodee released 25 photography books by female photographers based in five cities: London, Tokyo, Johannesburg, Bogotá and Beirut. Creative Director Damien Poulain talks to Rachel Segal Hamilton about the company’s vision.
Rachel Segal Hamilton: Where does the name Oodee come from?
Damien Poulain: Oodee comes from the idea of the hoodie, of anonymity and loss of identity. A hoodie is a useful tool to avoid identification. My desire was to create an avatar in order to bring to light the artists and their work.
RSH: You set up Oodee initially to publish the POV Female series. What sparked that?
DP: Since the beginning of my career, I have always been surrounded by photographers – and they are mostly male photographers. The POV Female series is born from my observation that there are many talented female photographers out there but they lack visibility. I was interested in the photography that was being done by female photographers. I felt close to their sensibility.
RSH: Do you think there’s a sensibility that is distinctive to the work of female photographers?
DP: I don’t think there is a difference of language or sensibility in the work of female photographers. I’m not interested in searching for or understanding the differences between the two genders. Nevertheless, we must recognise that photography has been dominated by male photographers, although in the history of the photography, women have made a significant contribution since its inception in 1839. We are just not aware of it. Since my interest has been turned towards female photography, I have discovered extraordinary bodies of work. Recently I’ve been working on Russian female photography – that scene is really active and waiting to be revealed.
RSH: Were you guided by the photographers or the cities you wanted to cover?
DP: POV female treats the relationship between female photographer and the city. The starting point is the city. I wanted to create a journey into opposites and diverse cultures as London to Tokyo, Tokyo to Johannesburg, Bogotá to Beirut and to attempt to cover all the continents. This project is about revelation. My desire was to reveal female talent and the women photographic scenes in unexpected and controversial cities as Johannesburg, Bogotá and Beirut. For a long period those cities were inaccessible. It was extremely interesting and challenging to try to unveil how this young generation of female photographers has assimilated and digested so many years of complex history and conflict through the medium of photography. But I was also interested in dealing with conflict and its process of resistance. To take the example of Tokyo, how those young talents can build a path in an over populated city. Or in a city like London, the difficulty of constructing an artistic vision and make a living in an extended and expensive place.
RSH: The POV Female has been hugely successful. Why stop at 25?
DP: I guess all good things have to come to an end. Initially I wanted to create an anthology of contemporary and emergent female photography. The plan was always to do 25 publications. The project allowed me to explore female photography through new narratives and approaches in terms of curation, art direction and design. It’s always a risk to end a project that is well-established. But on the other hand it’s important to keep thinking of new projects and new ways of seeing.
RSH: It’s interesting that several of the photographers you’ve published have a South African connection. Was that coincidental?
DP: I’ve always been attracted by Africa. Its history, geography and the collective unconscious that this continent engenders. Perhaps my relationship with South Africa is the same as with female photography – to reveal photography that is in the shadows. We tend to think of photojournalistic images of Africa or exotic landscapes from safaris. The fact is that most of those images are not made by African photographers. My desire is to offer another view of Africa and show the true photography from this continent. South Africa is an example of this.
RSH: Would you say you have a particular remit? Where do you sit in the publishing landscape?
DP: Oodee belongs to the London scene. There are several of us independent publishers who have been active in the industry over the past few years. But we’re all exploring photography publishing in different ways. My vision as a publisher is to give to the artist a platform of freedom to express their vision. The book has to be part of the artist’s body of work and it has to become an active tool in developing that. I am not interested in publishing a book that simply illustrates a body of work. The books have to fit with the artist’s creative vision. For this reason it’s important to consider meaning and order at every stage of the book’s conception.
RSH: You’re also a graphic designer – how does that influence your approach to publishing?
DP: I consider design the essence of publishing. It’s where the artist’s intention becomes concrete and physical. Working on the physicality of a book project is about making it relevant.
RSH: There’s so much photography being published today. What makes a lens-based artistic project suited to a book rather than some other visual format?
DP: The content and the relevance of the project determine whether the medium of the book is strong enough to fulfil the project or if it deserves to be expressed through another visual format. Artists can forget this important step. Sometimes a catalogue is enough, sometimes the project needs to live and be appreciated on a gallery’s walls or in other ways rather than in a book format. A book isn’t always necessary – it needs a reason to exist.
RSH: You’ve published some interesting collaborations between image-makers and writers, most recently ‘The House Project’ by Roger Ballen and poet Didi Bozzini. How do these come about?
DP: When I met Roger Ballen, I mentioned the idea of producing a book that was different from a traditional monograph. I wanted to explore new forms of narrative to transcend and sublime his vision. It was important for this book to be part of his creative path and for us to publish unknown images of his work. Creatively, I was really open to new ideas. Then Roger proposed that he start a dialogue with the writer Didi Bozzini, who knew and understood his practice well. Roger wanted to give more clarity to the depth and complexity of his work by adding a new layer that included writing.
I’m interested in how two different mediums such as writing and photography can create unity, a new form of expression. This harmony between writing and photography can be seen in the collaborations we’ve published between Roger Ballen and Didi Bozzini, Viviane Sassen and the poet Maria Barnas and Pieter Hugo and Linda Melvern.
Interviewed by Rachel Segal Hamilton
For further reading: oodee.net