People. Not Pages: Michel Mazzoni

We are in love with photobooks, but always curious about the artists who create them. With the “People. Not Pages” mini-interview series we invite you to have a deeper look at artists who stand behind the pages.

Meet Michel Mazzoni. A visual artist living and working in Brussels, Belgium.

Michel was one of the first artists who joined The Phooks library with his “Other Things Visible” artist book. And now we’re happy to tell you more about his work, life an and attitude to photobooks. Let’s go.

How do you live and make your living?

I have a regular exhibition follow-up, a majority of which are paid for, I sell my works to collections, private or public, I sell my artists’ books. But all that is not enough, so I teach and give workshops.

How did you get into photography?

I have always been interested in art and especially in cinema, mainly the great directors of the 60s (Antonioni, Bergman, a little later Tarkowski …).

I am self-taught, I did not go to an art school. I do photography because I like and I need this report to pictures, but I do not feel absolutely photographer. I would rather say, a visual artist.

What do you value the most in the art of photography?

There are things I like, but others I hate. I find that photography in general and especially as it is represented in art, has been stretching its limits for a long time. To realize it, you have to look back and see what it was doing in the 30s and later in the 60s, 70s. Today it is rather rare that something surprises me among the photographers that I discover. The experimental is not exploited enough. Everything is still too much partitioned in a small community. But there are still some beautiful works that have emerged since the last few years. People who get rid of the constraints and have a free and experimental vision.

Is there something you hate about it?

Yes, what I just said in the previous question.

The photography hangs with it this image a little dusty which is not good for the artists who use it. I still notice it from art galleries or art centers, some are reluctant because they still have this image in mind. Yet it is certainly the medium that is most in tune with modernity. For example, the question of the origin of images arises constantly in my work and raises questions such as: How images have become one of the carriers of modernity. What is left today at the time of digital image flow circulating on social networks and around the world? What are the forms of resistance? I think it’s questions that do not come back enough.

How many books you have and what does your collection means to you?

Michel’s bookshelf.

I have a lot of books. Not only books that deal with photography, but art in general. Artist’s books and monographs. Generally, I like books a little rare, books that use photographs, but made by artists.

Is there a photobook you admire?

Difficult question :-)

There are several. Generally timeless books, those that do not go out of fashion after 6 months and provide real energy.

In different styles.

Lewis Baltz: The Prototype Works / Source: Steidl GmbH & Co. OHG, Göttingen

The Prototype Works
by Lewis Baltz

Edward Ruscha ‘Twentysix Gasoline Stations’ / Source: Tate

Twentysix Gasoline Stations
by Edward Ruscha

  • “Evidence” by Mike Mandel & Larry Sultan;
  • “Phenotype” by Jochen Lempert;
  • “Absent without Leave” by Christopher Wool;
  • “I love you stupid” by Dash Snow;
  • “Directory” by Ari Marcopoulos;

… and others.

But also the books that deal with the first scientific photographs.

What should a book be to get into your collection?

What I just said. For me, a good book is a book that goes through time without becoming obsolete. It is a story of balance between form and content. But I have also bought books that I sell a few months later. We all make mistakes…

But today I buy a lot fewer books.

What does it mean to you to turn your work into a sensible form of a book?

I never make two books that look alike, because the projects are different.

For the last, Dumitru, the corpus of images comes from different sources. At a certain point, in the evolution of my work, I felt the need to work with images coming from different origins, images that I compose and photograph myself, and existing images that I am appropriating (documents, magazines, image album …), using the scanner tool, photocopiers…

“Dumitu” book by Michel Mazzoni. Read more & order →

The Dumitru project started in 2015. The corpus of images that composes it comes mainly from archives relating to the period of the reign of the Ceaucescu dictatorship in Romania (1974/1989).

Missed Utopias, lost dreams, technologies that have become obsolete… For four years, I drew on these images, scrutinized and enlarged their surfaces, revisited places by making new shots, trying me to new assemblies, like a montage game, until evidence emerges.

The book is a posthumous tribute to Dumitru Bedeleu who had meticulously kept these documents and without whom I could not have realized it. This was for me the starting point, to experiment with new data and come to impede the purely documentary nature of photography.

I never do my projects alone. We met with Luc Derycke & Manu Blondiau (editors and graphic designer), we looked at the pictures, think about the situation, what is the book about? What format? what paper?

We have together, thought the book as simply and radically as possible.

“Dumitu” photobook by Michel Mazzoni, order on The Phooks
“Dumitru” book by Michel Mazzoni. Read more & order

Double pages that match the principles of echo and telescoping. No binding, no cover. The pages can be organized in a different order, it is possible to fold them or pin them on the wall … All the writings are grouped on a red card in the center of the book.

The color used is symbolic at this time, the cardboard overflows one centimeter on two sides, which makes it apparent when the book is closed. The paper used gives a sensation and touch close to these period newspapers.

What you expect people should feel when opening your book?

I like that my work provokes interrogation. I like when there are shadows. What people say: great, but … Do not understand everything, or not understand a work immediately causes that feeling of timelessness that suits me well.

Photography enthusiast, Brand & Marketing strategist. Founder of Open photobook library & marketplace. Personal website:

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