In his introduction to Touchless Automatic Wonder: Found Text from the Real World, Lewis Koch writes that he often thinks of photographs as his paper memory. A repository, he elaborates during a phone conversation. Like a diary.
What a journal.
Published by Richard Quinney's Borderland Books, the clothbound 112-page volume's vivid black-and-white reproductions imbue Koch's subjects with dramatic textures and depth. From a La Crosse public-storage warehouse circa 1980 to an engraving at a Spanish cathedral in 2002, the Madison-based photographer shares his perspective on what he calls "visual chatter."
In contexts ranging from Madison and Mount Horeb to Paris and India, Touchless presents its sequence of signs, labels, plaques, banners and other word-bearing surfaces in a manner akin to a prose poem.
Its verses bring reader-viewers in close proximity to Koch's found texts, which might otherwise be glimpsed but not acknowledged by those who pass by. His compositions rescue these subjects from the oblivion of our disregard, infusing them with the photographer's sense of curiosity and awe at the commonplace.
"I hope to call attention to the mundane and the now, the nondescript, and find some sense of wonder about that," Koch says. "That's what I'm attempting to reveal in my work."
The result of an artist's residency in Denmark, Touchless Automatic Wonder was first exhibited in 2001 as a web-based project at www.photography.dk/online/Koch/00a.html, where it remains today.
Now in expanded book form, Touchless is at long last tactile. "The photographs are larger and the reproductions are better," says Koch, 60. Known for his inventive use of such nontraditional platforms as billboards and his own garage to showcase his work, he notes a longstanding appreciation for the durability, ready availability and democratic nature of books.
His photographs are included in such prestigious permanent collections as New York's Metropolitan and Whitney art museums, the Maison Européenne de la Photographie in Paris and the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery.
Now, says the photographer, "I'm imagining my future direction as being more and more involved in books as a way of disseminating my work and my ideas."