Located on a cobblestone street in NoHo, Dashwood Books sits just below street level tucked privately away for only those who know where to find it. Dashwood books has become a destination for artists and collectors from all over the world that seek contemporary photography books.
I found myself at Dashwood Books one evening in early April to see actress, musician, and daughter of famous couple Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin – Charlotte Gainsbourg. I had seen Charlotte perform the night prior at Brooklyn Steel, a stop on her Rest tour, and I was delighted to find out that she would be signing her new book the following evening in the city. It turns out that only 1000 copies of her book had been made, and a lot of them had already been distributed in Paris earlier this year. Only 100 copies would be available for New York, and as a fan of Charlotte’s, I had to have a copy of my own.
I arrived at the book signing earlier than necessary to get a spot in line, only to realize that I was the first to arrive. The manager of Dashwood suggested I come back in an hour or have a look around, so I decided to stay while two people speaking french hung posters from Charlotte’s book in the store’s window.
Dashwood is a tiny bookstore with walls lined top to bottom with light tan wooden shelves. There is a desk in the center of the store used by the store attendant and behind that, a staircase descends into the basement. The light left from the day floods the large windows at the front of the store which creates a calm, anxiety reducing space.
There were only two or three other customers aside from myself grazing the shelves to find a binding that piqued their interest. I started in the back of the shop and selected a book here and there to flip through and moved from shelf to shelf. I listened to the conversations around me as I floated around the shop and noticed that a couple had come in to inquire about submitting a book. The manager of Dashwood explained the process, “All artists are encouraged to submit their bound book and if Dashwood likes it they will contact you, but if they don’t, you won’t get your book back and they won’t provide any feedback.” After hearing this, the girl submitting her book said, “That’s fine, I still want to submit,” and pulled out her book and handed it to the manager.
The artist submitting their work with no guarantee it would be liked and shelved, paired with the unique selection of books covering the walls of the store made me realize something about creative success. As a creative person that produces work, the freedom is not the creative process itself, but instead finishing and distributing the work with no promise it will reach a soul. For example, some of the photography books I leafed through caught my attention and fascinated me while others didn’t do a thing, but the work still sat completed and bound on a shelf for someone else to find it and feel moved.
This experience left me feeling encouraged to keep creating, and all the different books on the shelves left me realizing that creativity needs to work through the artist so that it can be let go of once it is complete. Any notes and scribbles, photographs and thoughts, can come together and form a beautiful collection that is uniquely true to its creator, and it doesn’t matter if it ever has an audience, what matters is that it came out and left the vessel it was formed in.
I left Dashwood after meeting Charlotte Gainsbourg with her book tightly wrapped in my arms and rushed to the subway. On my commute back home I opened the book and slowly took it in page by page to find a combination of creative expression. Photographs, poetry, notes, drawings, and thoughts all in one place protected by a binding and a hardcover jacket as if it was guarding the soul of the artist herself.