Blurb Custom Books

The last few months at Blurb have been as entertaining as any since I’ve been around the company, and my history dates back to the 2006 era when things were just getting started. In a ONE MONTH period we announced offset printing, custom books, Blurb to Amazon, pick-and-pack and the Magcloud event. ONE MONTH.
With each of these announcements comes the nuance of incorporating these into your workflow. The way I like to describe what these mean is that you can truly do whatever it is you want to do. Want to print offset and POD together? Perhaps using the offset for your trade edition and POD for your limited edition? Go head. What to do an offset run, a magazine and Ebook from the same project? Go for it. I’ve said this since 2006, the only thing holding us back today is us. I’ve spoken a lot about learned behavior, and in my world nothing showcases learned behavior more than traditional book publishing. Personally, I think there is A LOT of room to grow when it comes to this model. Contrary to what you might think, I love traditional publishing. I don’t see life as either/or but rather as a multitude of options. Yesterday someone sent me a link to these two beauties. Telex Iran and Magnum Contact Sheets. And I know…..I KNOW, even with a book buying gag order in place by my wife…at least ONE of these will end up on my shelf in the coming weeks. I have 350+ monographs and illustrated books on my shelf currently, and if I can predict the future, this will only continue to grow.
Let me shine some light on the Blurb angle from MY perspective. Our new custom, offset offering is not a magic pill, but what it does allow for is you being the one in the drivers seat, which is how it should be in my humble opinion. The Blurb option is about freedom, time and flexibility. The publishing world is a bit slow and stodgy for me. I want to do what I want, when I want and how I want. Selfish? ABSOLUTELY. It is, after all, MY WORK. Also, my life can’t ever be entirely about a book. I can’t put my work on hold, my life on hold, my free time on hold and donate everything to doing a book, marketing a book and attempting to sell a book. Books are important for me, but as a photographer I feel my primary job is to make new work. I’ve seen plenty of folks put their entire life, and bank account, on hold and donate a year plus of their life to the cause. On one hand I admire the tenacity, but on the other I know, in many cases, what they have really given up. I also realize that a monograph style book (The Holy Grail) typically reaches a very small number of people. Remember, they are often times printed in runs of 3000 copies or less and many don’t sell. I need multiple streams, especially because I’m far more interested in what the public thinks, and those people IN my images, than editors, gallery owners, publishers or museum people. Again, I frequent galleries, publishers, museums, etc., but I find less and less relevance when it comes to my requirements as a photographer.(This was not always the case, and I know that my goals are different than a lot of other people and in many cases they are aiming their books at PRECISELY these people.) The good news is that all of us now have these options.
I am a HUGE believer that WE are the media today, in whatever shape we want. WE are no longer beholden to middle men. Want to be a magazine publisher? Do it. Want to publisher your own monograph in WHATEVER form you want, with WHATEVER edit you want aimed at WHATEVER audience you want…then DO IT.
We no longer need to be chosen. We no longer need permission, although many of us are still waiting around for it.(I truly do understand this. If feels good to be given a pat on the back.) This is where Blurb comes in. Hire the designer you want, make the edit you want, dream up a size you want and get the damn thing done, out and into the world at whatever pace you want. You are STILL going to have to pay for it, but why not pay for the book you actually want at the pace you want and for the audience you want? And speaking of audience….anyone see that post I sent out on Twitter a few weeks ago? About the 1000 true friends? THIS is what I’m talking about. A few years ago when I did my short run magazine all I did was ONE blog post. Boom, gone. Sold out. I remember thinking at the time, “You know, if I really made an effort to bond with those of you read this blog I could have probably sold 500 copies pretty easy.” I like you people, and I feel that there is a core group here that has a bond of photo-likeness. Imagine how dangerous you would be as a self-publisher with 1000 true friends and a minimum book run of 750 books.(Fewer in some cases.) But let me restate something….YOU are still going to have to pay for your book, and this is where the paradigm has also shifted. YOU are now in direct communication with you audience, and for the first time don’t need “middle-people” to accomplish you publishing goal. Presale is something I think many people need to explore MUCH further than they already have. I’ve always said your database is your most important tool. Imagine having an email list of 500 people who are your supporters. Maybe once you twice a year you send an email saying “Hey, I’m making an offset run on a book about X are you interested?” This is doable NOW. People have actually been doing this for quite a while now and so can you! Now..imagine getting the money upfront to pay for the offset run……you see where I’m going with this? El futuro nuevo!!!
The images you see in this post are from a custom book that went through Blurb a few months ago. I know a little about this book because I shot some of the images including the one you see at the bottom. I have ONE copy of this left, one that has been difficult to keep a hold of due to the number of people who have asked to have it, buy it, etc. EVERYONE who has seen this wanted one. I gave one to a friend who has deep wine/food interests and within days someone had stolen it, always a good indicator of a book’s success in my humble opinion. I can’t imagine the process of having to do this via traditional channels. I would have simply never agreed to it. I’ve got too many others things on my plate. What you had was a soulful project, a few driven individuals and the belief the world would be a better place with this book circulating the pathways of life. The creator of this project wanted a simple, farm-to-table book that was small, crafty and intimate. He partners up chefs and winemakers, providing each pairing with their own mini-book which then combine to form the set. You can purchase them here if you are so inclined. I’ve had these books with me over the past few weeks, and can say without hesitation they have provided THE most dialogue, interest and conversation than ANY of the other books I’m currently schlepping around including all my new traditional monographs.

Finally, some advice. If you are viewing the Blurb offset approach like another traditional publisher then don’t bother. I really think you have to look at the PLATFORM. Not one piece….but ALL of the pieces. POD, offset, magazine, E, pick and pack, presale, etc, etc. Now, I can help, offer suggestions, explain what I’ve seen others do, so ping me if you want to hear my state of affairs.

We live in a time of choice, luckily, and my dream is to see talented people make the best decision. I would love to see people publish the project they have always wanted to publish, not necessarily the commercial choice, or the book they THINK they are supposed to publish. Be smart, work hard and the options are there…

Yesterday, while at the Blurb office, I began to understand that I MIGHT have an offset/custom book in my semi-near future. But people it’s gonna be WEIRD. I will be unlike any photography book I’ve seen, and I really don’t know if ANYONE outside of my mother would actually read this book. But what I realized I can do is write it, shoot it, build it, create a digital version and show it around, see if people run away or hug me and offer large wads of cash for my future publishing endeavors. It could happen….

FYI: Don’t look for custom book sizes and materials on the Blurb site, or in our software…..these are CUSTOM books. They are what you want them to be. Figure out what you want and then go here. Get a quote then go make history.

Stay tuned for more custom book stories….

Why I Print

I love print.

I even love print on print action, and sometimes even print on print on print action. Printing forces you to apply critical thought and focus toward your work, and THAT my friends, family and foes, always makes for a better photographer. As many of you know, the “Print is Dead” war mongers have been running the halls of injustice, for YEARS, trying to quell the paper insurrection, which I have to admit is really damn funny. These toads are the same toads who ran the halls in 1997, 2001, 2003, 2006, 2009, 2011 and even today claiming “Film is dead!” while developing more actions and filters to mimic….ah, film. And yes, I just saw ANOTHER print ad with a photographer claiming they finally found a digital paper that looks and feels like….well…..analog paper. For the LOVE OF GOD people can we put this dead horse to bed?? Proof that if you pay photographers or give them something for free they will say just about ANY damn thing. All that matters is that you actually print.

I’m not really sure why anything has to be dead. I look back on the Toyota’s of the early 1980’s and frankly I wish we had those back. They were insanely good. Just because a new cloth interior was introduced didn’t mean I ran around the Road and Track test facility yelling “Kill it, kill that Corolla!” Luckily, print isn’t dead and why this is so great is that printing is so great. Printing is fun. Printing can be insanely challenging (the darkroom) or effortless (FTP to local lab) and like I said before, it makes you a better photographer. We clearly don’t want to pay for things we don’t need or want, so when you approach your work with print in mind it forces you to make choices. Which of my images is good? Which ones are REALLY good, and then finally, which ones are good enough to print?
You see where I’m going here. EDITING.

Good grief has our collective editing ability been blown to bits. It has. There is no denying this. Sure, some of you out there, like me, relish the edit and understand that editing AND sequencing is an art form(one where my ability fluctuates). But the editing elite is a tiny minority in a world of bulging “select” folders.

It’s not uncommon for someone to come to me looking for photo advice. It’s not uncommon for people to come with tens of thousands of images. Now, I’ve never had anyone attempt to show me quite this many, but I have had more than a few come attempt to show me far too many images. Now, if someone is starting out, rabid and so excited because they think that everything they shot is incredible, I’m okay with this to some degree because enthusiasm can translate to POTENTIAL. If you are going to be a great photographer you need to want it more than anything you have ever wanted.
What I’ve noticed is there is no perceived penalty in the digital space. So leave it in, no big deal. Maybe I’ll show the reviewer all four or five of these and get their opinion. This really doesn’t happen with print. Print forces you to study your similars and understand which is the best and ONLY that image survives to print. Reviewers have great appreciation for this.

I’ve noticed I have a very different feelings when someone approaches me with an iPad and someone else approaches with a box of prints. Now, there are exceptions to this rule. I’ve had people open their box of prints and haul out a STACK of a hundred plus images, and I’ve had someone turn on their iPad and show me ten images. However, MOST of the time, the reverse happens. iPad or laptop portfolios contain FAR too many images and print portfolios tend to have less fat and are more thought out.
Recently I met with someone who asked me to look at their work, which is what prompted this post. This person was starting out and was very enthusiastic, so consequently they get a total pass. But I told them, “Print the best twenty images.” And just so you know, their project contained tens of thousands of images. No exaggeration. Editing from 20,000 to 20 is no easy task, but the sooner you realize this is what it takes to really be a photographer the better off you will be. Remember, it’s supposed to be fun. You are focusing your work, making it tighter and thus more impactful. Fun people, fun.

And I want to emphasize again this process is extremely entertaining. Those boxes you see in the top image were made as I went along, during those time frames and projects, and those images were printed really just for me. I can’t remember the last time anyone opened those boxes, but the projects feel complete because I went through the process, made my tight edit and made the prints, one agonizing image at a time.
Also, the PRINT is HUGELY important in the history of photography. The print is the final chance you have at putting your fingerprints on an image because prints range in color, density, tone, texture, etc and should reflect YOUR work. If your prints look like everyone else’s then you might want to work on that. And technically perfect does NOT make a great print. Great prints have feel and mood. A few years ago I was at a festival and a very good photographer was having prints made at one of the vendors who sold printers. They accidentally printed his images with the wrong profile, which gave all the images a gold fringe in the shadows. The technicians apologized and said “Sorry man, we’ll reprint them.” The photographer said “No, that is exactly what I want.” The technicians said “Ya but that isn’t right and those aren’t technically correct.” Photographer said “Who cares, look at the print, it’s beautiful and what I am looking for.”

The images I have on the wall at home are all prints made by photographers who not only make distinctive images they make distinctive PRINTS. I’ve got tintypes, Cibachromes and even silver prints where the photographer is a master of printing in only the bottom half of the grayscale. I would venture to say that fifty percent of what makes these photographers so special is their printing ability.


It is not uncommon these days for me to run into a “photographer” who has never printed a single image. No, I’m not making this up, and I don’t mean in a darkroom. I mean they have never printed an image, period, with any method. I always feel bad because I feel they are missing out on half the fun. My advice, just play. Try a half dozen different methods or flavors and see what sticks. Each technique you employ will typically have a method of print that best suits your needs. TRI-X prints really well and easy in the darkroom, but TMAX 3200 is a nightmare for me. However, TMAX printed digitally looks insanely good. This took me a lot of hours and a lot of frustration to figure out. See, I just saved you a few weeks of you life. Book, print, color copy, wet plate, I don’t care. Any of them. All of them.

Go forth. Print.

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.

Art Brewer SVA Show

Photographer/Artist Art Brewer is someone I’ve written about before, and someone I will surely write about again. I’m a big fan of cool people. I’m a big fan of good photography, and I’m a big fan of photographers who have poured their lives into creating an archive on one particular topic or subject. Art is all the above. Recently, I was able to stop by Art’s studio to check out a few of the images he is printing for a MASSIVE show at the School of Visual Arts in New York. This show will highlight over 150 individual pieces from Art’s collection on the history of modern surfing.

At 43 I finally feel like I found a subject I can work on the rest of my life. Starting now I’m way behind the game. Art has been covering modern surfing for over thirty-years and his archive is one of the greatest ever compiled. Years ago, when I worked for Kodak in Southern California, I realized there was an opportunity for me, and for the company, in working with the global collection of surfing photographers. Problem was I didn’t know a single surfing photographer. So, being a good corporate detective, I called around. “Talk to Art Brewer,” was the response I heard over and over again. Not only was Art open and receptive to learning what Kodak had to offer he also became my link to the entire surfing photography world.

What I love about Art’s archive is the range of work. Browsing the work you see every format imaginable from 35mm to 6×6, 6×7, 6×9, 4×5, point and shoot as well as an odd assortment of other formats and techniques. When you walk into Art’s studio you find yourself frozen and wanting to simply stand and look. Big prints and artwork adorn the walls, an incredible range of oil, ink and emulsion. And every time I go there is something new to feast my eyes upon.

And as you can see by the above images, Art is also a bookmaker. And like all things Brewer, Art publishes a range of books. From his Masters of Surf Photography monograph to his two-volume Blurb masterpiece on Bunker Spreckels you never know what he is going to come up with next. And if that’s not enough…he teaches as well, which you can see in the film below. I was going to write that Art is a great person for young photographers to study, but I’m going to amend that. Art is a good person for any photographer to study. There are certain people who are creatively restless. They are creative searchers, people who run the river of life and can’t wait to see what lives beyond the next bend. Art is one of those people.

Peru in Print Form

Practicing what I preach….the first Peru prints are beginning to surface. I LOVE talking print, especially with “modern” photographers. You see, many people choose not to print, or they never have. We look to the future and see glowing screens and suddenly we want to write off the entire history of our medium. We look at things like an iPad and say, “Well, clearly that is the future, print is dead people.” Me, I no like so much. I simply don’t believe this. Yes, the screen is a great thing, but it ain’t the only thing. See, I like it all, appreciate it all and don’t feel the need to draw that imaginary line in the sand. Why? What is the point? (I’m sitting in my office with one tower, two laptops, an iPad and an iPhone)
I’ll tell you why I make these small prints. They make me think. They make me consider. They force me to edit, to think critically and to sequence. They allow me to dream. Like a puzzle with multiple ways of assembling. No right, no wrong, just endless choices.

I’ve never had anyone enter my house and say, “Hey, can I look at your work on the iPad.” What I HAVE had happen is people come over and ask “Hey, you have any prints from Peru?” Again, nothing wrong with perusing this stuff via iPad, iPhone, iMac, iWhatever, prints are just another flavor of candy.

The cool thing is to put these small prints on the floor and consider them at a distance. You can almost blur your vision and see them as an amalgam of one, continuous flow of color. Your eyes will play tricks on you but your eyes will also lead you to the promised land. What goes where? React and you will see. Forget what you know and just feel. Seems a little guru-ish but don’t take me that seriously. Just try it.