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.

Because I Can: The Postcard Book


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.



Books I Love: Beyond the Fall


The latest installment “Books I Love.” The concept is very simple. Find a book in my collection, photograph it, then share it with you. The idea being to share what I love about the book or why I have it. The books will range from traditionally published, POD and handmade. The only stipulation is that I love the book. Most of them have a backstory, which I will also share. Books and photography are forever linked, so why not explore the relationship through my bookshelf. Hope you enjoy.

In short, I don’t think you can find a better book of reportage. “Beyond the Fall” by American photojournalist Anthony Suau is a ten-year look at the former Soviet Bloc in transition. TEN YEARS for those of you who came of age in the “modern” photography world of weekend essays, isn’t an exaggeration or typo. He spent TEN YEARS working on this book, and one look at the images living on those pages and you will very clearly see what that kind of time does when it comes to the quality of reporting. Suau covers it all, politics, family, war, high-society and everyday life. When I think of documentary photography books, it’s publications like this that set the bar. You have to remember something very, very important. This is a book of moments. The vast majority of these images are one frame moments. Just think about that. Just think about how much time and focus that requires. Now think about doing that over a ten-year period. So many of the documentary books I see today are the “abstract urban landscape book” void of people(So no need for interaction or model release) or the “portrait series” documentary book which can be done VERY quickly(There are a few stellar books in this category however). Forget it, this book was like an ultra-marathon.

Now, books like this rarely get the credit they deserve because for whatever reason work like this is considered too reality based and the art world doesn’t seem to know what to do with it(Something that has been written about by a fair number of art-world folks), but for me this work is SO DIFFICULT, so RARE and so TIME CONSUMING it deserves it’s own wing in the museum world. Forget the gallery world, this work it more important than MOST of those spaces(There are worthy galleries.)

I KNOW there are so many of you out there living under the ultra-romantic notion of photographer. The loner walking the back streets of a crumbling empire, Leica in hand, pouring their life into their contact sheets. Well, in this case, that is in some ways what you had, but I will remind you of the DATE these images were taken, and the reality that this lifestyle is EXTREMELY rare today because the industry that supported photographers at this time is basically gone. Even during the time this book was made it was a supreme struggle to do this work. Today, nearly impossible. The time isn’t being spent, the work is made digitally now and it just doesn’t have the same cache or impact, nor do folks want to slow down and actually appreciate the work. The reason I’m telling you this is to slow YOU down when you consider a book like this. This is a treasure. A gem. Give yourself, and the photographer, some respect and sit down alone, sans mobile phone umbilical cord, TV, laptop, iPad, etc., and just look at the work, start to finish, front to back. Trust me, it’s worth it.


I simply can’t tell you the range of what this book offers. I’m not even going start with design or materials, which are both very good, because I still can’t get over the quality of the photographs. The alarming thing is that each photograph represents what has to be an archive of other work. You see an image of a destroyed downtown Grozny during the height of the Chechen War and you think “What ELSE does he have?” You realize to get that one image there had to be MONTHS of preparation and sacrifice. This work is “classic” in all the right ways, and could or should be used in photojournalism schools to illustrate the kind of work being done by one motivated individual with time and resources. Perhaps not as much as he would have liked, actually don’t know, but I’m guessing. This book gets better with age.

Don’t walk, RUN, and go by this thing.

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.


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.


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.

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.

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.
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.”

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.

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?

Book Review: “I’m in Miami Bitch” by Andrew Kaufman

A certain subset of the human population believes that because I work for Blurb I’m a mutant-like savant when it comes to the world of illustrated publications. It’s not true. I come from the weird world of photography where the Earth revolves around people consumed by their chosen narratives, passionate to tell their visual stories to a world with seemingly little care or concern. My razor-thin knowledge of books only began to build in 2006, and like the practice squad for the Jamaican bobsled team, there have been many twists, turns and accidental rollovers on the way.

When I review a book my thoughts are not intended for the high-end book world. Those folks work from a pre-Berlin wall, Soviet-like, super-structure of knowledge, impenetrable to all but a chosen few who were trained in underground bunkers near the North Dakota/South Dakota border. You can see this world unfold at precisely this time of year with the much hyped “Best Books of the Year” lists, or better yet, the “Worst Books of the Year” tally. Those lists to a guy like me, a blue-collar luddite, remind me of movie reviews where a Hollywood academic waxes poetic about influence, tribute and feminism while referring to a three-hour foreign flick about lesbian relationships, but when I ask a female friend who had just seen the film what her thoughts were I got the “lots of gratuitous pussy” summary which not only peaked my interest but also provided me far more realistic insight than the aforementioned Hollywood piece. Nothing wrong with academics, we need them, and their insight, but different tools work at different times for different people, and my view is that most of the books on these lists could be interchanged and not a single complaint would be voiced.(There ARE version of these “best of” lists that are more complete than others, and a very few are really sourced and thought out, so go find them and you will find true treasures. These lists include the far reaches of the publishing world, not just the expected heavyweight choices.)

photo copy 2
This is a book review of the book you see above, Andrew Kaufman’s “I’m in Miami Bitch,” but I want to continue with the critic theme just for a moment because there is another point I want to make in regard to audience. Kaufman’s book was NOT published by Blurb, but like always I need a round about story to get to my points…

I’ve been approached by A LOT of photographers over the years who confront me with question number one….“Hey Milnor, how many books have you sold on Blurb?” Now, what this question REALLY means is “Please tell me you have sold a lot of books because I want to sell a lot of books and I’m really hoping you are going to tell me it’s possible.” The first few years I would break down the question rationally and actually talk about numbers, but then I realized I was missing the point. Now I answer with a question of my own. “How good is your database?” I get two responses. Occasionally I get “It’s good, categories, but within the overall database I have a select group I work with more closely.” These people can sell books. The most common answer I get is “What is a database?” These folks are in real trouble and simply aren’t going to sell books. Audience, and having a relationship with one is HUGELY important to bookmaking and more specifically book selling. Photobook people, critics and the well known or famous can be very important in the life of a book. They can write reviews, endorse something, even just talk about something and drum up interest but the audience they are typically drumming up is important yet very, very small and not representative of the world in general, something that took me a while to figure out. Personally, I no longer have any interest in having my work in galleries or publications because I realize those places don’t reach the folks I want to reach. The people IN my photographs don’t buy these publications, nor will they ever go to a gallery or museum to take in the work, even if they are in the show. And in most cases they won’t buy the book. So my question is this, “Why not grab someone off the street, someone totally unknown, someone totally outside the world of illustrated anything and get their opinion?” Who will you learn more from, the critic or the stranger? Does it matter? The reason I’m bringing this up is you need to really consider who your audience is and how they operate. The life of your book might just depend on it. Until 2007 I was interested and driven by the industry person, the critic, the expert, those I thought could influence my career. Then I realized I was more interested in the thoughts of those in my photographs and my life has been VERY different ever since. Now, when you approach a total stranger and ask them what they think of your photography book you need to realize you are not always going to get a warm and fuzzy reception. Most people have NEVER been asked to participate like this and sometimes the resulting response is fear and suspicion. Heck, I think people are fearful in general, especially those who watch cable news all day long. Tunneling accidents in the US are up 30%. It’s weird out there.

And speaking of sales. Let me clarify a few things. I recently spoke to a class of graduating seniors at an art school and I asked them how many in the room wanted to publish a traditional photobook? All forty people in the room raised their hand. When I asked how many books they envisioned the publisher would print on their first run of books you know what the first answer I got was? Guess..come on…guess. 100,000. Yes, this is entirely delusional but it’s based on the idea of fame which has crept into the photography world and has landed full force due to things like social media, online followings, reality TV and the selfie epidemic. The subsequent answers, by the way, went UP from there. Let’s just say that many illustrated books are printed in the 1500-3000 copy range and many just simply don’t sell. The numbers are actually pretty sad. But guess what? So what? Because here is the interesting thing. You could print 1500 books, place TWO of those books with the right people then lose the rest in a gambling accident and the book could STILL be considered a success depending on those two books you placed. The book, in the life of the artist, is a catalyst. And let’s also not forget some books SELL and I mean really sell in multiple languages in the hundreds of thousands. But let me get back to a specific book.
photo copy 5
Andrew Kaufman is a pain in my ass. He always has been and this goes back to the late 1990’s when I first met him. Most people, in some way, shape or form are a pain in the ass, so his warm home in this category shouldn’t be a surprise. Andrew is a photographer. He’s not old school, or new school, he’s somewhere in the middle. There are many parallels between his “career” and mine. There was the photojournalism degree, the subsequent newspaper experience, followed by magazines, portraits, a bit of commercial work, but most importantly the lingering disease of long-term storytelling in a world consumed by microwaved thoughts spilled out via mobile device, so when Andrew first told me about the project, the project which would eventually become the book you see here, I knew I was in for a long and treacherous road as sounding board, confident and insult driven fire starter. Yes, I said insult, which is being “G” rated because if you actually knew what we said to each other, both for sport and for motivation, you would probably not only never read this journal again but you might even think of calling the NSA to encourage them to broaden their piercing surveillance of us “undesirables.”

You see, when a project like this first invades your mental space there is momentary loss of reasoning, of reality, because you know the seed has been planted and there is nothing you can do about it, but you also know that until the final nail in the visual coffin is made your life will no longer be yours. Your life will be about the project. Friends, family, duties all become annoying blocked, creative arteries. There is no half-ass. There is no shoot for ten minutes then spend ten days Photoshopping and promoting via social channels. No, that is for the other people because Andrew and I both know one very damn important and sobering thing. Just as you can’t take your supercharged, nitro-fueled, crossfire injection muscle car and outrun the radar, you also can’t outrun your negatives and contact sheets. If it’s not there it’s not there, regardless of how much you promote, and to get it you need to make a pact with evil and everything else falls by the wayside.

There were the phone calls, the emails the texts. There still are. And this is the way it should be. Remember, this is first an idea, then a story, then the actual fieldwork, then the editing, sequencing, design, publication specs, printing, shipping, distribution, reviews, placements, contracts, shows, promotion and subsequent dizzying amount of details. Books are children. There is no way around it. Any of it.

I look at a lot of books. A lot. Via Blurb, via online outlets and the traditional brick and mortar stops like Photoeye here in Santa Fe. In less than a minute I am lost in another world of war, society, art and the rest of the human spectrum. Books are journeys, ones that allow for the imagination of the viewer to run wild. Interpretation is a magical thing. When I respond to a book it has little to do with the author. A lot of folks will buy books sight unseen based on who the author is. Not me. Yesterday I was in Photoeye and noticed a new, oversized book by one of the true superstars of the art photography world. It did NOTHING for me and felt more like an inside joke between the artist and the art world, almost as if they were saying “I’m so important I can do anything and people will love it.” This might in fact be true, and I am only relaying my feelings which are probably skewed, flawed and dangerous. What I do base my book love on is the work. Design is important as well but the WORK HAS TO BE THERE.
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Now I come from the reality based photography world, journalism, and for the most part the art world has no idea what to do with this work. A lot of people more credible than me have written about this, but it’s an important point to make, especially if you are prone to wasting your time making real images of real people doing real things. This work takes copious amounts of time, luck and a willingness to do things like sleep in your car, starve yourself and perhaps even put yourself in places you might not get out of. This work is disappearing rapidly because it takes too much of said time and it will almost certainly rule you out from even becoming famous because the work tends to be about the folks IN the photographs and not about the person behind the camera. Most of the time.

“I’m in Miami Bitch” isn’t an artist driven book, it’s a STORY driven book. Now this story happens to be about artists, a cruel twist of publishing fate, but this point is important. This isn’t a book about Andrew Kaufman saying “Look at me, I’m a badass artist.” This is a book about Andrew Kaufman saying “Look at what these other artists are doing and look at how it has become a part of the fabric of the DNA of our city.” This is a book about street art, community, history and preservation of a style of art that often times is gone less than 24-hours after is has been finished. This book is evidence.

“In the fall of 2012 with the Art Basel Miami Beach quickly approaching I decided to ensconce myself in the street art scene of Wynwood to tell the story.” An area once known as “El Barrio” and now gentrified into the Wynwood Art District, every year in late November artists from around the world descend on the streets of Wynwood to remake the facade of almost every building, overhead door and nook or cranny where paint could be applied.”
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My first impression of this book was “intimate, buyable.” The size is right. What size is it? Well, I could give you specs but let me describe it in another more practical way. You know when you go someone’s house who is in the art world and they have those pillars of books stacked on top of each other with the massive books on the bottom and the tiny novels at the top? Andrews book is in the “I will actually pull this book out and read it” space as opposed to the monolith style, behemoth statement books at the bottom of the stack, books that haven’t been viewed in years because most people would rupture a disc attempting to handle the beast. Another way of describing it would be this book is approachable, and I cannot stress enough how important this is in a world of minimal attention span. Monograph style books, often times, are just too much for “outsiders” to deal with when they are browsing. And remember, when it comes to this book, ask yourself this, “Who is the audience?” This is where things get really interesting. In my limited opinion this book has multiple audiences. Yes, this book works as a statement for Kaufman, a calling card, a business card, but this book also belongs to the people IN the photographs and most importantly this book belongs to the people of Miami. This is the beauty of a story driven book, especially one that takes on something like street art, a specific neighborhood during a specific timeframe. This is the kind of shit that really gets my juices flowing. What to DO with a book like this after you get your grubby mitts on it.
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Am I a book designer? No, far from it, so when I speak of the design it’s coming from limited knowledge. Street art is the Wild West of the art world and this book takes advantage of this as well as things like vibrancy, Miami-style and the freedom and experimentation that lives alongside those who conduct their lives living on the edge of permission or possible incarceration. The design is fun. From doubletruck full bleed to album style grids of the details of modern spray art warfare. Also scattered throughout are vertical images run horizontally which force the viewer to physically turn the book sideways, something I’ve heard many serious people say is a no-no, but personally I love it. Anything that makes me physically interact is a good thing. Heck, he could rig a few books to spray the viewer when they crack open the cover and I would still love it. The book also has a forward written by a street art heavyweight and an interview between Kaufman and yet another major player illustrating the photographer wasn’t just snapping away with imagery in mind.
Speaking of the imagery. This is pure documentary photography. This isn’t color content. If you know Kaufman’s work you know it’s his when you see it, something that every photographer should strive for. I just flipped through the latest issue of a well known outdoor magazine and there wasn’t a single good, recognizable image in the ENTIRE publication. Color content rules the day. I told my wife, “Don’t resubscribe to this rag even if it’s free.” When I first opened this book my first thought was “Cool, this is film.” Color, medium format falloff plus a combination of 35mm black and white and color. For those of you who say “Who cares if it’s film,” just consider where you see the benefits are in things like skin tone, tonal range and depth within the images, even those printed very small. It makes a HUGE difference. Plus, it tells me about how the photographer works, something I think is important. Modern documentary photography has been overrun by the full frame digital SLR with 50mm 1.2 shot wide open all the time for no apparent reason. I’m SO BORED WITH THIS LOOK, so when I see something different it peaks my curiosity, and makes me realized the photographer has given a lot of thought to things like PALETTE, choosing specific tools for specific projects as opposed to the speedy, “one technique fits all” of the modern electronic world. I’m guessing here, but I think Kaufman has at least seventeen different cameras, from 8×10 to a bevy of 35mm, 6×6, 645, 6×7, 6×9, Polaroid, panoramic, etc, etc and he uses them based on what he is needing or wanting on a case by case story by story basis. Oh, and I should also point out, had this book been created with a mobile phone I would have never picked it up let alone purchased it. Sorry, I’m entirely over the mobile phone essay, especially since Robert Clark did THIS all those years ago. Listening to major news outlets, ad agencies and industry publications STILL talking about this method is frankly, incredibly depressing. Can’t we all just move along?

The book contains a select set of classic photographs, things that have the potential to become a part of Miami’s visual history, photographs like “Art Died in Wynwood, “Lincoln Continental” and “Hole in the Wall.” It also contains factual, location and time specific images that work to round out the story, and STORY is the key here. This is visual journalism, complete with unposed, real moments. The photographer as participant, not conductor, and for those of you who do this work you know what I’m talking about.
Conformity will be the death of photography, in my opinion, and this book breaks with conformity. This book dabbles in what you aren’t supposed to do which is why it works so well. Street art does the same damn thing, which is what makes IT so fantastic. This book matches what the work demanded, NOT what the artist demanded. A self-sacrifice on paper. What more can anyone ask for?

This book was printed in Asia.

PS: You can purchase and handle a copy here.