A Dummy Hits the Big Time

Jan Dummy cover

Jan McCullough is one of the three artists featured in the current issue of Source. Her work 'Home Instruction Manual' records her efforts in arranging a house following the advice of people in online chatrooms. She has also just won a prize so we thought we'd talk to her about it.

John Duncan: So you've just won the Kassel Book dummy Award, what do you get when you win that?

Jan McCullough: I will publish my book in time for the 2016 Awards, but at the moment the book dummy is travelling round with the other 49 shortlisted books at festivals and events all over the place – Madrid, Oslo, Paris, Rome, Dublin, Istanbul etc. Soon I’ll start to work closely with the publisher on how we want to make my DIY version into an actual book.

So it works that you win the dummy award and then you get into a conversation with the publisher and there's a decision made if that will go through with that publisher?

Yes, and even though there is a book dummy it'll probably change quite a bit by the time it’s printed. We'll have that conversation next month I would say. For now it was just brief introductions and we'll get more in depth about what we want it to be like later.

How did you go about deciding the design, layout, content of this particular dummy?

Well the dummy is blue and it is the exact colour you get when you highlight text or a picture on your computer browser. So that's a reference to the internet. And then being in a book form and having instructions through it is a reference to the manual. In the first draft of the dummy I had a much more straightforward title, 'how to plan the home you want' – this one is called 'home instruction manual'.

Did you have a set of prints made out that you shuffled around, or stuck on a wall? What's your working process?

I had a wooden board (from B&Q) and Blu-tacked prints up that's how I edited it, with little 2x3 inch prints. Then I hand made the book at home, just as cheaply as I could. A lot of the dummies I had seen before in various competitions were very finished. They looked like they could be published. I knew that if I aimed for that the book would never get made because firstly, I couldn't afford it and secondly, it would take forever to do. So it's a handmade and messy dummy, all stuck in with tape and Blu-tac.

Jan inside 2

What is the structure of the book? Does it take you through room by room?

Yes, and the conversation is ordered the same way. The conversation within the internet forum starts in the hall and then living room, kitchen, up the stairs and the bedroom and then out to the garden. So the way they pictures are sequenced is very simple. It hasn't really got a narrative it's more how you would see estate agent pictures for a rental house. I was also really attracted to amateur manuals made by people doing their own DIY. Like how they stick pictures into the book, that's something I want to think about for when it’s published.

Book that inspired work

Have you worked on book dummies or book projects before?

Just small artist books. I've never worked with publishers before. This is my first big body of work really.

You were over for the awards ceremony, what was that like? Did you get to talk to any of the other short-listed photographers?

It was funny because it was a bit like a tick sheet for all the faces in photography publishing, and all in the same room. There was a book market, as well as talks by Christian Patterson, John Gossage, Erik Kessels and Thomas Weski. It was a very relaxed environment and a really good weekend.

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