Book Stacks

LOOK AT: Nina Katchadourian’s Book Stacks projects

“The Sorted Books project began in 1993, and it has has taken place on many different sites over the years, ranging form private homes to specialized book collections. The process is the same in every case: I sort through a collection of books, pull particular titles, and eventually group the books into clusters so that the titles can be read in sequence. The final results are shown either as photographs of the book clusters or as the actual stacks themselves, often shown on the shelves of the library they came from. Taken as a whole, the clusters are a cross-section of that library’s holdings that reflect that particular library’s focus, idiosyncrasies, and inconsistencies. They sometimes also function as a portrait of the particular book owner. The Sorted Books project is an ongoing project which I add to almost each year, and there there are hundreds of images in the ongoing archive to date.”

Pictured above: What is Art?
C-prints, each 12.5 x 19 inches, 1996/2008
The series Sorting Shark from the Sorted Books project
Pictured above: A Day at the Beach
C-prints, each 12.5 x 19 inches, 2001

Read Katchadourian’s descriptions of the unique libraries she worked in to make the series Sorted Books.

The series Kansas Cut-Up from the Sorted Books project
Pictured above: Only Yesterday
C-prints, each 12.5 x 19 inches, 2014

Dave Dyment:

A collection of books pertaining to the past and future, arranged chronologically from One Billion Years Ago to The Next Billion Years.

Ryan Park:

Ryan Park, 2009, Untitled


Nina Katchadourian discusses a new Sorted Books project in William S Burroughs’ library.

 What are some of the strategies Katchadourian, Dyment and Park used to select and order books in their final works? What were their decisions based on, and how do the final compositions expand the meaning of each individual book, or come together to have a new and surprising meaning about the library, the family, about language and books, or about anything else?

Book Stacks Assignment:

Make 3 of your own Sorted Books stacks – use your own personal library or visit another personal or public library.

Consider using books to create new images, suprising compositions in language, and forms out of a stack of books. You might respond to words, colours, images, forms, and more in your stacks. Line things up with intention, and illuminate your stacks to take high quality images.

Be respectful of library patrons and staff when collecting books and taking photographs, and return books to trolleys/follow rules please.

Create a composition, with as many books as you may need, and photograph it. Look for concise messages, play with words and concepts with what is at hand. Consider other features of the books – scale, material, colours, and context in the library in your stacks. Avoid clichés and easy statements – be open to accidents and funny surprises, experiment with different titles in relation to one another in different ways. Your stack might be a portrait of a person, a quippy commentary about a historical moment, an ironic collision of surprising titles… be prepared to talk about your choices and how they might be readable to a wider audience.

Include THREE FINAL images, a short description of your stacks, and your process of creating the compositions on your blog page.