I think this entire thing can be traced back to Viking blood.
There is this guy named Flemming Bo Jensen, which sounds pretty Viking to me. Earlier this year, he and I and several others were on a long and twisted Peruvian path together. I saved him from being killed by a lethal spider, something he will owe me for FOREVER. He entertained us all with reenactments of Star Wars, with a peculiar Australian tinged English with Danish overtones. Not a morning person by any stretch of the imagination, Jensen came alive as the day progressed, muttering to himself while assembling the photographic puzzle in his head. Across the barren and sometimes merciless Peruvian landscape we did our best to bond together while securing our most thoughtful and lasting images. Most of his time was spent in tireless pursuit of “Coke Zero” but during brief breaks in the hunt he managed to squeeze off a few frames with his beloved Fuji X100. The results of which you see here.
In all seriousness, I wanted you to see what he created from his time in Peru. Working for Blurb I run into a variety of photographers. There are those I run into who realize I work for Blurb and say something along the lines of “Well, if you guys had X, Y and Z, THEN I would use your platform.” In my experience these folks rarely end up making anything of note, not because they don’t have the work or the talent but more because they are always looking for a reason NOT to do something, or they are so bound by tradition they are somewhat beholden to others. As they say, “The path to enlightenment is as thin as a razor’s edge.” Another group of photographers looks at a platform like Blurb and says, “Hmm, this looks interesting, I think I’ll play around.” These tend to be the people who end up making interesting things. Our young Viking friend falls into this second category. Flemming and I had traded messages in regard to the 6×9 format. He sent a few early images, I urged him to keep playing. The book sample grew, got better and slowly took on the look of what you see here. And then he went further. Adding an editioned print, the custom leather cover, certificate of authenticity, signed, numbered, etc, which ultimately puts HIS personal stamp on the item.
This method, procedure, isn’t new people, but I’m always amazed at how few photographers do this. The vast, vast, vast majority of photographers I speak with are all standing in line with tradition being the primary driving force. “I want a mainstream, traditional publisher to do my book.” “I want them to design, market, advertise and sell my book.” I totally understand this. I love traditional publishing and frankly traditional publishing can do things for you that self-publishing can’t and there is the perceived idea that having an imprint from a publisher means that you are a “real” photographer. Again, I get it. However, I see this as ONE option, not THE option. As we all know, due to economic factors, MUCH has changed in the publishing world. A few days ago I met with a photographer who recently took work to a mainstream publisher and was told, “If we can’t sell 25,000 copies we aren’t going to publish.” I was told by another publisher, “We don’t take chances anymore, we publish slam dunks.” Another friend called me with a “great deal” from a publisher which was roughly $15,000 out of his pocket, up front.” Again, don’t go hating people, I admire traditional publishers and buy their publications on a regular basis, but the fact of the matter is that due to these current conditions there are great bodies of work that simply will not get published. The first group of photographers complains, snipes at others getting published and waits around. The second group goes out and does something about it. And continuing with my theme of being perfectly honest…..at one point in my “career” I was more in that first group of photographers. Luckily I’m not any more, but I know how it feels. Finding salvation isn’t easy.
In essence, many of these small runs books are embracing the things that self-publishing does well, and second, embracing those things that traditional publishing struggles with. Things like small runs, customization, books of few images, ultra-personal projects that might not have a large audience but yet still demand to be published. Sometimes we lose track of the strategic importance that having the ability to make ONE book offers us. Sometimes when I “release” a book, or make it public, I’ve already made two or three private versions of the book. I know my abilities well enough to know that “perfect” books right out of the gate are probably beyond me.
Looking at this body of work we see a story that perhaps doesn’t have an international, mass appeal, however, by limiting the copies, adding the customization, Jensen has created an “object” more than simply a book. I love this idea. If a photographer is successful, has a good database of those interested in his or her work, then creating, positioning and selling a book like this is an attainable goal. Not everything is meant for mass consumption. Not everything is meant for fame, glory and recognition. And funny enough, items like these have a remarkable way of becoming more important as time goes on.
I was able to Skype with Jensen yesterday, or at least I think I did. He began mumbling gibberish. I initially thought he was using a dialect from that planet that Yoda is from but then realized he was “speaking Danish.” After further consideration, I realized that Danish is a “fake” language because NOTHING really sounds like that, and he was unable to repeat what he claimed was our “conversation.” You spend enough time with someone and you will ultimately see the cracks in their facade. When I see an item like this I get excited about what I’m going to see next. What will he, or you for that matter, dream up. I applaud Mr. Jensen on this endeavor and hope that it sparks something in all of us.
And most importantly, don’t forget to use the force.
PS: There has been a tremor in the force. According to Jensen the books have MOSTLY sold out, so if you have any itch to buy one of these babies you better scratch it now.