02/26/15 Patrick Aguilar of Owl & Tiger Books, San Francisco
Photography by Ina Jacobe
A good story is worth a long trip, as Patrick Aguilar proves. In Manila for a few days, the independent publisher has traveled far from his native San Francisco, and this evening, even further to the warehouse-dotted outskirts of Taguig. Amid this industrial wasteland is the studio of artist Wawi Navarroza, her elusive yet monumental space a ways up within a packing plant.
The guest of Navarroza’s informal salon, Aguilar is here to talk about the art books his company Owl & Tiger has published since 2011. Among those on display is a softcover book that unearths the beauty of a town in Bumfuck, Nowhere, while a burgundy-encased title is by a photographer revisiting difficult memories of his father through a trip to his hometown. These are limited-edition books that know no limit in the rich, emotional landscapes they uncover.
Owl & Tiger’s singular works are part of the photo book library Navarroza hopes to make public in her studio, along with a photo week and workshop series soon to launch in the space. “What use are images on the Internet if you can’t contextualize them?” Navarroza asked a gathering of friends that included photographer Tammy David and Clara Balaguer of the Office of Culture & Design.
Laid out with a keen editorial eye and reinforced by extras such as a letter reproduced and slipped into a book (written by the aforementioned father) photos become stories to invest in, all thanks to the publisher who literally placed them in our hands.
During his talk at the salon, Aguilar explained what led him to the art book business. Turning the pages on some of his titles and guiding us through their distinctive features, the publisher gives us more reason to believe we’ve entered a new era in print worth keeping.
From Art School to Art Books…
“Upon graduating from art school five years ago, I was enamored with the whole art world but at the same time, you feel this huge disconnect coming out of college and trying to make a name for yourself and also admiring these artists that live in the upper tier of the structure. There’s this huge gap and you’re wondering how do you fill that gap and get to this level?
My last semester in art school, I had one elective left. Initially, I wanted to take a jewelry design class just ‘cause I thought it would be cool to make pinky rings and stuff but then my adviser was like, ‘You can’t do that because it doesn’t make any sense.’ So I looked in the catalog and I found a class on book arts. This is a book arts class dedicated to graphic designers and the like, but I decided to give it a crack anyway. The whole time I was in the class, I did not fit in with anybody because I did not have great hand skills at the time. I didn’t really have conceptual ideas that printmakers have. But I wanted to make photo books mostly of my own work. I had a lot of books in my own collection and at that time, I just wanted to give it a crack.
I graduated and for about a couple of months, I didn’t have anything to do. I pretty much just twiddled my thumbs at home, hung out with my other photography friends that were also doing the same, and after that, I started thinking about it. I was contacted by this gallery—they were doing relief for the tsunami that happened in Japan a few years ago. They were like, ‘Oh, could you do some work for us? We’d love to show it and donate the proceeds to charity.’ I said I was thinking about making a book and ‘Could I maybe do a limited edition book for you guys?’ That was the first book for Owl & Tiger and it had a good response.”
The Transition to Photography Books…
“Some months later, a few of my artist friends were doing portfolio reviews. One of the ways my friends were trying to answer that question of ‘How do I get out of being a college graduate and starting my career?’ one of them was going to portfolio reviews. That’s when different galleries, curators, and editors from magazines come together and you get to show your work to them. For the longest time, people would just make these really bulky portfolios with really nice but easily damageable prints. One of my friends was saying, ‘Hey, could you make me a book?’ That was actually There Is Nothing Beautiful Around Here by Paccarik Orue.
We made a few artist editions. That and also Kevin Kunishi’s book, which is also in [Wawi Navarroza’s] library. They were like the talk of the whole critique session, whatever you want to call it. That was like, ‘Okay, maybe we can do this fulltime.’”