I think most people who are knowledgeable about martial arts would describe Bruce Lee as a transcendant martial artist. Before he became the legend he did Lee studied a variety of styles, many of which had been around for decades, maybe even centuries. But it wasn’t enough. Bruce Lee was looking for something new, something different and something distinctly his. It was because of THIS that Bruce Lee became a legend. I think there is A LOT to learn from a guy like this. Lee had many detractors, those who suggested he was a fake, those who suggested he was revealing secrets he shouldn’t, some even claim this the cause of his death. Was there a secret “death touch” applied to him as he made his way through the safety of his daily life? More likely his death was from natural causes, but the rumors still swirl all these years later. What I take from Bruce Lee is the reality of the payoff of finding your own way. I learned to look at what has been done then build on it. I’m not always going to succeed. In fact, epic failures are common, but I’ve learned that these failures are only that in the minds of others, those needing constant support and gratification. I know that starting over is a good thing. I know because I’ve had to do it over and over and over.
I think this concept is a good one when it comes to looking at Blurb. I spend a lot of time around the photography world and I see some truly inspiring things, but I also see a tremendous amount of conformity. I myself was, and am, a product of learned behavior. A traditional photojournalism education, twenty plus years of working full time as a photographer. These influences did things to me, still do, and thus I realize my photographic brain was in part designed by someone else. Skynet made the Terminator. Those around me, and the industry made me, but all these years later I’m learning to reverse this reality. It isn’t easy, but it is WELL WORTH the effort.
Over the past few years I’ve heard more than a few photographers refer to Blurb and say, “Well, I can only use Blurb to make a portfolio or a book maquette for a publisher.” For me this is such a painful sentence to hear because it is so far from the truth and is so illustrative of what I’m referring to, the learned behavior we are all so influenced by. Making portfolios and maquettes are both grand endeavors but they are far, far, far from the reality of what you can do with a platform like Blurb. And when I say Blurb let’s just say I’m referring to ANY new platform that provides a substantial tool base. These platforms are designed for everyone, but where they really shine is in the hands of the searchers, the pioneers, the Bruce Lee’s of the world who see the tools and ask, “What can I make with those?”
In today’s world I see most of these new, challenging things being made by people who aren’t working professionals which is both expected and unexpected. Pros are typically hunting a trend, a style, an industry tradition or keeping the all-powerful hierarchy in mind while the consumer just responds to what feels right. I think this is a very powerful example for us to follow. In short, take new technologies and run with them. Blurb was never intended to replace traditional publishing, something that some photographers think was the intention. Not even close. In fact, when sitting around at the office looking at books, I’ve had that conversation with Blurb folks from every facet of the company. We see a book we love, try to see where it fits, how it works and then say, “This would be great for a traditional publisher.” If it contains quality work, points to a specific audience and the photographer, or creator, has a community then why not. Just the fact a traditional publisher won’t print you one copy of your book, or the fact that Blurb isn’t going to print a six-color offset 6×17 book with silk endsheets and a varnish should be enough to quality this fact, but in some cases I guess it isn’t. These approaches are apples and oranges.
So, with this in mind I bring you something very new and very different. After one hundred and sixty books, many of which were done for commercial clients I think I FINALLY started to figure out what companies like Blurb are offering me. In one word, freedom. This ain’t a word I take lightly. Live under the thumb of someone else, or something else, for long enough and freedom takes on even more taste. What I bring you here is the first installment of a series I will call “Because I Can.” These are simply books I’ve made because I have the ability to make them. But let me tell you how this came about.
Several months ago I got a call from a photographer who was asking me technical questions about color management. Now for me I equate color management with that gymnastics thing with the ribbon. I know there is an audience for it, but no matter how long I try attempting to comprehend its real meaning I always remain puzzled. Color management, if you are going to print anything, is wildly important, no doubt, but it’s just that I find it really boring. And, I think if you are too fixated on color management you will miss the idea of making the book in the first place. I equate this scenario to the famous Bruce Lee quote of “It is like a finger pointing to the moon. Concentrate on the finger and you will miss all that heavenly glory” I included the You Tube film at the top for your viewing pleasure, and for you to see the original use.
So, after this phone conversation, and after my urging the photographer to calibrate, use the ICC profile and to keep monitor brightness in mind, I realized my good intentions had been lost on someone still occupied almost entirely with color. I hung up the phone, turned to my wife and said, “I don’t think he gets it.” After further consideration I began to realize that perhaps I needed to be an example. If I MADE things that illustrated my point then perhaps the idea of the final product would outweigh the things that might keep people from feeling all that heavenly book glory. I made a decision right then and there to make ANY book that came to mind, NO MATTER HOW SILLY, STUPID, RIDICULOUS OR UNREALISTIC THAT BOOK IS. Am I selling these books? No. Am I putting them forth in the world and telling everyone how great they are? No. Are these the only books I’m making? No. But let me tell you something very critical. These just might be the most important books I’ve ever made.
When I quit working as a photographer at the end of 2010, unexpectedly, an entirely new world opened up to me. The same exact thing happened the minute I made the book in the film you see below. Talk about a lightbulb going off. And it isn’t just me. I’ve done seven of these books so far, have a list of seven more I’m working on now, some good, some silly, some I don’t know what, and I’ve also shown them at some of the presentations I’ve done. Each time, after showing these books, I’ve had photographers come up and say, “Seeing those books jarred something loose.” This makes me feel like my idea of being an example was perhaps the right move.
People, if you are a photographer then you are a member of the creative community, a community which many people consider to be littered with “artist types.” One thing I’ve noticed about “artist types” over the years is that these people, under no circumstances, need to offer an apology for being eccentric. Art is eccentric. So then what is all the conformity about? Is it about chasing tradition? The market? What? I wish I could answer that for you but I can’t. I want to leave you with a word of advice, if you will permit me. Get crazy. Stop doing what you think you are supposed to do, and start doing what your heart, brain, DNA, anger, anguish or frustration tells you to. It might not work the first time, or the tenth time, but ultimately, I have a sinking suspicion, you will find the creative promised land and when you do what you finally create will probably shock you. As humans we are unique, like snowflakes, so let’s keep this in mind when it transfers to what it is we are attempting to make. Good luck.
ONE MORE THING: I actually had someone suggest I was only doing these books because Blurb paid for all of them. Just so you know, first of all, that is a REALLY lame response to this idea, but secondly I used up my book allowance in February. I am paying for ALL of these books, regardless of how inexpensive or expensive they are. Am I rich? No, but I really wish I was.