Colored People

Blake J. Nolan in collaboration with Matt Cohen and Sher Zabaszkiewicz
Pajaro, CA: C & C Press Artist’s Book, 2008
Smithsonian Libraries

Colored People was initiated by Matt Cohen and Sher Zabaszkiewicz of C & C Press, in California, and consists of photographs taken by Blake J. Nolan in Cameroon in 2005.  Nolan’s Cameroonian photographs immediately struck Cohen and Zabaszkiewicz as a worthy sequel to two other well-known artists’ books with that fraught title.  The first Colored People artist’s book was by Ed Ruscha in 1972.  Adrian Piper in 1991 revived the title.  Now, we have a third.  All three American artists address the racial underpinnings of the term “colored people” in the United States and beyond with varying degrees of directness.

Colored people by Blake J. Nolan, 2008. Cover with Binding. African Art Museum artists' books exhibit research image.

Ruscha and Piper, the Precursors

Ruscha’s book indirectly addresses “colored people” with photographs of cacti and palm trees stripped of background and floating against white wall paper.  Not a person in sight.  Piper’s book broaches the subject more directly with photographic portraits of a diverse range of people; the photographs are marked on with colored markers and pencils.  However, her decision to hand-color the photographs according to each subject’s mood does not directly address the American race relations issue suggested by the book’s title.

C & C Press anticipated that Nolan’s photographs would respectfully reopen a dialogue about the racially charged term “colored people.”  Nolan’s images celebrate diversity and cultural inclusion as well as the vibrancy of African culture.  His decision to portray people in Cameroon in color against black-and-white backgrounds further accentuates their beauty.

Colored people by Blake J. Nolan, 2008. Urban Dwellings. African Art Museum artists' books exhibit research image.

This effect sets the people apart from the background scenery, drawing the viewer’s eye to the areas of color.  Through vibrantly striking compositions that capture human emotions, a universal language is spoken: one of appreciation for humanity and diverse cultures.

Colored people by Blake J. Nolan, 2008. Boy in Yellow Tee. African Art Museum artists' books exhibit research image.

The C & C Press book, with its photographs, title, and design, presents an earnest attempt to confront the stigma of the phrase “colored people.” [1]

Colored people by Blake J. Nolan, 2008. Girls in Purple. African Art Museum artists' books exhibit research image.

Rather than acknowledging Ruscha’s and Piper’s influential works via printed text, C & C Press chose to do so by fusing its own concepts and designs with those found in the respective Ruscha and Piper publications.  The typography and cover of the C & C Press book resemble Ruscha’s book.  The size of the C & C Press book and layout of the pages, with the photograph on the right-hand side, are reflective of Piper’s aesthetics. The decision to leave an abundance of white space in the layout of the pages is in line with both Ruscha and Piper.

As part of its own interpretation, C & C Press decided to produce a fine press limited edition photobook.[2]  The high-quality production values of this type of artists’ book further enhance the beauty of the people in the photographs.[3]

Colored people by Blake J. Nolan, 2008. Woman in Green. African Art Museum artists' books exhibit research image.

The photographs were printed digitally on Kodak photo paper and tipped into debossed areas within the pages of the book.  The book was printed in an edition of one hundred on C & C Press handmade paper using a Vandercook SP20 and Charles Brand Etching Press.  It is wrapped in Stonehenge cover paper with orange relief prints and enclosed in a handmade drop spine box.  The pages have deckled edges and are structured in a false accordion.[4]  When the pages are taken out of the wrapper, they can be extended into a long zigzag.

Colored people by Blake J. Nolan, 2008. Cover Open Book. African Art Museum artists' books exhibit research image.

C & C Press chose a false accordion structure to allow the pages to be viewed like a traditional book, while also letting the book expand and reveal its contents all at once.  When displayed and viewed in its fully expanded form, the book’s message and impact literally grow.

Tony Hill (1945-2007), an African American race relations activist in Santa Cruz, California, was invited to write the introduction to Colored People.  Hill dedicated his life to celebrating our differences, embracing social diversity, fostering interdependence among communities, and seeking innovative solutions to social challenges.  Because Hill died before he completed the introduction, C & C Press dedicated the book in his honor.[5]

About the Photographer

Blake J. Nolan (born 1981) studied photography and film at the University of Colorado at Boulder.  He is a photographer whose images range from abstract photographs of neon bubbles to cheerful flowers to European street art.  He is also skilled in drawing, painting, and graphic design, which he uses to create diverse and engaging photography.  Nolan traveled the world after graduating from college, visiting over forty countries in three years, Cameroon among them.  This experience was instrumental in determining his current artistic direction.  Nolan shifted the focus of his photography from images of abstract realism to fine photographs of people and places encountered during his travels.

Colored people by Blake J. Nolan, 2008. Boys at Soccer. African Art Museum artists' books exhibit research image.

His “new art” is shown in its full glory in Colored People.  He is the founder of Storm Brain Designs, a design company based in San Diego, California, that provides marketing, branding, and creative services to a variety of organizations.

C & C Press

Matt Cohen (born 1982) and Sher Zabaszkiewicz (born 1943) both studied book arts at the University of California, Santa Barbara, graduating in 2005.  Since then they have been quite active in the book arts world by designing, making, and exhibiting fine art books.  Most notably, they founded C & C Press, which specializes in artists’ books and high production books that feature and respond to the texts and artworks of contemporary poets, writers, artists, and activists.


Artist Rising.  “Artist’s Statement,”

Blake J. Nolan:

C&C Press.  “Colored People.”

C&C Press. Colored People prospectus:

[1]  Personal communication with Matt Cohen, January 16, 2014.

[2]  Photobooks are books with or without text where the essential information is conveyed through a collection of photographic images (Art and Architecture Thesaurus:

[3]  Personal communication with Matt Cohen, January 16, 2014.

[4]  A false accordion, sometimes called a flutter book, is made of single sheets folded in half and then glued together on the inside of the foredge.

[5]  As part of its recognition of Hill's contribution, C & C Press donated 10 per cent of the book’s sales to the Tony Hill Scholarship Fund.