Black and White

It dawned on me that I never posted these images to Smogranch. I made these books while I was offline and working only with my Tumblr site. As you know, I’m not a designer. I’ve never endured even a single class on design in my entire life. My early books were putrid in regard to design, and some would argue that all of my books still reek of inexperience. I would say “fair enough.” However, one thing I’ve learned from book people far more intelligent than I is that all rules can be broken if the overall design simply works. My first bit of advice for ANYONE making books is to go look at illustrated books. You would think this would be the logical first step, but many folks just blaze away without giving much thought to what has been done and what they can learn from our past. The truth is the history of illustrated books is rife with legendary movements, motions and risk-taking. From these pioneering publications came everything else. Book design is hyper-specific, and many of the pioneering current books are based, or designed as tribute, to something that came along years or decades ago.

For the first twenty years of my career I did little else than look at imagery. I poured over News Photographer Magazine by the hundred while holed up in the Harry Ransom Resource Center. I also poured over French Photo, which was far more interesting than the American version, and also gave me my first real understanding of things like editorial policy. I looked at all of the major work being done in whatever genre I was working in at the time, starting with photojournalism, then on to editorial, portraiture and fine art.
When I started to make books back in the early 1990’s everything I made was black. After all, I was a PHOTOGRAPHER, and everyone knows that photographers LUST after anything black. I had black clothes, black hats, black bags, black cameras. No other color existed, so the moment I sat down at my Mac Performa 630 to create the pages of my first book it was a “select all….BLACK” moment.
Then one day it dawned on me, after looking through the hundreds of traditionally published photobooks in my collection, that I had a very small number designed with black pages, and the subject matter of these small few covered topics like insane asylums, war, famine and a bevy of other heavy realities. I began to realize black was perhaps not the best option for every single book especially when the book was about something like children’s portraiture……
During my travels with Blurb I often run into photographers who look at the Blurb samples and make quick and lasting decisions. “I’m going to do black pages and I’m only going to print on Proline Uncoated.” The very next person will often times say something like “I’m only going to use white pages and I’m never going to print on Proline Uncoated because it is clearly inferior to Proline Pearl.” My advice is always “slow down,” and I also encourage people to stop drawing lines in the sand. Each project lives and breaths on its own, same for books. What is your subject matter? How do you want your images to print? What level of contrast and saturation is required for your specific body of work? Do you want or need all of your books to have the same look and feel, or perhaps you are doing a series of books? Do your images have white space with little detail that might blend into a white page? These are just a FEW of the questions you should ask yourself before making design decisions. There are no absolutes, so don’t create them for no reason.
So this leads me to the images you see here. This is not a complex book, nor a particularly great book. What you are looking at is simply the same book printed black and also printed white. You might not think that such a seemingly simple change would make all that much difference but it actually does. One look at these and you will not only see but FEEL the work in a different way. This is what is so much fun and so challenging when it comes to making books. For me a book is a journey, and one in which I want you to travel a certain way and see certain things. I want you to ride the emotional roller coaster while consuming something you may have never seen or experienced before. Great books do this and do it without you even noticing. I’ve always been a believer there are very few transcendent creatives in the world, and consequently few truly transcendent things like photobooks, novels, paintings, etc. When you encounter one of these people or things, you know it because suddenly you see the world with a new pair of eyes.
My last little piece of advice based on this post is to THINK about doing a test book. The first Blurb book I ever did was a test book and one that I still use six years later. There is nothing like seeing your own work on the pages, and on different papers, to fully understand what will work best for your particular situation. Oh, and the other thing. This process is supposed to be FUN, so don’t turn bookmaking into teeth pulling or in my particular case…KIDNEY STONE REMOVABLE. When you boil down what we all have to deal with in our lives, bookmaking is just icing on the cake.

10 responses to “Black and White”

  1. Great advice as always; thanks for your post, Daniel!

  2. Ralph NELSON says:

    Nicely done ~ and informative.

  3. Laurence Zankowski says:


    some info:

    how well are photo boos selling through blurb? breakdown can be Fine Art vs instruction.

    over all, Art based books. same breakdown as above.

    btw: I was a camera operator for CreativeLive for the David DuChemin and the first Jasmine Starr, live Wedding weekend back in 2010.

    be well


    • Smogranch says:

      Hey Laurence,
      Your books will sell in direct relation to your sales and marketing plan. If you are thinking people will magically find your book and buy it, odds are not good. I’m saying this only because I run into a fair number of photographers who think this will happen. There are many things to consider. Build the RIGHT book, or more importantly BOOKS for your audience or multiple audiences. Don’t view Blurb as a replacement for traditional publishing. Blurb is far more fluid, far more flexible and far less time consuming. Nothing against traditional, what they do they do very well, but that was never the intention of this platform. You should be telling the story of your book long before said book is complete, so when it is complete there is an eager audience waiting. We have people who sell one book and others who sell thousands. This includes non illustrated books as well.

  4. Laurence Zankowski says:

    that was photo books! Sorry.

    lived in NM from 2003 till early 2013.
    Santa Fe, Corrales, Taos.

    • Smogranch says:


      Ahh..I’m here now. Cold, clear, sunny. Last night was Canyon Road walk with 1000’s of people, bonfires burning, parties, etc. There is something about this place that does something to me I can’t really explain. New Mexico has a bevy of issues, but unlike CA I feel like getting involved here, helping and being a part of something.

    • Laurence Zankowski says:


      house sitting in Corrales till late Jan. Good friend’s father passed away late sunday evening Dec 22nd. So it is me and the rescue pup.

      The ride down from Colorado Springs, the landscape vistas from Trinidad to Las Vegas get almost too much. Hundreds if not thousands of antelope grazing.

      be well


    • Smogranch says:

      Corrales is awesome. We had friends there for years but they just moved to Colorado.

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