“Cups”: Frank Jackson

I met Frank Jackson a few years ago and knew I had found someone with whom I share some DNA. No we don’t look alike. He’s a lot taller than me. But we share a love of paper, pens, Leicas, quiet time, folding bikes, photography, poetry, music and COFFEE. As you will note in one of these images, Frank has the coffee maker of all coffee makers. I don’t know what it is, but I had to get clearance just to be in the same room with it. He showed up at the Palm Springs Photo Festival with a ceramic grinder, high-grade Colombian brown flake and 100% pure Himalayan spring water culled from the mountains by chosen people.

Frank was the perfect guy for me to get addicted to Blurb. Plus, he’s a friend so if anything goes wrong I can pull the “Hey, not my fault” thing and be totally fine. Like most other things, Frank took to the Blurb like a moth to the flame. Now he is hooked. Not only did he make a book, seen below, but he has two or three more on order. Frank travels a lot and tends to go back to one place over and over again, places like Europe. I like this. Years ago he plucked a coffee cup out of its place in the world and began photographing the same cup in a variety of locales. In addition he just shoots coffee and coffee cups. But this isn’t a book about coffee. I would describe Frank as a photographic drifter, but he is a photographer drifter with a plan. If you check the link at the bottom of the post “Balance” you will see what I mean. Images shot all over the world but with a consistent theme. This happens because a photographer is always looking and feeling and understanding the connection between things and places and people and light. I dig it.

Frank chose the Blurb 6×9, which you all know is one of my favorite formats. Smallish, lightish and priced for sales if you are so inclined. He did some interesting things with the design which I also love. And just when I thought I’d seen it all he pulled out a book of illustrations that I LOVED, so I know there are more Blurb gems on the way. It’s good to see these books taking off like they are, the 6×9’s I mean. I show these around a lot and get a lot of mental wheels spinning. Also, on a sidenote, I saw one of my own 6×9’s printed imagewrap and was amazed at how much I liked it. I normally just make softcover but that might have to change. For those of you who were commenting on length of projects, Frank has been working on this baby for a long while and can’t imagine him slowing down anytime soon.

Oh, by the time I could write and post this post he emailed with ANOTHER book……told you he was hooked.


Blurb Limited Edition: Flemming Bo Jensen

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.

Blurb 6×9 Revolution

I’ve been a photographer for a long while now, but during the past twenty odd years I’ve also held other positions in the industry. I worked for Kodak and during that time I was “The Kodak Guy.” Many people didn’t know my actual name. People would just see me coming and their brains would register yellow boxes and odd colored golf shirts, something the company was very fond of handing out. You have never seen so many hideous colors. Now I work for Blurb, and there are those of you out there who know me as “The Blurb Guy.” I don’t mind this one bit. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again. For me, the ability to make my own book is the single most important aspect of the entire digital revolution. I think there are those of you who feel the same, or at least you feel the significance of this idea, and there are those of you who are not as interested in the book idea. It’s all good.

Earlier today I was on the phone with someone and they asked me about Blurb. I gave them a rundown. They asked about my job and the word “evangelist” came up. During my Kodak days I hated this term because I always felt it came hand in hand with the idea that the “evangelist” was there to provide nothing but glowing reviews and information in regard to the product the “evangelist” was pimping. That wasn’t me. I was honest. You shoot front-lit surfing at high-noon, Fuji Velvia was the film for you. Hands down. Honesty in field reps was somewhat new in those days. It’s not that field reps weren’t honest, they were, but companies, especially those like Kodak, were pretty hardline. Heck, a lot of them still are. But for me, I knew that photographers would never trust me if I bullshitted them. Being truthful was easier and more fun.
These days, as I travel the world with the Blurb torch, I also run into the “evangelist” title, but this time around I actually embrace it. When people ask me what I do for Blurb my mind stops for a brief second. I do many thing at, with, for Blurb, so narrowing it down into one simple sentence can be tricky. I don’t ever say “evangelist” but if someone comes out with it, I’ll agree. In short I work with people like you, but what I do, in my humble opinion, goes well beyond evangelism. My job is not to tell you what to do. My job is to inform, educate and show. I was going to say, “I not only work at the company but I’m a customer,” but someone already took that line. Damnit.

As you would expect, I spend much of my time talking about books, both physical and eBook.
I also spend a great deal of time consuming books. For me, at this point in time, almost entirely physical books, both illustrated and wordy, but I can feel the looming presence of “E” around the corner. I just started Murakami’s “1984.” I feel that much of what I do for Blurb is educate people about the Blurb process and about what a book means. What is it? How do you edit? How do you sequence? Do you want to sell it? How do you promote it? These are the kind of things I deal with on a regular basis. As you all know, I come from the photography world, NOT the book world, so over the past five years I’ve tried to learn as much as humanly possible. I’m NOT a book designer, so I have to give my guidance as an opinion rather than fact, but I think most people seem to understand this. In short, I love this work and find helping you with your book as satisfying as doing my own. Crazy? Probably. What can I say, I’m a SAINT.

The book in the photographs above is my latest, “Chamba” which is a look at my black and white Leica work from Peru. I like this book a lot but I will tell you right now, I had no grand plans for this little publication. I simply wanted to create a book of the images, a book that would force me, or allow me, to sit with the photographs and apply some critical thought. I find this process absolutely critical when it comes to making a body of work.

This second set of photographs if from another recent “book” comprised of images from Uruguay. This isn’t a book. It might look like a book, smell like a book, taste like a book or call itself a book, but it’s not. It’s just a sketch, a mental exercise, an idea. It’s a failed relationship. It’s a winning lottery ticket. It’s a long lost friend. It’s a betrayal. It’s a hit and run. It’s jury duty. It answers a few things. But people here it is, in print, physical and capable of giving me a paper cut. It’s real. Tangible. It makes me think. It makes me relive. It makes me nervous because I know how grand it was to BE there and make these images. This “book” is about the book but it’s about so much more, and this is the point I want to get across to you. Quit stalling and do it. Make something. Make a Blurb book [EVANGELIST WARNING: DEFCON 1} or a book from you own hands, or alternative vendor of choice. Just do it.

As you can see here, and by the top image, these are all Blurb 6×9 books, my new favorite size and flavor. I posted the top image because I want you to see how many of these I have, and this photo only represents a few. I don’t just make these books I USE them, and I USE them all the time. It is rare that I don’t have at least two of these with me. Tomorrow I work with young school kids and these books will accompany me. Last week I was in New Mexico, Blurbing it and working on a long-term project and that black “Wildness” book in the center was in my bag and in my car the entire time. In fact, I loaned out TWO copies of this book, just on this last trip alone. It’s a calling card. It’s a permission slip. It’s evidence. It’s proof of desire. People get it and they respect it and it opens doors. Am I going to sell 5000 copies and make a name for myself? No. Not even close. That’s not the point of these little babies. These books are about coming full circle. KNOWING I can make these books is enough to push me even harder to go out and actually make images. These books force me to edit. These books force me to sequence. These books force me to write, to explain myself and they force me to WONDER. Have you even leaned way back and looked up at the clouds and sky. I’m guessing yes, so you know the feeling. That’s what it’s like when you get these in the mail. The clouds move faster than you think and the blue is bluer than you ever imagined.

I have another one of these books, the 6×9 softcover, in the works.
This next book is about New Mexico and it is a direct result of being in the field, showing my existing book, explaining myself and knowing there is a need for a new book. Already my heart is beating a little faster. My mind flickers to hard drives, scanners, negatives and all the options that live before me. What are you waiting for?

Art Brewer SVA Show

Photographer/Artist Art Brewer is someone I’ve written about before, and someone I will surely write about again. I’m a big fan of cool people. I’m a big fan of good photography, and I’m a big fan of photographers who have poured their lives into creating an archive on one particular topic or subject. Art is all the above. Recently, I was able to stop by Art’s studio to check out a few of the images he is printing for a MASSIVE show at the School of Visual Arts in New York. This show will highlight over 150 individual pieces from Art’s collection on the history of modern surfing.

At 43 I finally feel like I found a subject I can work on the rest of my life. Starting now I’m way behind the game. Art has been covering modern surfing for over thirty-years and his archive is one of the greatest ever compiled. Years ago, when I worked for Kodak in Southern California, I realized there was an opportunity for me, and for the company, in working with the global collection of surfing photographers. Problem was I didn’t know a single surfing photographer. So, being a good corporate detective, I called around. “Talk to Art Brewer,” was the response I heard over and over again. Not only was Art open and receptive to learning what Kodak had to offer he also became my link to the entire surfing photography world.

What I love about Art’s archive is the range of work. Browsing the work you see every format imaginable from 35mm to 6×6, 6×7, 6×9, 4×5, point and shoot as well as an odd assortment of other formats and techniques. When you walk into Art’s studio you find yourself frozen and wanting to simply stand and look. Big prints and artwork adorn the walls, an incredible range of oil, ink and emulsion. And every time I go there is something new to feast my eyes upon.

And as you can see by the above images, Art is also a bookmaker. And like all things Brewer, Art publishes a range of books. From his Masters of Surf Photography monograph to his two-volume Blurb masterpiece on Bunker Spreckels you never know what he is going to come up with next. And if that’s not enough…he teaches as well, which you can see in the film below. I was going to write that Art is a great person for young photographers to study, but I’m going to amend that. Art is a good person for any photographer to study. There are certain people who are creatively restless. They are creative searchers, people who run the river of life and can’t wait to see what lives beyond the next bend. Art is one of those people.

New Kman Book: Blurb 6×9

Go ahead and say it. “I can’t believe you made another book.”


But I have REASONS for doing this. Cut me some slack. One of the best things I get to do with a camera is photograph my family. Not all of my clan is willing to spend time before my lens, but the little ones do because I am bigger than they are and they still think I have control over them, at least to some degree. This will all change soon, so I must be quick, steady and relentless.

So the little guy in this book, Kman, is no stranger to this blog, but what IS new is that the Kman is now walking the Earth with a camera in hand. Yep, it’s true. Named and unnamed sources are reporting that he has been seeing walking, talking and photographing. In fact, sources are reporting that film has been processed and the results were surprisingly pleasant. There was rumored to be direction in the images, thought and a point of view. Time will tell, but it is my job to help the process along. So, as I write this I am feverishly hunting for a Nikon FM2 and 35mm lens, the exact rig I started with, and a box of film sits on my kitchen table ready to be shipped.

I didn’t create this book for me, I created it for HIM.
This book is for him to study, to remember and to use to help understand the photographic process. What did it FEEL like to be photographed? Why did I shoot color black and white? Where was the light coming from? All things he can figure after spending a little time with this book.

This is a Blurb, 6×9 color softcover. A good mix of black and white and color as well as a multitude of formats. All I did was pull a selection of photographs from an eight-year time frame. What sucks for me is knowing that because I live in California I’ve missed so much of his life. I have gaping holes in the coverage, something that drives any photographer crazy. But, this is the reality for now. Have a look and let me know what you think.