Nine Lives

Old School, 20-dupe slides

I’m not sure who this post if for. Young photographer maybe. Old photographer maybe. Curious photographer? I don’t know. But, I was cleaning out my office the other day, something I find intensely satisfying, and began to uncover A LOT of strange things. Odds and ends. Tidbits. Scraps. Failings. Creative tailings. One of the things that began to emerge was a variety of things all related to the same work. I did the project in Sicily. I like it. It’s one of the things I hope I’m never done with because I can’t imagine not wanting to go back to Sicily or not wanting to keep working on this piece. However, I have enough images where I can say, “I’ve got a project here.”

My second ever Blurb book and first on Sicily. Also the best selling Blurb book I’ve done.
I realized what I had, in the pile of debris from my office was an assortment of portfolios all relating to the exact same work. At first I thought, “Jesus, what was I thinking?” but after deeper consideration I realized these portfolios, in all their incarnations, served a variety of uses and purpose. And I figured that a lot of other photographers probably did the same.

5×7 print box, perhaps my all time favorite way of showing images.
I’m not sure which of these portfolios came first. Could have been the slides, or the small, initial prints, but I have to say, this small box is perhaps my favorite. I do this with much of the work I do. I do a shoot, a real shoot, like a long-term project shoot then I come home, edit. Then, I print the best few images in small size, either 5×7 or 4×6. Those go in a small box like this. That’s it. I keep doing this. Eventually, that little box is full and I’ve got a good start on the project, book, essay, etc.

Inkjet prints with metal, spiral bind.
I think I used this little baby at a portfolio review. Made some inkjet prints, not great ones by any stretch, then bound them in sequence to show at a portfolio review. It has been YEARS since I’ve done a review so I can’t remember all the details.


Camera Arts and Black & White Magazine
The work was also published at least twice, once in Camera Arts Magazine and once in Black and White Magazine. These too became part of the show process that I added in for this work. At the same type portfolio reviews I would first show them the work, then see if they were really looking or paying attention. Then, depending, I would bust out the publications and say something like “Oh ya, these guys ran this work,” very casually. For some reason this old idea still holds water for some folks, the idea that a magazine would run your work. It’s the old adage, “Well, if they found something interesting then maybe I should to.” I’ve never believed in this, simply because of the work I’ve seen published and knowing some of the reasons WHY it was published. But, alas, I was not immune to playing that game.

A second Blurb book that just wasn’t good. But, I made it anyway.
So over the years I kept coming back to this work and making new books of the material. I’m not sure why but I did. Some worked, others didn’t. But, those that didn’t taught me some good lessons. Printing, cover choice, typography, design, etc.

Another incarnation of the book that was too expensive and took to long.
You might be wondering if this kind of thing is excessive. I don’t know. Maybe. Or maybe not. Maybe ultimately it will lead to the “mega-book” or mega-portfolio.” I’ve not done anything quite so extensive with work since this time, and I think I’ve done work that is equal to or greater than this work.

Large print box, 13×19 prints.
I think this final installment is important. The large print box. These prints are large enough and expensive enough to really make you think before hitting “print,” which means I really had to edit before I hit the button, something I think is being lost in the modern photo-world. I love editing. Not saying I’m good at it, but I do like it. A powerful, talented editor can take a semi-lame duck and turn it into a nicely marinated, slightly crisp on the outside, duck dish of dishes. I know cause I’ve had it happen.
My point with all this. Don’t know. Just thought it was an interesting find.

18 responses to “Nine Lives”

  1. Mick Buston says:

    As usual, a great post that resonates most with those of us who need it at that moment.
    I am just editing 2010, my first full year of owning and using a DSLR, in order to create my initial portfolio/s. I am also editing two year long photo projects I did with two seperate bands covering live performance, rehearsal and downtime with a view to publishing both with Blurb. One in particular contains enough ‘story’ to be able to get two very different books from.
    I am currently favouring the small print box and so badly want to see it fill up. 2011 will be different for me as I never printed anything last year and that was a mistake. 2011 will see more physical output. Keep us inspired sir, we thank you for it.

    • Smogranch says:

      Printing, in my mind, is critical. Again I just think it makes us…think. Edit. Make decisions. Editing in electronic form, far less commitment I think. I LOVE small print boxes.

  2. Sean says:

    I’ve been living with some new 5×7 prints for the two week. Hung them up on the wall next to my computer. The strange thing is, the shots that I was so excited about when I initially photographed them are gone – they feel like imitations, not really my work – and the ones I was indifferent about are still hanging strong.

  3. Candace says:

    Great food for thought, and insight to your process. As usual, thank you for sharing!

  4. But where does the If You’re Gonna Be A Bear, Be A Grizzley wall/prints fit into this? Wondering if you like some of those even a bit more than what gets bound or into a box.

    Just wonderin’….

    Great post. I still never know what I should print, and what I shouldn’t waste the ink/$$$ on.

    The learning continues…

    • Smogranch says:

      How they fit in? They are all good. I think anytime someone commits to making enlargements, it’s a good sign. These two situations were very different in terms of feel. One more lo-fi and homey, and one more formal.

  5. Wayne Olson says:

    This is a nice little history of a single project. Makes me hope for two things: (1) that I’m still photographing long enough to accumulate a similar sized body of work and (2) that I have the patience to stick with a project long enough to accumulate a similar sized body of work. As a child of the short attention span, instant gratification digital age, that could be a challenge. Very cool, Dan.

    • Smogranch says:

      Wayne. It all depends on what you are trying to do. GREAT projects take time. Not saying mine is GREAT, but there is absolutely no substitute for time and access in the field. I went to a show last year, young photographer, who shot the entire show over a weekend. The artist statement literally said, “This was a long-term project, I actually spend two entire days working on it.’ Well, again, young photographer, it showed in his work. It simply wasn’t good, but he convinced someone to exhibit the work. You look at truly great projects, things like the Mennonites by Larry Towell, that requires years. Many people, at this point, in our hyper short timeline world, just don’t want to put the time in.

    • Wayne Olson says:

      I think with anything of significant value, most things take time. I wish that weren’t so hard for people of my generation to wrap their heads around.

      And speaking of Larry Towell I just came across Kickstarter for the first time and saw that he is attempting to crowdfund his next and final (final for his project, anyway) trip to Afghanistan so he can finish his book, which he’s been working on since 2008 with 3 trips to Afghanistan already under his belt (link to his project is here). I had NO idea that people were doing this and then also came across Emphas.is, which is essentially going to attempt to do the same thing. I’d love to see where this goes as a way to fund longterm projects. Any thoughts?

    • Smogranch says:

      Sure, people have been using Kickstarter for a while now, and it works. I gave money last year to an NGO in Peru who was attempting to bring two female weavers to Santa Fe for a world weaving festival. I gave like $100, but they don’t actually bill you until the money has been pledged. It worked. The reality is that the old model of photography is completely broken. Magazines, most of them, are nearly useless when it comes to funding a project like this. So, photogs have to go outside the bounds of what the traditional model offers. A few years ago, working with NGO’s was an option, and still is to some degree, but once 10,000 photographers descended on the NGO world, many of the orgs realized they could get most photogs to work for free, essentially ending the sustainable relationship that was possible in the past. So, things like Kickstarter have exploded. I think it will work in some cases in not in others.
      Towell has a track record, a reputation and Magnum behind his name, all earned by decades of making GREAT work. And, his projects are well planned and well thought out. I would love to see a filter on something like Kickstarter where you have to prove your research. Otherwise you will have thousands of photographers with their hands out, asking for money on projects that are just not ready to go.

  6. Back in the day if you wanted a dupe you first had to make a print then put it on a copy stand and if you couldn’t afford the E-6 you could buy a roll of ortho film from the school lab and develop in D-76. It made the editing process that much more important cause you had to make them all count. Not to mention all the to make the black and white prints.

    • Smogranch says:

      I think people today see these things as obstacles that take time. Editing thumbnails on a laptop is viewed as quick, easy, efficient, etc. I don’t quite see it the same way. I think “obstacles” like these force you to think and make decisions, things I see lacking in the laptop method. Not that I don’t edit on the computer, I do, but I do find my edits a bit looser. I have also watched countless photographers edit on the computer and notice their browser open, Facebook open, Twitter open, their cell phone in their hand, etc, all distractions I think have a dramatic impact on the final take.
      Remember in War Photographer when Nachtwey is moving those little prints around his cabinets, prints held up by magnets, and he is just standing there alone, in silence, looking, watching, etc. I thought that was key to understanding him as a photographer. Same when he went in the darkroom with the guy who was printing those HUGE silver prints. Nachtwey kept pushing him, bit by bit, little more on the sky, little more here, little less there and you felt for the guy because NOTHING is easy or quick in that world. But, when all is said and done…you get a great print that means something more than pushing a button.

  7. Eric Jeschke says:

    I love the idea of the folio. I’ve made two so far:
    this first attempt and more recently,
    this one on matte.
    Where I live I’m really struggling to find a decent slipcase for the prints. Thinking of making my own out of fine art paper. I like the clamshell boxes you have, but would like to find something thinner–something for around 20 prints max. Any suggestions for sourcing those somewhere? Gonna have to try the spiral bind thing. You showed one in an earlier post with the small prints which looked really cool.

    • Smogranch says:

      Hmmm, try a paper company. There are some really nice products out there that were not originally intended for images but work well. I have two different version of the box. The clamshell is thicker, but the one where the top actually comes all the way off is actually half as thick, and cheaper too.

  8. Maria De Las Casas says:

    Great project. I remember when I first met you, you were giving a talk about it. It also resonates with my way of working. I go back many times to projects that I love and each time I find something new, and something to make me keep going. I love to make portfolios and books to find new forms of telling the story with my images. I also like small because seems more personal and intimate. Love your work!

    • Smogranch says:

      Oh my Gosh, MARIA!!! On my blog!!! I miss you guys! Please say hello to the other two and I hope to see you guys this coming year.

      I think you are right, there are certain projects that become more about our lives than our actual photography. These are what we will leave behind I think. And small is the new black. I’ve been using the 5×8 and 6×9 softcover books, which I’ll post about again later today. If you haven’t seen or used them….very interesting.

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