Publisher Q&A2: Qiana Mestrich of Dodge & Burn

Last year we posted a "Publisher Q&A" series, featuring 12 short interviews with a range of publishers on their presses and sites and the state of the publishing market (see the site links page for links). It was a popular series, and we've decided to add another 12 entries to the series with more extended questions.

The first posts of this second series were with Éanna de Fréine of The Velvet CellDavid Schoerner of Hassla BooksLuca Desienna of Gomma Magazine Ltd., Hannah Watson of Trolley BooksCurt Holtz, Photography Editor of Prestel PublishingAline Smithson of LenscratchHarsha Vadlamani of Galli Magazine, Heidi Romano of Unless you will and Conor Risch, Senior Editor of Photo District News.

Today we continue the series with Qiana Mestrich of Dodge & Burn.

fototazo: What is the back-story on how Dodge & Burn formed? Was there a particular need that you saw and sought to fill?

Qiana Mestrich: Yes there was initially a need to educate myself and that's what led me to start the blog in 2007. I'll never forget having a one-on-one session with my photography teacher in college during which I asked whether or not we'd be looking at/discussing the work of African-American photographers. He answered by telling me to look up the work of Carrie Mae Weems and Lorna Simpson. Immediately after I ran to my school library and while I appreciated the introduction to their work, I was disappointed that we never saw work from these and other photographers of color during our class lectures.

The academic teaching of photography history was shaped by the canonical writings of Beaumont Newhall and John Szarkowski. These modernist, dominant narratives have only provided a mostly male, Western/Eurocentric perspective. Why can't we learn and teach an international and more inclusive history of the medium? Dodge & Burn is dedicated to exposing these non-dominant narratives and providing a platform for showing work that may otherwise go unnoticed.

f: What separates Dodge & Burn from other sites? What are its strengths as a site?

QM: Highlighting the work of photographers of color worldwide, Dodge & Burn occupies a particular niche within photography that no other blog/site does. Through interviews with contemporary photographers and profiles on those no longer with us, the blog aims to be an inspirational resource for readers with a desire to see the accomplishments of photographers of color. I also hope that it's a place where curators and art administrators can discover new work.

f: What is your process for deciding what to publish?

QM: I publish all types of photography: documentary, fine art, fashion, etc... The deciding factor for me is whether or not the work provokes thought. Photography has an undeniable ability to capture beauty, but it can also be a powerful tool to trigger thought and internal dialogue within the viewer, perhaps even challenging that viewer's understanding (or lack thereof) of the image's subject.

f: The subheading to the site is "diversity in photography history" - how has the issue of diversity in photography changed, if at all, over the time you've worked on the site?

QM: I do feel like there's been a HUGE interest in African photography and Middle Eastern photographers, to the point where very prominent festivals, museums, galleries and auction houses have curated single events around work from these regions. There's also been growing interest in Japan, India and Mexico's long photographic history. In regards to African-American photographers, it's been great to see a growing appreciation for the work of photographers/artists like Jamel Shabazz, Hank Willis Thomas and LaToya Ruby Frazier.

As a former subscriber to their magazine, I used to use PDN's 30 new and emerging photographers to watch as a barometer of the state of diversity in photography and I must say that in the past few years the lists have definitely been more inclusive.

Despite these changes, I am concerned that the near death of documentary and the trend(s) towards making work that focuses solely on the material and formal aspects of photography will again alienate those simply trying to tell the stories of their communities. Lastly, there are still many hard battles to be fought towards diversity within the contemporary photography art market.

f: What have you learned through the process of establishing Dodge & Burn that you wish you would have known beforehand or that you would pass along to others interested in publishing?

QM: There's no such thing as too niche when it comes to blogging. In fact, the more niche your topic, the better. I started this blog thinking that I was the only one interested in a more diverse history of photography and I was pleasantly surprised when the blog's readership and my Twitter followers grew.

© Qiana Mestrich, Five Mugshots, from the series "Namesake, Part I," 2013

f: How did going to graduate school affect your work on the site as well as your vision for the site and what you would like to do with it?

QM: Going to graduate school opened my mind to a world of multidisciplinary artists that are not strictly photographers but artists who intentionally choose to make photographic works depending on the message they want to convey. A recent example of this type of artist who I also recently interviewed is Rico Gatson.

f: What has been your highlight in working with Dodge & Burn?

QM: Wow, I am so grateful for this blog! Dodge & Burn has allowed me to meet other photographers/artists and bloggers from all over the world, it has afforded me the opportunity to write for other publications and has generally given me firsthand experience with social media. I must say that a personal highlight was getting emails from photography professors saying that they've used my blog as a resource/teaching aid in their classes.

f: What are the next steps for the site?

QM: Despite my busy schedule, I'm determined to keep Dodge & Burn going! Next steps are to continue with the photographer interviews, but instead of the old model of asking the same questions, I will ask questions specific to each photographer and their work. In 2014, I'd like to start publishing posts by guest bloggers/writers and do a complete site redesign...

This month Dodge & Burn will also debut a digital publication called Backbone, which will be a list of contemporary photography and artists books as well as my list of photography projects that I think should be published. Backbone is my response to a lack of diversity within the photo book (self) publishing industry and the bookmaking arts. It will be available on Dodge & Burn as a download.

Also working towards my vision of changing the way photography history is taught and I'm currently writing a proposal to teach a continuing education course at my alma mater, ICP. So stay tuned!