Collaborative Book with Mom

After making books with Blurb since 2006 I’ve finally done a first draft of a collaborative book with my mother. Now, before I explain this you should know that from 2006, when my mother saw her first Blurb book, I had her convinced I was the ONLY one who could make these. I did this to elevate my sibling rank within our family. My sister is rotten, my brother is worthless, and I am clearly the ONLY one who matters…..
Mom thought the book thing was native to ME. For years it worked perfectly.

But then mom asked “Why don’t you make me a book of my poetry.” To deflect this I fed her the line that makes many people cringe. “Sure, I’ll make you a book just as soon as you edit your work to the best twenty-five poems.” She responded as I expected her to. “Narrowing to twenty-five is impossible,” she said. I said, “Well, when you get there let me know.”
As expected, she was slightly delayed with this process. After six years, my ranking within the family had plateaued. I’m still, by far, the most important sibling (wink, wink) but I wanted to put the final nail in the coffin of my brother and sister, so while at my mother’s house a few weeks ago I made this first draft.

I’m not stupid. I didn’t tell her I was making the book otherwise we would have had MASSIVE creative differences in regard to which poems best paired with certain photographs. I just did it. I also just did it because I knew it was a first draft. I do this all the time with books, but I’m amazed at how many folks I run into who either never think of doing this or are convinced they are going to make a perfect book the first time out. The odds of their doing so, in most cases, are very slim. I’ve found that doing drafts takes all the baggage associated with making books and throws it out the window. My question is “What is the downside?” I’m on the hook for ONE copy and when I get it I live with the good and bad,and I learn from the draft and make a better, more polished book the second time around. Sometimes I even do three or four versions before I’m happy. Yesterday I was faced with someone wanting a signed copy of this thing, which caught me by surprise, but I explained this was only flavor number one and there was a subsequent flavor on the way.
There are things about this book I like. The overall dark and somewhat edgy feel. The portrait format. And I also love the puzzle you are required to solve when you combine seemingly RANDOM imagery with specific poems. I LOVE certain spreads. I don’t love page numbers. I love the mixture of image and border sizes. I don’t love the size of the copy. I also should have used charcoal grey or black end sheets and NOT the light grey, and I don’t like the final image in the book, it’s just too obvious. I do like the scanned, blank 4×5 negative I used in the front, and I REALLY like the spread with title page on the right and definition of inertia on the left. Imagewrap worked well although this is only a stand in cover image. I’ve got another image, very similar to this one, that has a different meaning to me and version two will see this new image on the cover. I think twenty-five poems is a good number and a roughly 60-page overall book is good and fits the attention span of the audience of this particular publication. I also see a series of these books which is why this one will be titled “Volume One.”

Version two will be pretty solid I think. This book is not for sale, nor will it ever be. It was not made to make me famous, or her. It was not meant as a barometer of my talent, or hers. It was simply an exercise, and a record of her work and mine and how those two things play together. This book alerted me to the fact I’ve been missing an entire genre of books. There is much to do….

New Project, New Sample Book

“You know when I saw that latest work you were doing I thought you have totally gone off the deep end.”

This statement was made to me after I showed this work for the first time during my talk at Photo Plus Expo in New York. The person who made this comment to me is a legend and someone I really respect as a photographer. Once we spoke further about this work he explained that he realized there was a method to my madness and understood where I was attempting to go with this work. It was a great moment for me, not because I need praise, but more specifically because I think this exercise, or doing things like I’m doing here, is critical to the creative process.

Let me explain. Something was missing. It still is, but I’m closer to finding what I’m looking for. I felt my photography had grown too detached. I went from fully digital and REALLY feeling like I’d lost my work, back to the analog world but I still felt like something was missing. What I realized was I missed the actual physical part of photography that I knew many years ago.

So, I got lucky and found a darkroom in Santa Fe, a location I’m sharing with another photographer who also feels he wants to reconnect with the physical, wet print process. I have yet to make a print in the space, for a variety of reasons such as not being in Santa Fe and also not having the space fully built out, but it’s coming and it’s coming soon. I KNOW what this place will allow me to do. And believe me, I’m NOT a great printer, not by any stretch. But, it’s actually not about that. It’s about slowing down and MAKING something by hand.

I grew up doing a fair amount of physical labor, and I have a feeling all of this stems from this reality. I NEED to make things and the computer just doesn’t do it for me. But, like I said before, I’m not IN Santa Fe as much as I’d like. I have this pesky Blurb job and all these other responsibilities, so I felt like I needed something here in California. I needed a project that would help me satisfy those physical, MAKING needs.

So what you are looking at is the first incarnation of this project, something I’ve tentatively titled “Vandalism.” What you are looking at is all done in camera, painstakingly slow and laboriously. It’s about reexamining existing work, rephotographing it and adding in a little trickery/mystery along the way. There are several different materials involved, several different cameras and techniques. None of this is really that important.

Also, as you can see, I filtered the living crap out of these images(the ones in this post) for NO other reason than I could! You see, I sometimes lose control and this is a perfect example. It feels great! I think maybe this plays into this strange physical need. The camera on the iPhone SUCKS so bad that using straight images makes me feel like I have the swine flu, so I filtered the crap out of them because it forces me to press buttons and at least DO something to the image. It’s a pale and lifeless substitute but desperate times demand desperate measures.

This book sample is a Blurb 8×10, portrait style softcover book. It’s not really a book, it’s just a sample to see how these images look on paper and how they play with each other. I used the ProLine Pearl paper, which is great but I might actually change that up and go with the uncoated which does have more of a handmade, craft-like feel. You also might be wondering why I put this title page in the BACK of the book, and at the END of this post…well I’ll tell you why. SO many people who look at my book pay SO little attention to the book that one of the things they do is open and view a book from the back! I KNOW, it’s criminal but it happens all the time. So, I repeated the front matter in the back of the book. Take that short attention span people!

This book and this project are about simple things. Clearing my mind. Asking myself what I want to do. Wondering what is missing in my work and why, and then just simply playing around. I have no commercial angle with this, no need to rush it out, or ever really show it for that matter. It’s for me. In the wee hours of this morning I was packing for Uruguay, shuffling around the frigid house, digging through old bags, making notes and trying to compress as much stuff into as little space as possible. I came across an old plastic bag filled with oil paint, ink and an odd assortment of drawing and sketching materials. I dug it out and now it sits across the room from me, silently screaming. All of this makes me wonder “What’s next?” Going off the deep end never felt so good.


Yep. I did it again. Another book. Another portrait book, but this one over three small shoots, one of which was underwater, which is front and center on the cover and back cover.

I also did a three-way mix of color, black and white and toned black and white. I did this because of all the blue from the underwater. I thought the balance of the book might be closer to center if I compensated for the bulk of blue with some nice warm tone black and white. Real designers out there are probably laughing. That’s okay. Laughing is good. Either at me or with me.

One of my favorite images is that of one small girl who is underwater, eyes closed, almost frozen with small bubbles throughout the frame. This image lives alone, small, in a sea of black. I wanted the viewer to have time with this image. I wanted them to see only this image. It’s small but it doesn’t matter.

When I see this book in its physical form it makes me want to go even further, to push the abstract sense of the portrait book to another level. Anyone can shoot portraits. Digital camera, website, some press, you are a portrait photographer. But for me I’d lose my mind if I the routine became the routine. So I look at this book and think, “Not nearly far enough.” There are bits and pieces of me in there, but I want to go much deeper. And deeper could just mean getting better at certain techniques associated with the pictures like. I have a lot to learn yet. Hopefully it’s not too late!

What I like about doing shoots like this is choosing one look, one technique and one moment and then just focusing on that one thing. This allows me to get a depth in one style so that when it comes to the book, I can make something good. When I arrived at this first shoot I had six different cameras, all of which gave me different things. I looked around, determined the mood, then chose my tool. I did this three times, and one of the shoots isn’t really represented here. And I shot Polaroid, which is also not represented here.

I’m wondering what would happen if I did a documentary project like this? If I just mixed and matched and let things fall where my emotions were at that moment. Documentary photography seems to have a lot of rules, only one style, has to be this, has to be that. But what if it wasn’t? I remember seeing books like this in the past, books that were super personal but not very commercial. Can we mix these? Probably not. But, might be worth a go.

New Wedding Book

“Wow, what is that?” my friend asked when she looked down at the table in my office.

People, this is all I can ask for when it comes to making a book…especially a wedding book. I want to make a book that draws people in, not forces them away. Earlier today I had another reminder of this. Standing in a parking lot with a wedding client they asked about doing the book. We exchanged ideas and this person said to me, “Well, you know with a wedding book, most of your friends are gonna try to get away from that thing as fast as possible, and a lot of people aren’t even really paying attention while they are looking at it.” This echoes my sentiment exactly, and in the case of paying attention, this applies to ALL books, not just the wedding variety. I see proof of this all the time. But, the fact remains, make something that forces a reaction.

So what you are looking at is front cover in the top image and back cover in the second image. NOTHING says wedding. NOTHING. It’s a book. It’s a story. It isn’t a wedding album. Now, I know that for many of you, this simply won’t work. I get it. You live in other places, other areas where tradition plays a more heavy hand. The idea behind showing you this is simply to show you what I do, good or bad, and why I do it.

The spine can be quiet, loud, dark, light, an integral part or an afterthought. But, even when it is an afterthought….you should think through it…does that even make a shred of sense? Hopefully. My spines are typically quiet, just essentials, balanced and to the point. Fonts are smaller than what you would think. I’m not a fan of HUGE fonts. Also, this is not a font from the default window, I searched it out.

This entire book was shot with a combo of black and white film and color negative film, available light with both the Leica and the Fuji 6×9. I shot mostly with the Leica and black and white, but also offered up a thread of color 6×9. PING, PING, PING, one slow frame a time. Those of you with a Fuji will know what I’m talking about.

Now, I have to admit. I’m one of those freaks that RUNS from wedding albums. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I had to endure one. I don’t like them. I know, that might be horrible to say as a wedding photographer but it’s true. I love books. I buy them and read them and reread them all the time. There is a big difference in my mind between an album and a book.
This book is a mutt. I like mutts. Color AND black and white, 6×9 and 35mm. Bleeds. Borders. Across the gutter. Yep, all of it. Why?
Well, it’s a WEDDING book, and different rules apply, at least in my mind. I can do ANYTHING I want.

This wedding, this book, this couple, was the perfect scenario. “We trust you, do what you want.” That is what I’m looking for. Simple, clean, storytelling images, made quietly.
Do you realize what is going on in my mind when I make pictures like this, or shoot a job like this? It’s like therapy for me. I’ve never been to therapy, so I’m guessing, but it’s like visual yoga, at the risk of sounding like a douche. It is. I can disappear into my mind and just imagine the photo-life I want to see. I love to talk to people, but I could EASILY do the entire shoot and never say a word to anyone because I’ve got such a “thing” going in my mind. I don’t mean I’m special or smart, it’s just that THIS is what I’m supposed to do. I’m a photographer, or at least that is what I tell people.

“You missed a page.”
No, I didn’t. White space, quiet space, a visual timeout, call it what you will, but it is essential in my mind in forcing the viewer into YOUR pace. Slow down. This picture is important. This picture requires your full attention. No, I’m serious, this picture does require your full attention. It’s good. It’s important and you need to see ONLY this picture.
When I make pictures like these it is an intensely personal experience. So is the book. I could NEVER farm this out to someone else. It’s just too close to me. Sure, it takes time. Sometimes I nearly go mad. I curse, throw things, sweat and my insides hurt, but when I get this slick, little 8×10 in the mail, regardless of how many times I do it, how many times I receive a book, it still makes my heart skip a beat. The rest of the world just falls away and I relive. I RELIVE it all, in a two second flashback of smells, sounds and moments I witnessed.
The spine creaks, the pages smell of new and fresh and with the opening of that cover….life begins again, one slow, paper page at a time.

Square Peg In A Round Hole

This is what you get when you have film cut and sleeved in rows of six, and then try to make contact sheets on 8×10 paper.

Another great mystery of the photo world, like 16.7 inch paper. Negs can be cut in 5’s or 6’s, but then you have to find paper that matches, so either 8×10 or 8.5×11. Of course not many folks make 8x5x11 paper, and those who do know they have a nice product and slap it with a high price.

So, all I had was 8×10, hence the odd, cropped, somewhat botched look. They still work, made about 8 prints yesterday.