Book Designer Meeting

I had a meeting with Emily Macaulay today of ‘Stanley James Press’ to talk through how I might turn my project into the book. This was highly productive and extremely valuable to hear her extensive experience in creating book projects with photographers. I was very pleased to be able to discuss the project with her, as she has worked on some titles that I really enjoy, including Alma Haser’s Cosmic Surgery (Fig: 1), a Limited edition of Sugar Paper Theories (Fig: 2), Simon Robert’s ‘Brexit Lexicon,’ and also Portrait Salon exhibition catalogues, which always bring a unique quality to them over the standard image and caption on page (Fig: 3).

Figure 1: Alma Haser (2015) Spread from ‘Cosmic Surgery’
Figure 2: Jack Latham (2019) Limited Edition ‘Sugar Paper Theories’ box set
Figure 3: Portrait Salon (2015) Portrait Salon 2015 Catalogue

Macaulay, was interested in the project and how I have been considering the published object to be about trace and memory, we spent some tie discussing this and how it might come together as a book. McCauley is keen to understand how I have been putting together the project up until now and her process would then be to look at how formatting would best serve the story. Should we end up working on the book together, it would become a collaborative process over a period of time that could involve both the design and the production of the book.

There is much potential to develop my project in this way and dependent of the economics of the publication – an unfortunate but essential consideration – it could be either a full book, or closer to a zine. I am hoping for something in the middle, akin to the book that I produced with Out of Place.

One of the key questions that I was keen to talk through was the idea of fund raising for the title. This of course depends on the outcome. Cosmic Surgery, for example was funded through a highly successful Kickstarter campaign but this comes with it’s own pitfalls. Kickstarter expects a fee for its service and according to Macaulay was an extremely intense period of promoting and pushing the project through this platform. Alternatively, there is an opportunity to ‘pre-sale’ the title but that would of course depend on the amount of interest I was able to generate in the book and would also mean that I would need to produce some to show the product that people are buying into. That said, Macaulay did suggest that it was possible to ‘pre-sale’ the idea but that this would need some specific marketing to allow people to get on board without seeing the finished product.

A real positive from the meeting was how Macaulay was very used to working with independent photographers, such as myself and aware of the process of creating a book with varying budgets. Moving forward, I will follow up soon to see if it is possible to create my book designed by Stanley James Press.

Book Dummy Construction V3

Building on the V2 book construction, I have started to look at methods of combining some of the more intricate elements of the book, which reference ideas of memory and trace and also working in more text within the main body of the book.

Typewriter

Figure 1: Phil Hill (May, 2021) Typewriter for book text.
Figure 2: Phil Hill (May, 2021) ‘Unreliable Narrator’ title using typewriter.

Focusing on the physicality of the object, I have used a typewriter to create the title and some of the pages containing the quotations I have collected (Fig: 1&2). The typeface is quite small – roughly 12pt – however, I enjoy the link to the material and the way the typed letters look on the page. This also links to ideas of manuscripts that I am aiming to emulate with the publication in this version and also to the novel and the nostalgia associated with typewriters and writing in this format. The typed letters are also a kind of trace left by the act of pressing keys in a way that is different to using a computer and word processing software. However, there is always the option to do this in later editions of the book.

Carbon copy paper

Fugure 3: Phil Hill (May, 2021) blue carbon copy paper in binding of book.
Figure 4: Phil Hill (May, 2021) Writing in pencil on opening page, which could be done with any pressure put onto the sheet.
Figure 5: Phil Hill (May, 2021) Carbon copy of pencil.

I managed to source a blue version of the carbon paper, which is what I have memories of. The blue also highlights the nature of the copied page (Fig: 3). I am considering using this in a couple of ways. At the start of the book, flanked by two blank sheets, which can be used for editions, numbering and signing (Fig: 4). There is potential to scribe onto the top blank page and create a copy of anything written (Fig: 5). Carbon copies are an idea that I came to after listening to Sara Davidman discussing her project ‘Ken. To Be Destroyed’ (2011), in which she found carbon copies of letters sent by her mother – a trace memory of the object letter. This is something that I could apply to my book. The collection of quotes that I am going to put into the book could be typed using letter paper and the copy paper included in the binding (Fig: 6).

Figure 6: Phil Hill (May, 2021) Typed pages ready for future version of book.

The carbon paper is also not fixed and any pressure applied to the page would leave a trace on the opposite page, which creates a book that is always in flux – just as our memory and histories are in flux.

Split pins

Figure 7: Phil Hill (May, 2021) Bound V3 book with brass split pins
Figure 8: Alibaba.com (2021) Book binding screws
Figure 9: Suharu Ogawa (2014) Photo album with screw post binding.

Manuscripts tend to be bound using brass split pins (Fig: 7), I have added some to this version of the book but am finding that they are quickly reaching breaking point when interacting with the book. A future version could instead use a kind of book binding screw (Fig: 8), which is a common feature in portfolios and more importantly, family albums (Fig: 9).

Hard cover

Figure 10: Phil Hill (May, 2021) Hard Cover experiment

Figure 11: Phil Hill (May, 2021) Margin error

I also used this version of the book as an opportunity to continue experimenting with cover options and created a hard cover (Fig: 10). I quickly realised however, that owing to the nature of the binding, my margin was off and cut some of the images and text up (Fig: 11). This also meant that the book no longer opened wide enough to enjoy a double page spread. The hard cover also does not really work in the context of the manuscript idea and its inflexibility reduces the enjoyment of picking it up and leafing through the pages. Bruno Ceschel comments on the experience of interacting with a book: “you will have to take that into consideration: what experience you want to give your readers, and especially how that experience might enhance or be in tune with the content of the book” (2015, p. 494).

There is potential for the hard cover to work, if it was a traditional case binding, however making them myself means that I won’t be able to produce this kind of binding, which will look professional. This kind of material will also push the unit price of the book much higher. I am keen for the experience of the book to be nearer that of a manuscript, or even that of a paperback novel, which denotes the idea of the unreliable narrator in its feel and experience of picking it up and working through the pages.

More of the indexical

Figure 12: Phil Hill (May, 2021) Photogram on fibre based darkroom paper made from acetate overlay.
Figure 13: Phil Hill (May, 2021) Photogram torn and mounted to front cover.

I made a series of acetate sheets that could be used to create photograms in the darkroom. I made a series of fibre-based prints using these and am currently exploring ways that I can incorporate them into the book (12 & 13). The photogram is usually made by placing objects onto the photo sensitive paper blocking the light. This indexical link to the object is another way of exploring ideas of trace and memory. This also brings the physicality of the photograph into the book, that might be lost through the way that the book’s pages will be printed. To extend this idea, I also am considering turning the archive imagery that will be used into small 6×4 glossy prints that could be stuck onto the page instead of printed to reference the family album that I found them in. I could also make some of the same physical cuts that those prints have.

Other Books analysis
Critina De Middel: Afronauts
Figure 14: Cristina De Middel (2012) From’Afronauts’
Figure 15: Cristina De Middel (2012) From ‘Afronauts’

De Middel’s book is a fiction based in some fact. Her book is a reflection of this (Fig: 14) and uses it to build a story through her personal imagery (Setanta Books, 2019). There is a great physicality to the object, which also includes types elements and place these on lined paper that fold out from the central gutter (Fig: 15). I also enjoy the use of illustration with the photographs and there could be potential to include some within my own sequence. In Joerg Colberg’s review of the book he notes: “I had seen photographs from the project on the internet, but I thought that they were just a tad too cute. But then I came across the book, and that made all the difference” (Colberg, 2012) suggesting the way that the book can change the interpretation of a body of work.

Middel’s approach to the series is also worth discussion. In her own words: “it had this fact/fiction game in terms for the documentary value of photography — it’s something real but unbelievable, so if you take pictures of it, you end up with this weird thing, which you don’t know whether to believe or not” (De Middel, 2013). And this really resonates with my own project however, there are some ethical issues that are also worth noting and some that play a role in the development of my work. It could be argued that Middel is mocking or othering in her Afronauts project, something that she rejects, noting the work is more about the perception of Africa that it would be impossible for them to reach the moon: ‘The images are beautiful and the story is pleasant at a first level, but it is built on the fact that nobody believes that Africa will ever reach the moon. It hides a very subtle critique to our position towards the whole continent and our prejudices.’ (Setanta Books, 2019).

Alec Soth: Broken Manual

Figure 16: Alec Soth (2010) ‘Broken Manual’

Soth creates a really engaging object with his book ‘Broken Manual.’ Soth’s book is housed within another book creating elements of secrecy and mystery (Fig: 16). Soth created a character for this book in the form of ‘Lester B Morrison,’ a construction of Soth’s he uses to create further intrigue. In a sense Lester B. Morrison is an unreliable narrator when you realise that it is in fact Soth writing: “I was trying to develop this secret, private language – the way people who’d spent too much time with themselves do” (2020).

Both approaches add something to the images and create a more experiential object that time can be spent and enjoyed. This is something that David Levi Strauss argues for in ‘Photography and Belief,’ which is opposition to the way that we consume images digitally: “Images that appear on the screens of our devices go by in a streaming flow. Individual images are seldom apprehended separately, as a singular trace […]. The images consumed in a flow are seldom dwelled on, so their individual effect is limited” (2020, p. 63).

Next Steps

I am still photographing this project, so the way that the book comes together will inevitable be a reaction to the images that I have to create. That said, after reading Bruno Ceshel’s ‘Self Publish Be Happy: A DIY Photobook manual and manifesto’ it is clear that the work can exist in its iterative form and continue to evolve even as I share the work (2015, p. 486), which is also something that Wendy suggested in a previous meeting. I am relatively happy with the way the work is coming together and initial sharing of the project is proving positive, including FT editor Emma Bowket, who found the concept interesting. I plan to create the next version of the book in a more polished form that can be shared with industry professionals for feedback.  

Bibliography

Ceshel, B. & Senior, D., 2015. Self Publish Be Happy: A DIY Photobook Manual and Manifesto. 1 ed. New York: Aperture.

Colberg, J., 2012. Review: The Afronauts by Cristina De Middel. [Online] Available at: http://jmcolberg.com/weblog/2012/07/review_the_afronauts_by_cristina_de_middel/ [Accessed 06 May 2021].

Davidmann, S., 2011. Ken. To Be Destroyed. [Online] Available at: https://www.saradavidmann.com/work#/kentobedestroyed/
[Accessed 07 May 2021].

De Middel, C., 2013. CRISTINA DE MIDDEL: THE AFRONAUTS [Interview] (25 April 2013).

Levi Strauss, D., 2020. Photography and Belief. 1 ed. New York: David Zwirner Books.

Setanta Books, 2019. The Afronauts. [Online] Available at: https://www.setantabooks.com/product/afronauts/
[Accessed 6 May 2021].

Soth, A., 2020. Broken Manual: Alec Soth in Conversation with Aaron Schuman [Interview] (11 August 2020).

On Photobooks

I spent a good amount of time during the MA debating the value of the photobook in terms of a key way to disseminate my work. Photobooks can feel like a limited way of putting work into the world, which is supported by arguments put forward by Simon Norfolk who has suggested that they can be esoteric and only really consumed by other photographers (2019). However, I have since started to consider the photobook as one of a range of ways to disseminate my work, which in part has been inspired by that way that my own small book was distributed and shared, leading to additional ways in which work can be seen (Fig: 1). This in part has been formed from starting to look at the ways that I can use the format over an in-person exhibitions, owing to the pandemic. Martin Parr, one of the biggest proponents of the photobook also notes their significant place for the dissemination of photographic work: “The photobook has been a fundamental means of expression and dissemination for photographers since the earliest practitioners pasted their images onto pages resembling those they would once have filled with sketches” (Parr & Badger, 2004: 7).

Figure 1: Phil Hill & Out of Place Books (January, 2021) I hope this finds you safe and well photo book.

The book creates an opportunity for my work to be experienced in a tangible way, even when it has been impossible to do so over the recent months. The physicality of the book also places an enhanced experience of the work for the reader through the materials and the way that the work is presented. Bruno Ceschel expertly provides the basis in which I can now approach my own photobook construction for the project: “The first thing you must do is demystify the idea of the photobook. As soon as you have demolished every single convention about what a photobook should be, you fee yourself to dream up something new, exciting, and most important – completely doable” (2015: 485). It is important to put down my initial reservations about what I thought photobooks represented and consider the ways that I can add value to my project with a physical art object, which can be distributed and shared easily, meaning the experience of the work is not lost through the computer screen. Crucially, Ceschel makes a further point: “The book is a journey, not a destination […] Making a book should be both challenging and fun. It should be an adventure that will make you aware of your own practice, ideas, knowledge and skills” (p. 486). This above all, has been the biggest revelation in the process of the MA and indeed this FMP.

Figure 2: Alma Haser (2015) From ‘Cosmic Surgery’
Figure 3: Alma Haser (2015) from ‘Cosmic Surgery’

Therefore, I am looking at constructing a self-published book in the first instance. One that includes elements of trace and memory and how unreliable these things are. My book should be able to be reproduced easily in potentially different versions. I am considering creating a short run edition of between 5 – 10 highly unique books with an individual hand-made aesthetic and will be a higher end product, much Almar Hasser’s first edition of ‘Cosmic Surgery’ that that contains many more intricate elements than the subsequent editions (Fig: 2&3). I will also do a further edition, which is more easily producible on a larger scale – potentially on demand. Both of these editions, will be able to be produced through the resources that I have available to me. As I work in a Further Education college, I have access to good quality book making materials and printers – albeit with some limitations that I am exploring. There are also a range of art studios, which I can potentially use for elements such as screen printing and letter press etc.

Self Publishing

David Senior notes: “To self publish, to decentralise the production of print media, created a new type of printed object – one in which artists and designers bent the rules, played with conventions of the format, and created new containers for communication” (Ceshel & Senior, 2015: 8-9), which continues to support the idea of experimentation within my project. I have not finished photographing for the project either, so both provide opportunity to continue investigating ways in which to best communicate my ideas.

Figure 5: Lewis Bush (2021) From Bush’s Instagram showing the process of zine making.

My plan is to build a good quality dummy, which can be shared with publishers and also through book dummy awards. The idea that I can also produce other versions of the book quickly and efficiently to a high standard also means that I can share the book with people within the industry that might be interested in the project. I can do this on my own terms and also continue to develop the book as I gain reaction to it, as Ceshel also discusses: “Another thing you can do to free yourself from performance anxiety is to think of your book as being in flux – each time you print, the publication can change” (2015: 486). Lewis Bush also noted this when promoting some later runs of his zine publications (Fig: 5), which embrace the hand made nature of the format and the way that later mistakes can be rectified and does not detract from the professionalism that he brings to his wide range of zine publications.

My project has become one that builds an unusual world for the reader to be taken on a journey through. John Gossage places this kind of world building as a key element for a good photography book project: “firstly, it should contain great work. Secondly, it should function a concise world within the book itself. Thirdly, it should have a design that complements what s being dealt with. And finally, it should deal with the content that sustains an ongoing interest” (Parr & Badger, 2004: 7). This idea of world building is still ongoing and I will need to consider the ways that the materials and the design of the book add value to this. 

Bibliography

Ceshel, B. & Senior, D., 2015. Self Publish Be Happy: A DIY Photobook Manual and Manifesto. 1 ed. New York: Aperture.

Norfolk, S., 2019. A Small Voice: Conversations with Photographers [Interview] (12 June 2019).

Parr, M. & Badger, G., 2004. The Photobook: A History Vol 1. 1 ed. London: Phaidon.

Publishing a Book

At the end of the surfaces and strategies module, I pitched my project to Out of Place books who were interested in turning it into a small book. The aims of my project about place fit quite well with the ethos of Out of Place, so it felt like a good place to publish this project. Start to finish, the book took the whole of the next module to put together and publish, partly due to the pandemic. This did provide an opportunity to put together some additional images that also made it into the final book.

Figure 1: Phil Hill (2021) ‘I hope this finds you safe and well’ published by Out of Place books

The resulting book was published as an edition of 60 (Fig: 1) with a risograph printed card cover and an additional print for anyone who bought the Book in the pre-sale. This was a great addition on the part of the publisher and was really well received by those who bought one.

I found it really useful to be involved in the process of producing a book. There have been times where I have questioned the value of photobooks as a sole outlet for a photography project owing to the limited nature of the audience willing to buy into the object. I have shifted my opinion to consider the book as part of a wider range of methods to disseminate work. My book was published as an addition of 60, with a fair few of those being bought by friends and family, so I am in essence preaching to the converted with the book. However, it has created a certain platform that gives a small amount of authority for then work – the publication is an automatic signal to consider my work more seriously. It has also generated conversation and increased audience over social media, which has been useful to raise profile, albeit still in a small way. As a springboard, this has been a fantastic opportunity to get people to look at my work. For example, off the back of the publication, I was interviewed by the online platform Nowhere Diary (Fig: 2), which has also led to an increased following and dialogue with peers. I do still consider the photobook not the end of a project necessarily, but potentially a central focus in which other opportunities might be afforded, such as exhibition, talks and workshops.

Figure 2: Phil Hill & Nowhere Diary (2021) Book feature and interview on Nowhere Diary platform

I am already discussing the project together with my research into my FMP project at the Communities and Communication conference at the end of April. I will also be talking to the photography course at the college where I work about the project and the book making process.

The book was really well received and in a few weeks had sold out, which has completely surprised me. The support for the work was really validating and feels as though I am on to something with my direction of research. Out of Place have also been incredibly supportive in putting the work together and getting it published under the conditions of lockdown. It is worth noting however, that because of the pandemic, I was not able to meet Chris from Out of Place in person, so much of the conversation about putting the work together and decisions over sequence and output medium were done remotely. If I am to do another, I would be really keen to be more immersed in the process of creating the work. Not to take away from the resulting book, which I absolutely love and happy with the result.

Taking the experience into the FMP, I have mooted a book as part of the potential outcomes for the project. I am not sure that at this stage, the imagery that I a m   working with would necessarily fit the type of publications that Out of Place do. However, there is potential to create another publication with them that considers the sense of place and exploration around the area that I grew up, which feed would off the themes that I am exploring. Out of Place are interested in looking at creating another book with some of the images that did not make it into ‘I hope this finds you safe and well,’ and they are encouraging me to continue with the project, which is really positive moving forward.

Responding to Ruscha

Figure 1: Phil Hill (May, 2020) Response to Ed Ruscha task

I decided to take Ed Rucha’s ‘Twentysix Gasoline Stations’ (1963) as inspiration. It has always been a book that I have enjoyed, having discovered it very early on studying photography.

The images were selected from a number of 35mm film shoots that I have been doing between the modules, which are a departure from what I have been completing for my work in progress (Fig: 1). This was as I am researching to consider the way documentary photography is perceived and see if it could play a role in developing my approach.

Figure 2: Phil Hill (May, 2020) Spread from ‘Blossom in the Time of Corona’

I wanted to create a series that first might be perceived in an arbitrary and mundane way through aesthetically pleasing images of trees in blossom (Fig: 2), which then plays on that sense of collected awareness drawn from the context of this happening during the peak of the lock down. Beautiful yet surreal when considering the time in which the images were taken. I have also added a series of double exposures to juxtapose these feelings, which I aimed to show the chaos of the situation without photographing indexical gloves and masks that have appeared en masse (Fig: 3).

Figure 3: Phil Hill (May, 2020) Double Exposure from ‘Blossom in the Time of Corona’

I aimed to use Rucha’s book as a framework to present my own work and to form the basis for the narrative within the images and followed this with the blossom images, which also utilises ‘Twentysix Gasoline Stations’ in the format of the text as a way to provide additional context in the way that the images can be read. The title is also a reference to Ruscha’s book in the graphic style of the typeface and a subtle gradient on the cover to create a sense of the aging and yellowing of the pages that Rucha’s book has been subjected to over the years since its printing (Fig: 4), which is evident in the walk through video of the book (Fig: 5).

Figure 4: Phil Hill (May, 2020) Cover from ‘Blossom in the Time of Corona’
Figure 5: Ed Ruscha (1963) Twentysix Gasoline Stations walk through video
Bibliography

Ruscha, E., 1963. Twentysix Gasoline Stations. 1 ed. Los Angeles: National Excelsior Press.