Though a book of photographs is something that I’ve been asked for time and again – I’ve honestly felt that it doesn’t really make a lot of sense to do, both because ultimately the audience is quite limited, and because the economics are a bit of a disaster if you care the slightest about quality. Speaking to many possible publishers, printers, and photographers who’ve done it (including those considered to be highly successful in this game, such as Nick Brandt) – it’s clear to me that any sort of photographic-only book is only worth doing if somebody with deep pockets is funding it for you. For example, Brandt doesn’t break even on any of his books – because his required standards for printing are so high; the problem is once you’ve seen what’s possible, it’s very difficult to compromise. Yet…I’ve not only decided to do one, but my editor and I are well into the process of putting it together already. Why? Let me attempt to rationalise – and share some of the frustrations…
Firstly, this isn’t a vanity publication. Secondly, it isn’t one of photographs only. Thirdly, like everything else I do in this line – I’m expecting that it will at least break even; otherwise there are other more worthwhile uses of time. One of the things I have to keep reminding myself is that I’m in this as a business, not a hobby. And that requires keeping one’s objectivity present at all times.
After extended discussion with various parties, I felt that the book should have two objectives: firstly, to preserve, order and condense the more philosophical discussions on the site, and secondly, put them around some sort of practical context – so that at least both the basics and the whys are covered. This way, the finished book could serve as a fairly complete treatises on photography – at least from the point of view of a single individual. On top of this, there’s a lot of stuff that just goes missing or gets lost in the ether on the site itself – with going on 1400 posts (!) averaging 1500 words a post, that’s a lot of reading to do to get to the gems. In fact, if we condensed this to pure text alone – without any images – we’re looking at 18 paperback novels of solid text. Whilst everything uploaded effectively sticks around forever somewhere online, I’d rather have a more permanent and structured repository for the enormous amount of work I’ve put into the site.
Some time ago, I’d already started editing a sort of ‘best of’ list from the site, but there were just too many things that required editing to be non-time sensitive (i.e. not referencing specific events or hardware or something else that might not make any sense when reread five or ten years hence). On top of that, my own philosophy and views on many things have changed with the benefit of experience and hindsight; there are things I’ve become more intolerant of, and others which I’v relaxed. Bottom line: much rewriting would be required, and there’s no way I could just copy and paste articles to string something together. In the end, daunted, I parked the exercise – until now.
My editor and I have decided the book will take two forms, the content of both which will be identical. An e-book, for convenience, and a boxed hardcover tome for archiving and leafing through at leisure. I suspect that even after editing, this may well run to two or three volumes of several hundred pages each, and will of course have color photographs. Even though photographic print and reproduction is not the primary objective of the book, there’s still something about paper that’s infinitely preferable to a screen. Plus, there’s the added benefit of not being able to accidentally delete it.
Here’s the tricky part. Even if we included only the philosophical articles, omitted the technique/reviews/etc., there are over 250 articles of 2,000 word average length; half a million words and four paperbacks, or perhaps 500 sheets of A4. Curating down the images to something manageable – say no more than two full pages images per essay – and this balloons to 1,000 pages, before we add any practical meat. See the problem? Whilst an e-book may theoretically be of infinite length, having something this heavy makes it daunting to read, which in turn defeats the point of making a book at all.
Oddly, the toughest part hasn’t been rewriting the articles. That’s pretty easy (but just tiring on the fingers, and I’ve now worn out my fourth Apple keyboard since the start of the site in 2012) because many can be condensed and streamlined as similar themes can be sequenced together and made to flow in a way that you can’t do with a blog; on top of that, I think my own personal position is much more defined on many subjects.
It’s the images that get you. The minefield is whether to choose the best direct-fit examples (risk of being boring or not being current work), the most recent work (risk of lacking sitting time), the most interesting and thought provoking examples (risk of being too tangential or lacking obvious connection to the article) or some combination thereof. And should they be in a single style, or a variety? Are we illustrating for the benefit of discussion, or attempting to showcase what’s possible? And that’s before we even get into emotional attachment: there may well be two or three possible candidates for a single slot, even if we choose to be consistent and say not deviate too far on style.
Personally, I’ve been through the image curation exercise many, many times already; often getting halfway then scrapping it because a single image is missing, or because I find I need to use the same image more than once. I’ve even rewritten chapters around a single image, only to find that the subsequent stuff doesn’t flow. It’s frustrating, to say the least. All in all, there are days I think we’re 80% there, and others when I want to start again (or procrastinate entirely). I wonder if other authors go through the same process; maybe there is no magic moment when you feel it’s ‘done’. Worse still if you write something further down the line which you wish you’d included – no problem for an ebook, but not possible with a printed edition! Back to the other keyboard for me… MT
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