Because I Can: The Postcard Book

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Hey Folks,

This is the latest post in the “Because I Can” series about making Blurb books in an edition of ONE. Yes, you heard and read correctly. I’m making books with the intention of capping the print run at ONE book. Why? BECAUSE I CAN. We have really only had this option since about 2006, yet photographers ALREADY seem to take this for granted. I know, there is so much change on a daily basis that we are perpetually thirsty for the new, always wanting the latest and greatest. I get it. However, I for one cannot overlook the power in having the ability to make a single book. I wrote about this in a previous post, so if you want the background then go back and have a look. I pulled a selection from that prior post to set the table for this one. This is a series people. I’ve made at least a dozen books already and have eighteen more in the pipeline.

This book was created after overhearing a conversation between two young girls in a Japanese stationary store. They came across postcard material and said “Remember these? I really miss getting these in the mail.” Then they spoke about “giving up” and going with email. I asked myself “Why?” Why do we do this to ourselves. We give in, give up, cave to what is happening these days, as if we don’t have a choice. This book was crafted from found post cards, scanned front and back. Postcards were then sleeved and inserted into airmail envelopes.

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The Feeling

Remember that feeling you had as a kid? That feeling of being able to do anything? Nothing was outside the bounds of possibility. The world was your oyster, and then you got educated, trained, confined, conformed and molded into what society, and your family, thought you should be.

“When are you going to get serious?” “When are you going to settle down?” “When are you going to get a job?”

This is a strange concept, but it happens to most of us. I can still remember feeling the pressure of these questions, and I can remember watching my friends go through the same thing. Our culture demands it of most and because of this, in my opinion, we have a lot of talented people who will remain nameless, tasteless and unknown because the conformity got the best of them. A house, a car, 401k, suburbia, and the idea of spending thirty to forty of your most productive years doing something you may or may not want to do.

I’m writing about this for two reasons. First, the content of the image included here. I can’t look at this and not laugh. This is a guy named Nick, someone I haven’t seen in years. This image was made in the hills near Mono Lake in Northern California. Nick is doing something that I’m not sure has an official name. I’ll just call it “Hill Running.” The point? To eat complete and total S%$%. The premise, start at the top, start running downhill at top speed until you hit that velocity where there is no ability to stop and then….well….just see what happens. Nick ate complete and total S%$# on this run, and the runs after and people that was the point(He also had a few successful runs.) It was about doing what he wasn’t “supposed” to do. Now you might label this as “stupid,” and maybe it is, but maybe it’s genius. I can only tell you how entertaining it was to watch.

Sometimes when I look around at the creative world I wish we had a bit more hill running in our lives.
The crossroads we find ourselves at is one of success verses failure, and for whatever reason failure is rarely looked upon as a learning experience and natural part of being creative. My personal belief is that this decline in acceptance of failure is tied to technology. I really like technology, but I am also very capable of calling bullshit on most of it. Does it make our lives easier? More efficient? Maybe, maybe not. Ever notice in the spy movies how the commander calls up intel on some fugitive and some lackey hits one key and their real time criminal history pops up on forty-foot-wide screens in real time? When in reality the system would have crashed, the headset the person was wearing would be cutting out, the firmware on the mainframe wouldn’t have been updated and one of the screens would have been littered with dead pixels. In theory I love it all, and I surely love the movies. In reality I wonder if we are better off now or if we are slowly walking into proverbial quicksand. Massive plots of poorly constructed soulless houses being hastily erected, MILES from public transportation, is still labeled as “progress.” If anyone can tell me anything progressive, healthy, forward thinking or sustainable about that I’m all ears.

Several weeks ago I was with a classroom filled with second graders.
This was my second trip to this particular school. I was fortunate because I got to visit art class. I stood in a room filled with paints, glues, papers, inks, brushes, tablets, etc, and all I could think about was gathering a group of my adult friends and putting them in this room. I wanted to turn them loose and say “Don’t worry about what you were supposed to be, just create something.” I wondered what this could do for moral. I wondered how many unknown Picasso’s were in my circles. I wondered how many of my friends had hidden creative skills? And I wondered how we transfer this feeling and belief BACK into our normal lives.

I don’t know about you but the horizon seems a lot closer than it ever has.
I believe less in the traditional theories about life, capitalism and the ever growing sense of needing to have more and more and more. How about have less create more? What if we could share this collective mindset. What if your daily life FELT like hill running? Maybe yours does?

Ten to One

Completely unrelated image, but for anyone taking offense to this post….have a beer. Relax.

I recently had dinner with a friend who is a “creative.” My friend makes things for people, creative things that blend several disciplines. As usual, we got to talking about work, about jobs and the industry. Probably not a good idea….He gave me the lowdown on a recent project, a complex, multi-layered piece, which is the backbone of what my friend creates. He has a long track record, a good education and much work to prove these things. The kicker…..the total fee was $2500. This got us talking even more and my friend went to his office and retrieved a similar product only THIS product was from a job he did in 2001. Same multifaceted, layered piece only better. The design was better, the materials were better, the images were better and the overall piece was just better. The kicker….the total fee was $20.000. Now you might be having convulsions after seeing that fee but people that is how it USED to be. Not always but often. Was this fee inflated? Perhaps, but what if afforded, ultimately, was better work. And what it afforded was for the creative group to be, well, creative. I find a fair number of people today who never knew this kind of arrangement, or fee for that matter. Today, we have a different story. In today’s creative world, budget is often times the number one concern, and speaking only from the photographic angle, the actual work has become far less important. Far less important typically means far less good. But, many clients are not looking for great work, they are looking for inexpensive, temporary images. I’ve heard clients refer to online images as being “mature” after two-weeks of life. So the mentality is, “Why spend money and make something great when we are going to replace it in two weeks?” Consequently, photographers, designers, etc are finding themselves having to do, literally, ten times the number of jobs for the same amount of money. This method of work typically doesn’t lend itself to making great work. And, the artist is so busy searching for the next job, or balancing several jobs at once, they don’t have the time that allows for critical thought needed for creating lasting work that matters. Because this has been the reality for a while now, what I’m finding is an entire generation of young creators who not only don’t know the possibilities of real budgets and times, they are simply thrilled to be getting work at all. Wait! For those of you thinking I’m bagging on the whipper snappers, save the hate mail. I’m only 42 and I might be the same way if I was 25. This is a very difficult position for anyone. Is it right to tell a 25-year-old “Don’t take that job” when you see them taking a commercial photography job for $2500 that requires to them sign over their copyright, spend three days in post, something that ten years ago might have fetched them a $15,000 or $20,000 fee? I don’t know anymore. A few years ago I would have said, “Yes” to saying “No.” But again, today, I see so many people who are seeing a $2500 fee and saying “Wow, that’s great.” People who have never been paid a “real” rate in their entire career. Oh, this is probably a good time to mention video, motion, hybrid, fusion, or whatever else you want to call it. Ouch. But what is churning in the background, what is truly important here…..the quality of the ideas and work. People tend to get touchy when I talk about this. I don’t see current work being better than it was ten years ago.

There are a lot more people doing it.
There is less grain.
There is more sharpness.
There is a lot more talk about it.
There is a lot more promotion going on.
There is a lot of new things that are supposed to be making it better.
There is more technology.
There are more viewing options.

But the concepts, the thought, the ultimate image…well, I’m not sure. Everyone wants to believe we are better today, just like we want to believe we are better informed and best of all, more efficient. But, I’m writing this on a plane with a pen and paper, YES A PEN AND PAPER, because when I write this way it slows me down and makes me think.

Do I write as much? No.
Do I write faster? No.
Can I send it out immediately? No.

But maybe that is the point. You’ve heard the expression, “speed kills.”
A few days ago a young photographer said to me, “I love the darkroom but it just takes too long to make a print.” I said, “Well, why do you think collectors value them so much?” You could see the light bulb going off. I’ve brought this idea up before, in mixed company, and there is always the person who gets ultra defensive, the premature aging lines around their eyes drawing down as they blast me for being a lazy, slacker who doesn’t want to work and wants everything to be like it was “back in the day.” No, sorry. I’m just old enough to have known something better. That’s all. At some point, certain things will return to a likeness of what they were, at least for CERTAIN people who have the sack to actually force these things to happen. And, I know how much more creative many of the younger creators will be when they get a taste of how good they can be given the time and access. This will take some doing. Clients. Clients aren’t stupid. If they can get ten things for the price of one, they will.

How great would it be to have some type of financed foundation that sought out great creators, gave them the time and access they needed to actually work in a way that produces a lasting impact? I imagine a space, New Mexico of course, out in the sticks, off the grid, except for water, where the artist could go for six months to a year and create, finish, dream, etc.

So, my flight is angling down toward the ground, so I must go. We have everything at our fingertips today, but what we do with it, well, that is what counts.

The beer shown at the beginning of this post is no longer available.