The Artist, the Editor, and the Essayist: The Making of ONE BLOOD

7th May 2024

In some respects, One Blood began with an encounter between Frank Lebon and a nurse at the Akerman medical centre in South London. His vision had been blurry and he’d lost a significant amount of weight. It was the nurse’s first day and she struggled with the equipment for extracting his blood, apologetic for her nerves. Together, they worked it out – it just so happened that Frank had spent the week before drawing and scanning blood samples at his studio…but it was the nurse who actually drew factual results. He was sent to the hospital with urgency, where he was diagnosed with Diabetes 1.

In the months that followed, Frank’s blood readings were about tracking his sugar levels, mapping his insulin injections with circles drawn in pen so he could avoid injecting in the same place twice (he found it painful, and his skin rejected double-prickings).  He took blood samples of his family and friends, their portraits paired with scans of their cells. Portraits were taken with his hand covering the flash, projecting a red hue onto their faces. He watched as motorcyclists transported blood from hospital to hospital, and photographed the banality and sweetness of life at a now sugar-free home. Unsure of the meaning behind blood’s entry to his life, it had become a normal part of his everyday, whether he liked it or not.

The practice became a project when Frank asked his friend, Laura Serejo Genes, to look over the photographs and scans. Laura is an artist, curator and editor. Together they made sense of a narrative tied together by blood, how it runs through everyone, and perhaps argues that we’re all created the same (but different).  Through conversation, edits, and a shared love of the work of the late artist Jacques-André Boiffard, they pieced together a presentation of sorts to shop around to publishers. Nick Haymes, a photographer, gallerist, and now-publisher, came on to the project, embracing the personal aspects of the story.

One year later, on the week of the book’s printing, Frank revisited the Akerman centre for one of his Diabetes check ups. The same nurse was there, now confidently handling the equipment. They reminisced about both of their growth – and Frank showed her the proof of the book, thanking her for her inadvertent participation. Projects take bands of people; One Blood is no different. In an interview with Nick, Laura, and Frank, read a step-by-step of how the ideas behind Frank’s interest in blood eventually translated successfully into a finished publication.

Books are available here, and a show of the works is up in New York from now to 25 May at Entrance Gallery at 48 Ludlow Street 10002. 

In your own words, what made 'One Blood' happen? How did it start and how did you make it to print/publish? What role did you play?

Laura Genes: Books truly are a group effort. You have to lean on people’s expertise––for example, on a designer who will decide the typeface and the printer who will make decisions about the paper. You have to trust them; they bring their craft, and in the end, the book is a collected effort of decisions made by a group of collaborators; this is down the line of making a book, but I do feel it is often overlooked. But first of course, you need a project worth making into a book! Frank was already on the trail of One Blood when he introduced me to it, he had already started pricking people’s fingers (at all types of social gatherings). I like to say my role was dialogic at the beginning, talking with Frank through the concepts I saw in his natural way of working. Practically, I had worked as a project manager for artist books, and as a co-editor, so I helped Frank and his assistant at the time pull together a PDF to pitch the book to publishers. Some would call this kind of support "developmental editing,” but this is not a well-known or popular term. After Nick agreed to publish the book (thank you, Nick!), my role transformed again, following along with his edit and the design of the book and then ultimately writing an essay that brought some summary of Frank's process but in a way that was fun and ended up being a sort of imaginary intertwined biography of Frank and a Surrealist photographer Jacques-André Boiffard. My role was....shapeshifting!

Frank Lebon: The story of one blood and why it happened is best understood from sitting with the book. At some point during the long process of making different work that was all connected by similar themes, it became evident that these projects should live together as a book. I love photo books and spend more money buying them than I do anything else, but what I really dislike is when a photo book doesn't feel worthy of the paper it's printed on. One Blood [was the first time] I felt [a project] was potentially useful for others and could potentially connect to people in different ways. The moment I decided it could work as a book, I reached out to Laura. She is a good friend of mine and a very talented writer. I wasn't sure when I reached out to her exactly how we would work together, but I knew I needed support and to collaborate with someone I trust.

Nick Haymes: Editor, and devil’s advocate.

What drew you into One Blood as a project to spend time and money on?

Laura: I always enjoyed visits to Frank’s studio. He does and makes so many things that don’t make it into the photography work that circulates. I shared with Frank an artist book that I co-edited and he loved it. Hearing him talk about that book, which is by an extremely talented artist [Jacques-André Boiffard] who never quite broke into the market, I knew that Frank and I would be good collaborators with similar values. I do a lot of different things: I make art, I curate, I edit, I write, and Frank was willing to embrace all sides of me! That kind of confidence in a collaborator exists, but it’s rare and special.

Frank: once the idea was set in motion it was like a rolling snowball, it grew in velocity and size! it felt right and most importantly for me it felt as though other people would enjoy it. When making a book I learnt you are going to spend lots of time and money on it, you don't know exactly if it's worth the money till later, it’s a seed you plant and you will see if it grows into a tree, I hope the tree ‘one blood’ grows into consists of people finding some inspiration, curiosity, understanding or connection through the project.

Nick: Money was less of an issue than time. As time is a far more important and valuable asset. And actually as book projects go, this was one of the faster projects to work on.

How did you go about the edit; did you approach it with a specific intention in mind?

Laura: In terms of developing the edit for a book pitch for publishers, it was actually about categorising the different modes Frank was working in. This helped me get a grip on the monstrosity of the project and find a way to describe the path Frank took in developing it. But one of the beautiful aspects of the project is that all the rigidity I brought was later undone by Nick. He created a much more organic and free-flowing edit without having to break it down into these clear channels. Ultimately, the experience of the collection of photographs is more important than the legibility of the methods employed to create each kind of photograph (here, you can kind of feel a tension between the "art" and the "science"). And a book should be an experience!

Frank: Like I said before, all I tried to do was let go. If others were to connect to [One  Blood], I would need to let others put their stamp on the edit. Laura and I talked Nick through the project and all the themes it brought to mind. Nick then started to develop an edit from thousands of my photos – he was in LA, and I was in London, so we both printed out the images as 6x4's and covered our studio floors with them. He would send his edit and I would adjust the photos on my floor accordingly, then I made adjustments to the edits (trying to keep myself out of the decision-making as much as possible, and go with the flow with where the work took Nick). My main struggle was how personal Nick’s edit became. It featured a lot of me and my intimate life. I didn't expect this from the book in my mind's eye originally but went with it and grew to really love it. The book for me is now about doing such an intimate portrait of someone, whether of me and my family life, or a microscopic portrait of someone's blood. When you get close enough, it blurs into abstraction and becomes less focused on one person. It opens up to be interpreted and available for everyone.

Nick: Initially, the One Blood project was considered by Frank to be 5 or 6 separate projects working within a similar thematics. I like to see photo projects in the most raw state possible as it gives me a deeper insight into its possibilities and potential. Frank is super open and collaborative which is why I suppose he does very well working as a director in film projects, as it's wholly more of a collaboration-reliant job than that of a photographer. He explained his loose trains of thought on the work and kindly passed on around 4000 plus images for me to review and consider. After seeing the work, I concluded that it was a single narrative centering around themes of close personal relationship of loved ones and family but also encompassing the entire "family of humankind". It was then our group efforts of editing and re-editing to weave all these narratives in a cohesive arc on the fragility of life.

What was the biggest challenge of One Blood?

Frank: The years of shooting it were challenging at times, but what comes to mind is when it went to press. I was supposed to fly out to be there in Japan. My grandpa died the day I was supposed to get on the plane. Luckily, Nick’s son Philipp was there at the time and he is a good darkroom printer with a great eye. So we would FaceTime at 3 in the morning and it seemed to work out.

For those looking to make a photo book, what would your advice to them be?

Laura: This is true with all remote collaborations, but managing everyone’s timelines is hard. The edit would move along, and then I would feel pressure to write, but it would be a moment where I just wasn’t feeling capable of writing many cycles need to align for these creative parts to come through––this is especially true with side-projects. That said, it all moved fairly quickly as far as books are concerned. Frank continued very eager throughout so that helped a lot.

Frank: Find the right people to work with, at its best, or at least in the case of One Blood, I think making a book is a very collaborative process. The only problem is convincing them, as there is usually no money involved! So make sure the people you’re working with feel creatively fulfilled and try to do as much of the heavy lifting yourself to make the process enjoyable for others. And please, take time with your project and only decide to make a book when you think it has the potential to connect with others. No matter how personal it is to you and how much meaning it has for you I think at the end of the day there is also a responsibility to your audience.

Nick: My advice is to publish by any means available to you. It's the single most important thing to do for anyone working with the medium of photography.

Laura Serejo Genes is an artist, curator, and editor. Interested in the logistical poetics necessary for productive collaborations, Laura initiates and participates in projects that transfigure her creative labor. She has exhibited internationally, including MoCa Cleveland (Ohio, 2022), Etablissement d'en Face (Brussels, 2018), Palazzo Ca' Tron (Venice, 2017), and Kings Leap (New York, 2017). In addition to the work completed under her own name, she works with Kiyoto Koseki in a curatorial partnership based in New York (@nuevoconstante). Since 2017, Laura has worked with Nolan Oswald Dennis and Pedro Zylbersztajn as the Index Literacy Program, a collaborative research practice investigating indexicality and the politics of indexical forms. Laura Genes was trained as an architect and artist at The Cooper Union and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She was born in Brazil and raised in New York City, where she now lives.

Nick Haymes is a visual artist and photographer born in Stratford Upon Avon (UK), living and working in Los Angeles.  The gallery he founded in Downtown L.A. evolved into the publishing house called Little Big Man.

Frank Lebon