Making Photo BooksDecember 23, 2020
“You are looking at an illuminated screen, it’s a new viewing experience, although it’s like a medieval stained glass also, the light coming through the image makes it a little jewel.” Joel Sternfeld
There is nothing “wrong” with a screen as the final output…
As good as images are on a screen, as close as you can get to a Velvia slide on a Lightbox maybe, they are still little transient pictures on the iPhone and lack the permanence or archival, legacy value of a printed output.
Jeff Mermelstein’s latest series #NYC, created on his iPhone, ends with a book rather than the Instagram posts with which it started. His series “Hardened”, also entirely iPhone photos, many of which were originally posted to Instagram, is now a superb book.
Prints, whether on the wall or stacked up in tubes and cardboard envelopes are important. And a book is what I am beginning to think works best for my own photographs. Whilst I have happily made many photo books from family trips, historically with Photobox, more recently with Whitewall, I have always felt it’s a bit self indulgent to make a book of my personal photography. I’m overcoming this, it’s not vanity and in fact is really helpful in building and learning.
I have long been influenced by the American photographer Frank Jackson, for me he is a master of light and composition. I recently purchased a print from him and we ended up having a long and interesting telephone conversation, during which we discussed Blurb books and Daniel Milnor. I followed his advice, researched both and am delighted with the results.
That’s not to say my first book of my own street photography is delightful or perfect, just that it has got me thinking and learning. Specifically thinking more about series linked in other ways than simply the place or time (which led to a slight restructuring of this site). Also more carefully analysing how I take photos, what I like and what I can build on in terms of projects rather than individual photographs or more general themes. It’s also just nice to have something to flick through of personal work.
Blurb is first and foremost a self-publishing platform, very much geared to allowing individuals to sell their own work in a book or magazine format, typically via print on demand. It also works well for “one-off” books though. It offers excellent value and a good range of publication types, I particularly like their small, square softback books which offer an outstanding range of papers and their “premium” magazine, which is just £3.99 at the time of writing this article - the only drawback is their slightly expensive shipping fees for one off publications. There is the option to sell publicly if you choose to of course, I haven’t and that’s not something I have looked into in any detail.
A key differentiator for Blurb is their BookWright software, it may not have the power of InDesign (though Blurb will happily accept their output) but is excellent. It differs from the typical online book layout software offered by the aforementioned Photobox, Whitewall and similar companies in that it is a true “client” based application running locally. This improves performance significantly. It is easy and intuitive to use with simple layout tools.
I am pleased with development of self-editing, pairing images and beginning to sequence a series. I am not a curator, but I am learning slowly to better edit my work, at some point I will seek outside help with this. In terms of content, I struggle mixing black and white with colour - this applies as much to this website as it does sets of photographs. I will experiment further.
I also struggle with text - as much as I enjoy spilling my thoughts into this blog (and others), I haven’t yet found a sensible flow of text or thoughts that sits well alongside my photographs - I do feel a book, particularly a travel oriented book, would benefit from some narrative.
Give it a go - it’s the next step from stand-alone prints.