Blurb Advice

Make the right publication.

It sounds simple, but Blurb has become a truly diverse offering, so the options are exponentially what they were a few short months ago. With new additions like offset printing, Blurb to Amazon and Blurb Global Retail Network the user has many choices to make.

But I don’t want to talk about these things just yet because LONG before these decisions are made you have to have a serious conversation with yourself in regard to who you are, what work you actually have and what your audience will truly consume. You have to make the right publication.

I say this after several years of working for the company, and after meeting with thousands of people across several continents. I’m going to narrow this advice to the photographer world for several reasons. First, most of those reading this blog are from that world, and also because I’ve met with more photographers than any other genre of the creative world. Today is another story, but historically this has been true.
Philip Vigil, artist, in his studio in the Jemez.
(I need new bio pic so bad I’m reduced to this. A selfie from a bathroom near the Jemez Reservation.)

I still see a fair number of photographers making publications that feel historical, expected or in other words publications that look like something they think they are supposed to make. Look, making any publication has the potential to teach you copious amounts in regard to your work, your design skills, your typography skills and your ability to move this book if moving it was part of the original plan, and remember, not all publications are made equal or even to be sold for that matter. I’m currently making a magazine for someone else, and they don’t even know I’m making it. (Yes, I’ve lost it.)

I ALWAYS start with a goal. Experimentation? Portfolio? Catalog? Sell it? Don’t sell it? Sell it to those I already know? Sell it to those I don’t know? What is the work? What book does the work demand? (Not the other way around!). What about a magazine? What about a series of magazines? Do I have audio for an Ebook? Do I need an Ebook? Do I even understand how an Ebook works? Folks, these are just a FEW of the things that go through my head upon making the decision to put more publications into the world.

I don’t know you personally, and I don’t know your work necessarily, but I can almost GUARANTEE that NOBODY you know wants to look at 400 photographs. Or 300. Or 200. Or even 100. Not unless you did a book of nude celebrities, and if this is the case then ignore this entire post. But for the rest of you, myself included, we need to realize the world is a very different place in 2014, and the one thing that is unequivocally in short supply is attention. I simply can’t take in that many images. I’d rather see ten great images in a clean and powerful pub than a 250 image opus on your trip to India.

The first question I get from a lot of photographers is “What is the biggest book I can make?”

Not a good place to start actually. Good for Blurb? Yes. Quite. But we want you to have success, to be happy, and certain books demand the largest size, the highest page count and the top-of-the-line materials, but many do not. Most deserve a very specific set of ingredients, all of which start with the work.

Ask yourself what the work feels like. What size compliments that feeling? What materials? Uncoated stock? Coated? Landscape format? Portrait? Or does a magazine better suite your story? What price point does the publication need to stay under for it to be viable to the audience you are searching for? Would the work be better as multiple books? A set perhaps? Chapters? Or maybe the EPub will open your work up to an entirely new, global audience who may or may not be able to purchase a print copy?

Resting on my handmade bookshelves at home are over 350 monograph style publications, most of which were published traditionally. The truth is I rarely spend much time with these publications. It’s not that I don’t want to spend time with them, I do, but life gets in the way. I spend more time with the odd balls, the one-offs the publishing orphans. They FEEL different. They feel wildly personal, almost as if the photographer or artist did ONLY what they wanted to do, and consequently these publications have a resonance.

So you have some choices ahead of you. Make the most of them, and enjoy the process. These questions, this exploration is what makes all of this so much fun. And don’t worry about hitting home runs. They will happen if you just focus on plot and swing easy.

I’d like to continue this Blurb advice theme over the coming months, but more specific to certain topics. Also, you people interested in podcasts? Hit me back and let me know. I’ll continue the other content as well, but these two things are interesting to me.

For your listening pleasure I’ve included a link to the interview I did in regard to magazines.

Natural Selection

Could you do it? Boil it all down to this? The time, the effort, the drudgery, the rejection, the fatigue, illness, confusion, love, fire, drive, focus, fame, connections, collections, pursuits, ideas, failures, choices, concepts and luck? Could you?


Could you bare it all? Expose it all? Reduce it? Leave it out? Throw it away? Tie it off? Cut it down or simply ignore it? I could. And I have and I will again. But just for fun people, just for fun.

What do you like about Los Angeles they ask? “Oh, I don’t know, it’s easy.” “The weather is nice.” Well, I say f%$# that. F$#@ easy.

What if I said “you aren’t special.” “You are normal, just like everyone else.” Is that a slight? No. It’s a fact. Normal people make incredible things every second of every day. There is no special promise, no promise of the career that materializes without effort, even with connections or money or the strategic last name.

There is absolute, pure beauty almost everywhere, you just need the right pair of eyes. Beauty in death and destruction. Beauty in despair and beauty in the almighty struggle.

It’s SO easy to write this from an office on Sunset. So easy to think we all have it figured out. A big production, a big budget and a sense of security but underneath nature waits to take back what is hers. Ever been on the freeway, a sea of concrete, and see a weed sneaking up through the cracks in the foundation? Yep, that is what I’m talking about.

It’s exciting.

“Do I need it?”

If you had to ask then you already knew the answer. But we are trained to ask even though we probably aren’t listening to the answer.

Wait, what was that you said?

“Forget it, I can’t remember.”

Culling has been controversial, always. But most agree it is necessary. I say enjoy the hunt. You are taking a visual life when the bolt slams home and the primer is white hot, but that is the life cycle and who are we to disturb it? Everything faces the end, so why not find a peace with it.

Your assignment is to narrow it all down. All of what you ask? Whatever. Makes no difference. See what happens. What else is there to do? Tick, tock, tick tock.

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.

Who Am I?

Wow, talk about a sobering reality.

In short, I’m not sure I know what I’m doing anymore. Commercially yes, I know, but personally, with my work, I’m really teetering on the brink of I don’t know what.

I’m looking at starting this new project. In fact I’m here, right now, starting the damn thing, and I realized I REALLY don’t know what I’m doing.

This was never the case before. Ever. But is sure is now.

I can do anything I want, in any fashion, or at least what I can afford to do, and like I do with my students I presented myself with the question, “Okay, now what, what are you going to do?” And, I don’t know.

I’m not even sure what format I’m going to shoot. 35? 6×6? 6×9? Both? All three?

This might seem trivial but it isn’t when you consider I must have a consistent theme and style to what I’m about to produce. I spoke to another photographer yesterday who cautioned me about this, and explained that his only project of mixed formats was never published. All the rest, single format, were published.

I’m sure it was because it was more difficult to figure the style, to place the work under one description. Doesn’t mean he, or I, shouldn’t do this, but I understand the idea of complicating matters.

I would love nothing more than to do the entire thing with Leica and 35mm, and I might. But the 6×6 is also really nice, and I have been using a lot lately. But, each format creates VERY different pictures, and I’m not sure at the moment which is best.

Again, I knwo this sounds like it isn’t a big deal, but I find when I, or most others, do two things at once, we do them half as well. And, the type of picture I make with a Leica is FAR different than with a 6×6 camera. So, it makes it difficult to put both bodies of work together. Then, one body is typically stronger than the other, and here is where things get tricky.

This isn’t a small story, or one that I can do in a short period of time. We are probably talking several years to even come close, but that is what I want. That is what documentary work is all about. It ain’t a quick fix.

I think part of why I’m having this problem is from doing much of my work for other people, people who need specific things in a specific style, and consequently you ofter work in a style that may or may not be your own. That’s commercial photography for most people. After a while, it’s more difficult to quickly fall back into the “your” style, and this is where I find myself.

Over the past few days, as I begin this project, I find myself so out of sync. I fumble with my gear because it isn’t comfortable in my hand. I’m thinking too much and not reacting, and that never works.

I feel like a marathon runner who hasn’t trained in several years.

I’ll figure it out, eventually, but it sure does feel odd. Years ago I was crystal clear. I never doubted anything. I had one choice and I just stuck to it. Perhaps it is time to try that again?