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.

The Great Deluge


Four days of Southern California rain.

Haiti is in big trouble. It was in trouble before the quake and now it is in critical trouble.

We all know this now, and we knew it very soon after the deadly quake hit this small Caribbean island.

But after visiting one of the global news sites, and seeing that they had 33 different stories and 23 different films, all about Haiti, all located on the homepage, I was confronted with a question I couldn’t answer.

Is this too much coverage? Is this beneficial, or like my tiny piece of California soil, has it reached the saturation point?

We now have the ability to cover world events in real time, which initially, and in most cases, is still viewed as a great thing. I agree, in some ways.

One part of me says, “The more the better.” “Haiti is in big trouble the the more attention we give this story the more benefit, the more aid will pour in, and it will be impossible for the world to ignore the situation.”

But I’m not sure this system is working.

When I hit the news site that had all these stories, you know what link I clicked on? Guess. Come on, guess.

I clicked on the Golden Globe winners. I did. And frankly, I’m not interested in the Golden Globes, the Oscars, any of that stuff. Nothing wrong with it, but I just don’t follow it. So I was really surprised when I found myself staring at a complete list of winners.

What happened to me was total overload of the Haitian news story. And I AM interested in Haiti. I AM interested in the region. I AM interested in following the story. I AM interested in the photography emerging from the story.

But it was too much. It was short attention span news.

I turned on the television, the first night the networks landed, en mass. Here were lines of reporters on the ground with very little to say. They would pass the mic back and forth and basically explain what they saw, but in most cases they really had little to nothing to add. I just wondered why all of them were there, and how much of the annual news budget were they spending on this one story.(And then two days later some of these same people are hosting cooking segments on the morning shows.)

Wouldn’t it be better to slow down, get the story, secure a few facts, do some EDITING and then present what you know in ONE clear, concise report?

Instead I got a Twitter-feed-like shotgun pattern of reporting. It had little to no effect. Again, I KNOW this situation is horrific, so I don’t need the play by play. I need the facts.

Day One: 100,000 dead
Day Two: 50,000 dead
Day Three: 200,000 dead

All over the map. But I wonder why report this in the first place. We know there are many dead, so why throw around numbers when you have no real idea what you are talking about, and these numbers are impossible to verify.

Look, I don’t have an answer here, I’m just wondering if I’m alone in this. I keep thinking to myself, “No, this coverage brings attention.” But again, I’m not sure it is working like we think it works. Do other people turn off to this?

And as for the photography, the same applies.

Day one, we were flooded with cell phone imagery. Its horrible quality, but at that point it’s not about quality, it’s simply information.

A day later, the “real” photographers arrive, and the imagery looks much the same but the quality level of the imagery, the resolution, the sharpness, etc, gets better.

Day three and on, the photographers land in platoon strength and now all bets are off. Every single day we are blanketed by hundreds, thousands, if not tens of thousands of images from every possible angle. Again, much of this imagery looks alike.

And here is where the pendulum shifts.

By now there are people on the scene with the ability to give us more in depth reportage. Perhaps they are photographers, journalists, with a history in Haiti, and IF GIVEN THE TIME, MIGHT have the ability to tell us what is really going on. But based on the modern news cycle, they too are rushed, and contribute little more than similar photos, stories, that we have already seen.

For me, I would love to say to this small group of people, “Please, take your time, get the story, get what you need, take the time to edit, find the best way to present it and then bring it to me(as in publish it).” “I will stop what I’m doing and give you one hundred percent of my attention.”

But again, this doesn’t happen. What does happen is dozens, if not hundreds of more carbon copy news stories land in the multitude of information channels.

It’s a very strange situation because in some ways what I’m asking for is more thoughtful, perhaps more beautiful work to be created from a horrible situation, but in the end, I think this is what will deliver the most impact, far more impact that the current style of heavy rain.

I’ll give you an example, and I’m pulling this out of my butt, so hang with me.

Back in the early 1980’s, part of the Sahel, or perhaps all of the Sahel was in the grips of a major famine. A photographer named Sebastiao Salgado decided to go and see for himself what was happening. He went on his own, at least I think he did, bulk rolling his own film, living a tough existence.

Now I’m guessing here, but I would imagine he was on the scene for at least a month, perhaps more, shooting, traveling, compiling images. And if I had to guess, when he returned to Paris or New York or wherever he was living, it took another few weeks, months, to collect the work and then…..release it.

Now this photographer is not a spot-news photographer, a front line war photographer, but that is partly what I’m getting at.

Maybe there were other photographers on the scene, wire service people putting out images in rapid fire, but the work that had the REAL IMPACT was the black and white work of Salgado. It is the ONLY work I can remember from that story. I remember seeing it for the first time and freezing because it was so powerful I could not look away. It was thoughtful and presented well.

I would imagine he didn’t send, transmit or publish anything during the time he was there, so you could say, “Well, if he had then perhaps the world would have known about the situation earlier and perhaps fewer people would have died.” That’s a good angle, but I would imagine there WERE photographers doing this….so where was the impact?

There is another layer to this.

So now Haiti is flooded with media personal, and I mean flooded. I would imagine a HUGE percentage of annual budgets are being spent on this story, and maybe that is a good thing. I asked another photographer who had been there why this was happening, why this story was being attacked in such mass and the answer was, “Because they think they can win a Pulitzer.” I’m not gonna touch that one, but it is something you have to consider.

But the real problem with this is when people blow their stack and attack a story like this, it typically doesn’t last long. You hear tales of “image fatigue,” and Haiti is about to experience this.

Then, when the time comes to really solve the situation the world is completely burned out on the story, and the media outlets don’t have the budget remaining to keep covering the story at the depth it needs to be covered.

So you have the NGO organizations suddenly becoming the only way for journalists, photographers, etc to gain access and make work. Most of these folks are working for free, or working for wages that are below poverty level, which contributes to the limitations placed on them. And you see the cycle we have created.

The photographer Sara Terry created her Aftermath Project based on this concept. Just because the bullets stop flying or the Earth stops shaking doesn’t mean the story is over.

I think it is completely unrealistic to think this is going to change anytime soon, but I for one am really growing tired of the superficial, super fast bombardment of information that seems to increase on a daily basis.

When is enough enough?

Fingers crossed for Haiti.