The Edition

Idea Release For Buck Ellison: Risk | 1
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Idea Release For Buck Ellison: Risk

Apr. 30, 2024

The new IDEA book is RISK by Buck Ellison. It is an art book. It looks like an IDEA book. But don’t be fooled. The photographs are styled to match the imagery of a fashion or lifestyle catalogue. They are painstakingly staged to appear as representations of wealth and privilege. They are so pitch-perfect as to become inseparable from their target.

It is the closeness that is the point; only the exacting accuracy of the copy can illuminate the unconscious machinations of the originals. The blue cotton stripe shirting fabric of the cover is a perfect example. It is a bookcloth, not cotton, but printed with a sewn-weave ink pattern. A facsimile that explains the process of the original that would otherwise be taken for granted.

The Bengal stripe is a popular shirting pattern. It originated in Bengal and was worn by the Bengal Lancers (a regiment of the British East India Company’s armed forces) from the 17th century onward. The pattern was brought to England and became fashionable for gentlemen to wear on business occasions.

RISK is not Buck Ellison’s first book. There was Living Trust in 2020 (Loose Joints), a now sold-out and very scarce first monograph, Little Brother (2022) and Best Reply (2023), Ellison’s self-published college study inspired readers, also sold out, and his photograph The Prince Children, Holland, Michigan, 1975 (2019) was chosen as the cover of The Image of Whiteness: Contemporary Photography and Racializationin 2022.

Books, and particularly art monographs and catalogue raisonnés, are (like drawing rooms, dining tables, family albums, trophy cabinets, private bank annual reports and Western establishment clothing) meaningful artefacts in Ellison’s world. When he makes an art book, as he has done with RISK, he is also making and remaking every book; the typeface carries weight, the footnotes are loaded with importance.

And then there is the work…

This still life features the Henry Raeburn painting, The Allen Brothers (Portrait of James and John Lee Allen), c. 1790, Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, Texas.

The Allen brothers were heirs to the considerable estates of Inchmartine and Errol in Scotland, newly purchased by their father John Allen after returning from Jamaica. There, the Scottish lord undertook a lucrative partnership with the enslavers Joseph and Robert Lee. All three men are listed as joint owners of Rose Hall Estate, Jamaica in 1787, a sugar and rum plantation.

The painting within the photograph is explained. The artwork hanging in situ – alongside John Singleton Copley’s The Western Brothers, 1783 completes the picture.

And now that you know that each one of Ellison’s works is layered with subtext and detailed to the nth degree, you probably want to know why this is called Trembling Hand…

In game theory, the “trembling hand” refers to randomness in players’ choices, simulating errors and uncertainty. This affects game outcomes. When a player’s hand “trembles”, they may deviate from their intended strategy.

There are 53 of Ellison’s works illustrated, discussed, in part explained in the book. The films Henry, Henry, Henry (2019) and Little Brother (2022) are illustrated in a montage of screenshots; the now seemingly classic-already photographs Sierra, Gymnastics Routine (2015) and Pasta Night (2016) are included; more recent studies like the boarding school lacrosse series Hotchkiss v. Taft (2017) or the Erik Prince/Betsy DeVos works are all there. It is a Buck Ellison world view – depicting the world as it is, not as we want it to be.

The book’s main text is a transcript of a conversation between Ellison and the Indo-Guyanese Canadian artist Vishal Jugdeo. It is not boring. Jugdeo does not pull any punches. Ellison does not duck a direct Question.

Vishal Jugdeo: I resisted looking at your photos the first time I saw them at Hammer Museum in 2021. I thought to myself, a white guy makes photoconceptualism about whiteness and builds a career, cool. I thought their inclusion in Made In L.A. was an error, taking up space that other histories could have occupied.

Buck Ellison: It would be strange if you had any other reaction. I know my pictures’ stolid muteness and unclear allegiance are unsettling. They likely leave the viewer questioning my motivations as an artist and person. But unfortunately, I’ve found the works only succeed when they sit in this ambivalence, when they invite moments of what the fuck is this image of white people doing in a museum show? This discomfort mirrors how whiteness presents itself as bland and harmless, even slightly noble, but is indeed extractive and violent.


Buck Ellison


Custom-print clothbound hardcover

32 x 24.5cm

144 pages

First edition of 1000

£75 / €90 / $95

The book launches on 16th May with a book signing during

Photo London at Dover Street Market.

Press enquiries + pictures: [email protected] | Interviews with Buck Ellison

Buck’s bio (for the otherwise mystified)

Buck Ellison (b. 1987, San Francisco) received a BA in German Literature from Columbia University, New York, in 2010, and an MFA from the Städelschule, Frankfurt am Main, in 2014.

In his films and photographs, the artist examines and makes visible the silent violence and security of whiteness as it is continually maintained through gestures, manners, and politeness. Recent exhibitions include Get In The Game, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 2024; Burning Down the House, Kunstmuseum St. Gallen, Switzerland, 2024; Museum of Contemporary Art, Rome, 2024; Best Reply, Barbati Gallery, Venice, 2023; Little Brother, Luhring Augustine, New York, 2023; the 16th Lyon Biennial of Contemporary Art, 2022; Whitney Biennial 2022, Whitney Museum of American Art; Made in L.A. 2020, The Hammer Museum, Los Angeles and The Huntington Museum, Pasadena, 2021; and Antarktika, Kunsthalle Wien, Vienna, 2018.

His works are in the permanent collections of the Aïshti Foundation, Beirut; Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh; The Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; The Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, and The Whitney Museum of American Art.

Ellison has been profiled in Aperture, ArtForum, L’Uomo Vogue, The New Yorker, and The New York Times. His first monograph, Living Trust, won the Paris Photo-Aperture Best PhotoBook Award in 2020.

Source: IDEA

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