Do you know that feeling when you're standing in a bookstore or library in front of a shelf full of books, colorful covers with titles touching on a topic that resonates with you? Books about art, fishing, psychology, film, hip hop, tattoos, space, football, cooking... Your eyes jump from one book to another and the urge to see, flip through or own them all takes over. This exact feeling gets utilized in the work of Colombian photographer Max Steven Grossman. He gives rise to the illusion of gigantic thematic libraries by creating original collages from photographs of books.
Max Steven Grossman studied photography at New York University and the International Center for Photography. He doesn't only focus on books in libraries and bookstores, but also photographs private collections. He calls these series Bookscapes – landscapes made of books. Photographs of books on particular sports disciplines form a quite extensive part of his work, too. Alongside large-format photos of books on fashion, music, art, or film, you can also encounter photos comprised of several dozen titles on golf, surfing, skiing, football, hockey, etc.
Although at first glance it may seem that the pictures don't represent an eternal reality, Grossman fools the viewer through collages and his own arrangements. This means he doesn't come up to the bookshelf and takes a photo of what he sees – his photographs are actually collages of books the artist puts together with a purpose. Grossman responds primarily to the influence of the omnipresent digital age. As he puts it himself: „I create illusion with photography as to question what is real and what is not."
His work explores reality working with fantasy and the constructed nature of knowledge. The hyper-reality of his book compositions is further enhanced by a generous scale of the photos with some of them reaching more than eight meters in size.
The artist began exhibiting his bookshelves in galleries in Bogotá, his native land, where he returned after studying in New York. Among the first was Beatriz Esguerra Art gallery, which brought several of his Bookscapes to international art fairs. „This series was getting a lot of attention and I was picked up by a gallery in NY and Los Angeles. After many years of showing in the States and around the world, I’m represented today by more than ten different galleries. I’m still working on the Bookscape series and also experimenting with different mediums to give further meaning to my work," clarifies the artist.
Grossman also collaborates with popular celebrities. In 2023, for example, the artist was invited to Gloria Steinem's home in New York to shoot her extensive private book collection. As he explains himself: "The resulting photo art highlights Gloria’s work in activism, feminism, and human rights. It was a fundraiser for a foundation, whose goal is to support and nurture the feminist movement.“ This way you could have brought Gloria's bookshelf home as a real-scale photo and hang it on the wall while supporting the National Network of Abortion Funds. This piece was unveiled in December last year at the Sponder Gallery with both the artist and the activist present.
In addition to book compositions, Grossman's attention is turned to landscape collages and architectural photography as well. He's been fascinated with nature ever since he first got down to photography; he was shooting photos during his travels, which he was then sending to magazines. But now he’s finding his own reality.
Max Steven Grossman (1971) was born in Barranquilla, Colombia. He originally studied textile engineering, but soon after discovered his passion for photography. Later he graduated from New York University and the International Center of Photography master's program and began to create works stemming from both reality and imagination. Grossman's photographs have been exhibited throughout Colombia, including Beatriz Esguerra Art, The Cartagena Museum of Modern Art and Barranquilla Museum of Modern Art, and in other countries as well, e.g. Switzerland, Panama, or Spain.