The Beauty of Photobooks

I mentioned doing a photobook in the last post. I wanted to write about that a little further. I like photobooks a lot and have many. Some, I know, have vast collections. I am not fortunate enough to have that much money or space, but I do try to pick up something new at the used bookstore now and then.

2017 Book

2017 Book

For me a photobook has some level of permanence. A fully digital process is fine, but a hard drive crashing or website folding can mean quick vaporization of a lot of work. Backups, you say, the 3-2-1 rule.

I think in terms of legacy. I know not a lot of people thinking about the world after they’re gone. Many might even say “who cares, I won’t be here…” But it’s always something I’ve considered. What kind of mark am I going to leave that simply said “tim was here and made a contribution”.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think my work is so valuable that it needs to be preserved or remembered. But it *is* interesting to my family and friends. But when I’m dead, it would be hard enough for someone to go through boxes of actual photos. I know, I’ve done it for other family members. But to expect someone to go through hard drives of tens if not hundreds of thousands of images is not realistic. No one will do it, the technology will get old, mechanicals fail. The images will die on an old harddrive.

And so - for them - I’ve started self-publishing my own photobooks. Books don’t need effort for someone to figure it out. They can be passed around and passed down without needing to “set up” a bunch of crap. This is something even our parents couldn’t do “back in the day”. For all the talk of “living in a less complicated time” I remember messing with an old slide carousel and portable screen… Ugh. But they didn’t have the ability, for $50, to have a high quality book made of their vacation images or family gatherings. Where are those slides now? Deep in a box in an attic someplace. Books are on my shelf.

Some people were great about making photo albums, physical photo albums. Those are good, too. It informs people what is important, or what you *felt* was important about that time or that person. Those took a lot of time and patience as well.

But with digital, we stopped printing images and now we “share” them. There are no boxes of prints or physical albums, only folders on computers or phones with thousands of images and no one knows what is worthwhile or not.  

For me, a good photo book addresses that. Starting last year I decided to make a book each year of what I feel has been my best work. Not just a portfolio, but thematically as well. Can I put 30 or so images together in a way that makes sense as group of images working together?

This is the next step even beyond printing. I’ve mentioned how I feel like printing one’s work is an important part of the photographic process. There are artistic decisions that need to be made when preparing a photo to be hung on a wall.

With a book, there are more decisions - which images to include, and what order to put them in. Anytime you have a group of images together they play off each other. So a gallery show, or book, or whatever might not represent the *best* work someone has done, but it represents the best collection of images under a particular theme or idea.

For example, I could maybe do a whole series of just storefronts. Some of the these images are great, some not so much, but together they work well. I’m sure I have better images than some of the lesser storefronts, but those images are not part of the theme.

That’s a very specific example, of course, of a theme. For something like a book, it might not be so overt. But similar decision making has to happen. Some images will work better as part of the group. Figuring that out takes time and effort and artistic decision making.

In the end, what I hope to have is a series of books of work that I am proud of, that I can share with my friends and family, and that I can look at and say “yes, I’m improving”. I fully expect to look at these first books and cringe someday. I actually hope so. Perhaps others, maybe my own grandchildren, could find these books and understand that it takes time to get good at anything. And when I do leave a drive full of images, if anyone ever did want to go through them, they have information about my own thoughts and ideas about which images I found valuable and how I chose to make my edits.