In conversation with Ben Denzer

IN CONVERSATION WITH

BEN DENZER

Ben Denzer is an artist, designer, and publisher interested in how information is cataloged and preserved. He studied Architecture and Visual Arts at Princeton. Ben designs and publishes Catalog Press and runs the Instagram @ice_cream_books. He has taught courses at SVA, Parsons, and the Center for Book Arts and has been an artist-in-residence at Mount Auburn Cemetery and the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard.

Ben's work has been collected by The Met, The Guggenheim, The Museum of Fine Arts Houston, and the University of Oxford among other institutions. 

You're the founder of Catalog Press and Ice Cream Books. Could you tell me about those companies? 

I'm really interested in 'the book' as an object and idea. Photographing Ice Cream Books, publishing Catalog Press, designing book covers, illustrations, and printed materials are all different ways to explore this.

For Ice Cream Books, I'm literally pairing and photographing "great reads and frozen desserts." The project came from an interest in understanding books as objects (as physical containers in addition to the information content they contain). When there's ice cream melting on a book, you're forced to engage with it as a physical thing. 

For Catalog Press, I'm making books that explore this idea of what a book is and can be. One of the reasons I like books is that they're dense collections of content. Each of the books I publish is a catalog of some sort; of images, words, or readymade objects.

Catalog Press

What's a day in the life of Ben Denzer look like?

My day changes week to week depending on what projects I'm juggling at a particular time. I find that I work best when I have multiple things to hop between (so when I'm stuck on one I can be productive on another). This past spring, a lot of my time was spent teaching courses at SVA, Parsons, and Center for Book Arts. Right now, I'm working on a few book covers, illustrations, and a Catalog Press book. There were a few weeks this summer when most of my days were spent picking dandelions. 

60,000 Immortal Individuals, Catalog Press

How did you get into the creative industry? Was it always a field you wanted to work in?

I've always liked making things. I studied architecture and visual arts in undergrad because those classes allowed me to learn how to use new tools and they left me with things I'd made rather than papers I'd written or tests I'd been graded on. 

Along the way, I realized there was a job where people paid you to read books, think about them, and then make the image that sends them into the world. I thought that sounded great and I built up a portfolio of fake book cover designs. Walking around bookstores, I started paying attention to the names of the designers who made the covers I admired. After sending a bunch of emails, I was lucky to get an internship that led to a job at Penguin.

What's the most memorable project you've worked on to date?

I've had fun with a few recent plant based projects. Vegetable Birkin bags for Herm├Ęs and a book of 6,000 pressed dandelions from Mount Auburn Cemetery. 

6,000 dandelions from Mount Auburn Cemetery, Catalog Press

Who inspires you most in the world?

I try to keep my eyes and ears open and absorb as much as I can from those around me. 

Are you reading anything right now? Any books you're hoping to get to in the next couple of months?

I've been on a non-fiction/biography kick lately. I mostly listen to audiobooks while I work or walk. Right now I'm listening to The Name of War by Jill Lepore. 

Ice Cream Books

Stay up to date with Ben's work by visiting the Catalog Press website and following Ice Cream Books on Instagram. 

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