Save your “Likes” buy a print? (if you can)

I wrote this post a few days ago and then when I reread it I felt like perhaps I was coming across as a world class a$%hole. I thought, “What right do I have to condemn anything, especially when it comes to supporting someone or something?” so I decided to delete the post. Then I promptly forgot about it. Then I read it again. I’m still not sure, but that is what you are here for. To make your own decision. I’m obviously not against support, read the post, just stunned by how much stock we put in something like a single keystroke, often times lost in the hundreds of billions of keystrokes. On the other hand that makes me think of another post. Last year I ran into someone who as spending every waking second plotting the development of his social media following. He was up in the near one million followers category and someone said “Geez, you must me making some serious coin from that.” “I haven’t make a penny yet,” he responded. Someone said “What’s the point of it all?” There was no answer. So, this is my take on this scenario.

What is a “Like” really worth?

You click, you move on. How many of these do we do in a given day? “Wow, thanks for the like.”

Now return to the real world where you find yourself standing at the counter at the local dealer holding a bottle of developer in one hand and a bottle of fix in the other. You need both, but you can afford only one. Where is the like? Can you use it for barter? Can you tell the salesperson, “Hey, you should see how many likes I got.” “Any chance I can trade those likes for this fixer?” “Seriously, a lot of people I don’t even know are telling me I’m awesome and liking pretty much everything I do.” That has to be worth something right?

I’ve thought a lot about this online reality. It’s my fault for doing so. I’ve formed a few opinions, spent much time watching, and am still so puzzled by it all, so puzzled by the addiction to check in and see who is providing the much needed electronic nurturing. And I wonder how much more the artist could have accomplished had they not spent so much time online and fractured their skull and attention by trying to consume so, so much.
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So when I encountered Jeff Frost a few months back, and he told me what he was working on, I thought to myself “Well, that sounds admirable….how can I get involved?” Jeff was up to his normal shenanigans, spending weeks and months in strange, twisted places consumed by broiling temperatures, dust, periodically hostile locals; left alone with only the thoughts in his talented little head. And believe me, most of us are unprepared for what is floating in Jeff’s head. He’s an artist after all.

Jeff explained to me a new print idea he’d hatched, editions of one, 24×36, printed by Mac Holbert. “I’m in,” I said. “I want two.”

Let me back up.

I like Jeff. I like Jeff’s work. I admire his tenacity. I know A LOT of photographers who have yet to discover their inner fire, but he found his a long time ago. He is relentless, and again, he is working in places that are not easy to be, doing difficult time consuming work but yet he’s there, time and time again because he is possessed. I have great admiration for this. A lot of people stand around and wait for handouts. They wait for donations, or the perfect setup or situation. Jeff just makes work. He finds a way. His odometer was somewhere near 250,000 the last time I looked. These were HARD miles. Dusty. Four-wheel-drive access only. No air conditioning. A little puff of smoke with the turn of the key.

There is a madness to these things. So when it came time to get involved I bought prints. They were expensive, at least for me, and so was the framing. The prints are BEAUTIFUL. Loading them in the car and the person helping said “God these are cool.” True, they are. They are Jeff. Every minute of his childhood walking the hills of Utah with his grandfather, learning about cave paintings. Every second of his staring at the stars and learning what was where and why. Every second of his art training. Every MILE on that odometer is in these prints. I know because I went out there and watched. I got a little dust on my boots. Just once, but enough to know.

These prints aren’t going anywhere, including on the wall anytime soon. You see, I don’t have the space to hang them but I got them anyway. I don’t care if they lean against the wall until I move in the distant future. It was important to me because I know how important it is to Jeff. The career of an artist is a battle. What Jeff does, or any artist for that matter, is their business. I’m not condemning promotion. I’m just saying there is a big, big difference between tossing out a “Like” and really getting involved. So what is your time worth? What is your word worth? And before I go any further, in addition to respecting what Jeff does…I LOVE THESE IMAGES. I don’t buy to collect, although it’s kinda cool to know I’m the only one to have these two images at this size, I buy because I love the actual work. Same for my books. I buy things because I want to look at them, again and again, for YEARS at a time. I’m fortunate to be able to afford these, something I do not take for granted. I work hard. I spend hard. I felt my support would lead to tangible, real-world results, like gasoline, paint, cameras, food, etc. I don’t know for sure, but that was my intention. I’m only saying these things because I think most people have a good heart. They mean well, and they want to help, but these online support things of today are often times just noise that doesn’t swing the bar outside of the site itself and the corporations buying your personal information. When you buy direct, when you get involved in a concrete way, its spawns potential for real innovation, experimentation, failure and the breakthrough.

The real, tangible world is out in front of us, starting just beyond the screen. This is the world I choose to live in. It’s fantastic in ways beyond your dreams. Like it or not.

PS: My wife came home at midnight so tired she walked right past these babies without even a notice. She is going to scratch her head and say “What have you done now?”

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Jeff holding a print of an image I made of him on our first shoot. California desert, 2014.

Edition of One: Australia 72

Yes, another book. This one is slightly different. Based on a variety of nouns. People, places and things. For those of you who are new to Smogranch and don’t know me, then you should know that illustrated books are a big part of my life. I work for Blurb as “Photographer at Large,” a strange and mysterious title that allows me get away with a lot. I’m very, very fortunate to be in this position. A great job. Challenging and ever-changing. Consequently, I make a lot of books. I’ve made over 170 publications with Blurb. Books, magazines, Ebooks, etc. And I’m just warming up. I’ve got an entire series of “Edition of One” books, which I’ve posted about before. They are books that will live their entire lives as ONE COPY. I call them “Because I Can” books because print-on-demand has allowed us to do things we’ve never been able to do before. The scarcity of these books is what makes them interesting, and as a collective, fifteen so far with fifty being the goal, they become something entirely different as a gaggle.

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Not all of them are Blurb books. I wanted to share my latest creation which actually has the guts of a Japanese journal. One, long, foldout publication, entirely blank. Small. The book is titled “Australia 72” because the idea to do it came from a trip to Australia where I was introduced to two every important things, street-art and the color of Western Australia.

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The “72” reference comes from the fact that I shot the entire project with a Yashica Samurai, which is a “half-frame” camera and allows for 72 images per roll as opposed to the traditional 36. The book itself is 72 consecutive images, from one roll of film, sequenced in the order they were made. The first roll was made with color negative and focused on bait fish moving in their native, shallow surf. The second roll was made of sharks in their environment, and these images were made with black and white film. Within the sequence of the book there are TWO images of the sharks, dissecting the color imagery.
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Taking from what I learned from my street-art exposure I then sprayed the entire book with three colors I thought best suited the project, but also several of the colors that reminded me of Western Australia. Black, white and blue. The prints were made 3.5×5, matte surface with a black border that anchors each image. I realized I wanted to trim the short ends so that it would further act to make the book appear as one flowing piece.
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Finally, to give the viewer more of an “undersea” feel I created an “Undersea Viewer” which was made with a single roll of transparency film left uncut so that I could use the strips of desired length. I then had two pieces of matte cut to fit the dimensions of the book, placed the strips inside and sealed the two pieces together. The viewer comes in an envelope, also sprayed with the same triad of colors.
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This book smells like paint. Rightly so. My office now smells like paint. So does my shed. I like the smell because it is a reminder to get off my ass and make things. I find that in the age of promotion people are actually making far less than they did before. Why? Well, cause we promote all the time, and I mean ALL THE TIME. I often find myself in conversation with photographers who are about to donate six to eighteen months of their life to the traditional book route, with entirely unrealistic goals and expectations accompanying them(not always but often) and I always ask “Are you a photographer?” And when they say “Yes,” I say “Go make photographs.”
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The unfortunate thing is we don’t have much time. Any of us. So the productive years, let’s say eighteen to fifty-five, we need to be working, and I mean WORKING. Relentlessly. All the greats did. And do. They pour themselves into their work, and they don’t look up until it’s done. If they looked up after two weeks they simply wouldn’t be great. Personally, I find working this way a complete and total relief. Not having to say or prove anything until I’m ready.
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Now, will this book change the world? No. Not even close. Will it get much attention and elevate my status in the book community? No. Not even close. Will I sell thousands of copies? No. Not even close. But it was fun. And it taught me a few things. And it’s personal. And it smells. What other reason do I really need?

Because I Can : Wargames

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 thirteen books already and have eighteen more in the pipeline.

This little gem is one of my favorites so far. The work comes from a project I did several years ago, paintball and the combat that ensues upon the word “Go.” After receiving the book I drove it out to the paintball range and let the boys unload on it. The book was then allowed to dry then coated with a clear sealer. The entire mess lives in a black bag. Blurb wrote about this in their recent newsletter which went out earlier today.
As for the guts. Entire book was shot with Kodak TMZ.(RIP) If I remember correctly I used Contax G2’s because I knew I was probably going to get shot and it just might ruin a camera. I had three G2’s, so they were somewhat expendable. The book was super simple, 11×13, landscape, Proline Uncoated and all full bleed, double trucks. The case was made by Process Supplies. I loved the look and feel of the basic book itself, but it feels far more complete after the shooting.
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Because I Can Series: Book Two, Saturation

Hey Folks,

This is the second 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 seven books already and have eighteen more in the pipeline.
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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”
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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 first book in this series (The RGB Book). 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 eighteen 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.

By the way, if anyone out there is experimenting in this same vein then please let me know. I’ve seen some prime examples over the past few years and would love to see more.