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?

Taste of Uruguay: Navigating a Portrait

It was hours before the big show. The post breakfast drowsiness compounded by the sun through car windows as Martin navigates the streets of Montevideo. We have a plan. “These guys are going to be getting ready and we will try to get permission to photograph.” Flashes of light and dark, searing sun and reflections of inverted buildings. I close my eyes. Four of us, all waiting to see what we will see or what we won’t. “Llamadas” approaches but we want to “set the table” beforehand. We need to BUILD this story and body of work. We are here for about ten days, maybe more, and can only hope for so much. Little victories are what matters. We mostly ride in silence. Martin parks and we spill out of the tiny car. The scene is slow, mellow and movements can be FELT. There is no secret, we are all here to work, to make pictures and fortunately for us they are game to play. There is an inside area and an outside area, both with decent to good light. The sun is still high so the people outside hunt for shade. This is good for us. I start with the Leica, almost to get them used to me, but with the color and paint I know I want the square.



“Can I make your portrait?”
It begins. Open shade, broad light over my shoulder and now all I have to think about is focus and my composition. The square solves a lot of things for me, after all, it’s square. CLUNK, WIND, CLUNK, WIND. I’m wide open, at 2.8 and I’m at close focus. I only want his eyes sharp. At frame twelve I need to reload and the great dance begins. Flip the lever out, wind until I hear the leader come free, twist the side door, pull out the insert, unhinge the film, spool it tight, then slowly, VERY slowly lick the tape. This NEVER fails to get people involved. “Did you just lick that?” “Yes.” Take out new roll, pull off the tape, invert and load into the insert, spool the end, twist tight, insert the holder, close the back and wind until it stops. Pull the dark slide. “Listo?” I ask and move in again.

These images are not really up to me. I begin by putting myself in position but the rest comes from the other side of the lens. The first shot is serious with intensity in the gaze. During the second shot the serenity and connection are broken as someone from the edges says something. Like cracking through a sheet of ice. The genie is out of the bottle and now I can only react. If I force it and ask him to settle back into me it won’t work. The magic is gone, so I just stop talking and keep shooting. It’s nice for me. I like to be here, but invisible to those around me. I can have conversations with myself, or daydream, while I’m working. It’s part of being on the road, and part of life behind the lens.

Make it count. There is no need to shoot endless imagery. Ever been on the other side of the camera? “Relax and just be normal.” Impossible. It’s all artificial, we either both accept the game or we don’t bother playing. This is your chance to act and it’s the same for them. They are not themselves, not during these little moments. They are actors in the world stage and for just a brief moment I am the conductor, the composer or the chief mechanic. They don’t really know what it is I’m attempting to do. I must relay this by speech and emotion. Win them over, get them on my side and do to them what I need to do. Sometimes it feels good, other times no so much, but the internal battle is what makes it all interesting. And then suddenly it is gone. If it went well the memory alone will fuel you to the next encounter, and if it went poorly it can stain your mental existence for days, weeks, even longer perhaps. Fragility is real but worth continual exploration. Is it good enough? Am I good enough? Does any of it matter? There is a weight to the exposed film and comforting to look down and see the rolls piling up. I can’t see it, but I can feel what I have or what I missed. I try to be in the moment but my mind begins to build the mental puzzle of imagery. What pieces still remain?

As I close my eyes I see light blue and the stars upon a face.