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TANYA AHMED: Checked Out and Photographed

March 29th, 2016


Over a two year span Tanya Ahmed has been photographing the backs of the books that she reads from the New York Public Library. I was introduced to this project through a postcard that I found in a book that I borrowed from the Webster NYPL branch. The book was titled, Principles in Art  and I was pleasantly surprised to find Ahmed's postcard nestled in its pages. 


Ahmed explains, "Checked out & Photographed. Produced as a visual reading list in the form of a magazine, each photograph of a book has the NYPL call number and the name, title and publishing information for each book. An encouragement to look up and check out each one!"


See the book here


TUSSLE MAGAZINE: How did you get started in photography?


TANYA AHMED: At 13 I was in the library sitting on the floor reading a career book on journalism and I came across a passage on photography, that’s the moment when I knew I was going to be a photographer. After school I was accepted into Berkshire College of Art and Design where I studied photography.


TM: How long have you been photographing the urban environment? 


TA: Although trained and working professionally in both studio and press environments, it was when, very early on, I started making trips to Glasgow, Scotland, that I absolutely knew photographing the urban environment was it for me.


TM: Do you consider yourself a documentarian, artist or journalist in practice?


TA: My photography may have these elements but I choose to define myself simply as a photographer and let the viewer and the work decide for themselves!


TM: May you include a few of your artistic influences? 


TA: Bill Brandt and David Bailey (NW1) are perhaps my all time favorite influences. Idris Khan, Michael Wolf, Laura Letinsky, Todd Hido and James Welling are more contemporary photographers whose work interests me. I’d say that my biggest influence though is the amazing built environment that we live in!


TM: What inspired you to begin the series? May you explain more about your library series? 


TA: The library has been important to me throughout my life. I remember the soft blocks  in the children’s area of my first ever library. I’ve taught reading and ESL through libraries and when my children were tiny the library kept us all entertained.


Going back to school to do an MA I found a lot of inspiration just randomly searching the NYPL shelves and their collection on line and I really wanted to not only record my own journey through the library’s amazing collection and share my discoveries as a sort of visual reading list, but also to focus on the book as object. Many photographers have a special love of books, they are often the most accessible way to see photographs.


Of course I couldn’t manage to keep away from the built environment so I included photographs of the hallways of the Schwarzman building too, the reference library on 42nd and 5th. One day I was there and the light was just falling through those giant windows and so I kept going back… 


TM: Are you planning to continue this series?


TA: I’m not continuing the project but It’s been a wonderful diversion, very personal, exploring something that I’ve had an interest in, ie reading and libraries, but that I hadn’t thought about photographically before. 


TM: What are you currently working on? 


TA: I’m thinking about archive, New York City and others, boundaries and borders, public space, the M15 bus route and light. I’m putting the books down and hitting the street again!

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