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Q&A with Stephen Frailey on the 25th Issue of ‘Dear Dave,’

Dear Dave,, a tri-annual magazine of photography and writing published by the Visual Arts Press since 2007, celebrates its 25th issue this season, with the recent release of the Spring 2017 edition. BFA Photography and Video Chair and MPS Fashion Photography Co-chair Stephen Frailey is founder and editor-in-chief of the publication and has taken this milestone as an occasion to even further broaden the scope of the magazine and the myriad, idiosyncratic approaches to photography, and the writing about it, Dear Dave, supports.

For the 25th issue, Frailey tapped 25 contributors to respond to a photograph of their choosing, one of some significance to them; the results run the gamut from reflections on iconic figures to memories of photographer-friends, inquiries into the mystery of the medium to the current state of things between American politics and images. Texts come from far afield (like photographer Stephen Shore, MoMA curator Roxana Marcoci and Vanity Fair’s Derek Blasberg) and close to home, including SVA alumni and affiliates (BFA Photography grad Liz Goldwyn, MFA Art Writing Chair David Levi Strauss and faculty member Liz Deschenes). Selected photographs include works by Jimmy DeSana, Duane Michals, and Kathy Grove, to name just a few.

From the onset, Frailey hoped to set the magazine apart from others in the field, and has done so with now-trademark wit, criticality, openness and richly printed pages. The magazine’s name itself was chosen for its intimacy and humor; it is inviting and ambiguous, and wholly without reference to photography. “And I really liked the comma as both a visual idea and as a form of anticipation,” Frailey said. Such a sly but thoughtful approach remains evident in the editorial choices, from cover design (see this issue’s Rear Window Jimmy Stewart, long-lens in hand against a powder pink background) to curated content (issue 9 is the swimsuit issue, with images of bathing suit-clad subjects, but by Henri Cartier-Bresson and Matthew Barney, among many others; Frailey says there will likely be another edition next year.) Dear Dave, may be addressed to the individual but encompasses a plurality of visions.

Each issue speaks for itself, both thematically and aesthetically, so I asked Frailey for a bit more background on the publication overall.

How did Dear Dave, first come about? What was the impetus for the magazine?

The magazine is an extension of my work in the [BFA Photography and Video] department in at least two ways: building a strong community and addressing the medium in a very plural and inclusive way that encourages an involvement with all the various functions of the medium.

At the time it was begun, there was no off-line platform that would publish unknown work from emerging artists and give young writers an opportunity to share their thoughts; no context for work that has been forgotten but that anticipates the present; no context for the various genres and proclivities of photography to be seen together, equally; no place for obscure and vernacular to be given prominence. Like the department, I envisioned a community with a sense of imagination, a huge stake in the future, and of pleasure in sharing our mutual joy. And some sense of mirth.

Do you feel it has lived up to that imperative, or has your objective changed at all over the past 10 years?

I’m not sure I can be the judge of if we’ve lived up to my grandiose thoughts! But otherwise, the objective is the same, pretty much.

Could you give a brief run-down of how an issue gets put together?

Almost all of the work is pre-existing but the writing is commissioned. The mix is the puzzle: I start with a couple things that I am interested in and then find bodies of work that will carom off them in unpredictable ways. And yes, we are very interested in eliciting ideas for the publication, giving an opportunity to explore ideas and curatorial instincts. Often, an idea will emerge spontaneously from conversation—someone will mention an idea about a photograph and I’ll suggest that it be developed into something for Dave,. That is very gratifying—to give the opportunity to amplify one’s thoughts.

One of the defining quirks is the frontispiece of each issue: reprinted letters addressed to just Dave, most short and between personal and business-oriented in tone (and one from Rod Serling). Where do those come from?

The first 15 issues or so were from my dad, whose name was Dave. Since then, I’ve found them online, etc.

What is your hope or vision for the next 25 issues?

That we are able to continue publishing and continue to innovate and honor the medium in imaginative ways. And that each issue is always a bit surprising.

Dear Dave, is available worldwide via subscription, as well as leading newsstands and bookstores, such as Barnes & Noble. It is also available internationally at Collette, Paris; Photographers' Gallery, London; and Athenaeum Bookstore, Amsterdam; and in New York at the International Center of Photography Bookstore and powerHouse Books in Brooklyn.

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