Signed & numbered photoetching tipped-in on recto of first blank leaf, black & white illus. throughout.  leaves. Oblong 4to (205 x 315 mm.), orig. three-color silk-screened dust-jacket, stiff boards, saddle-stitched & case-bound. Rochester, NY: Visual Studies Workshop Press, 1977.
First edition, one of 50 special copies with a large, tipped-in photoetching, signed and numbered by the artist, captioned in pencil: “I was born at twenty but died at twelve, 6/50 Keith, October 1977.” This striking photoetching, depicting Smith and various representations of his younger self, was executed for the present work. Smith’s photoetchings are extremely rare on the market. The artist has also signed and dated the title-page: “6/50, Keith Smith, 2 November.”
This book is an excellent demonstration of Keith A. Smith’s ability to manipulate photographic processes to create intricate and vivid imagery. One of Smith’s frequent motifs, a “tumbling block” quilt pattern, appears here several times. In the 60s and 70s, the artist experimented with adding images to quilts by photo silk-screen, etching printed onto cloth, and even gum bichromate. The present work was also printed in a regular version of 300 copies — without the photoetching — the same year.
In his auto-bibliography, 200 Books, Smith (b. 1938) writes: “In Book 68 the technique was darkroom manipulation. I have always loved test strips. Since the first one I made under the guidance of Ken Josephson in his photography class, test strips have been as exciting as the finished print. They seem to be magic…
“Rubylith pin-registered stencils were made. This approach to multiple printing on a sheet is familiar to printmakers, if not photographers. By controlling the exposure to local areas of one negative, I could print the picture on one sheet of photo paper with several different exposures. Some would be under- or over-exposed. One would be the ‘normal’ exposure. The varying exposures would bring out shapes of the quilt which are in the exposure but not in the photograph. The resulting print elevates the characteristics of the test strip from disposable guide to an exhibited print…
“Book 68 contains a running text. Since I was exhibiting framed photographs with handwriting on the bottom of prints, I used this solution for text with pictures in this book. It is not as successful. Anecdotal scribbling adds contrast to a formal silver print. In a published book, text and picture on a paper page are both ink. There is less a play of opposing elements. The photo reproduction looks complete whereas the hand-printed text seems a poor substitute for typography.
“When I Was Two utilizes pictures and text about events I remember from when I was two years old until an adult. It was my first public written expression of personal events. Most of the previous books were visual statements on similar experiences. As I stated when writing about Book 22, it is easier for me to reveal things through pictures than to speak or write them…”
In excellent and fresh condition. The photoetching is also in fine condition. The present special version of When I Was Two is now very scarce.
❧ Smith, 200 Books (2000), pp. 113-17.
Item ID: 7612