Attached are a few pictures of my new photography project book. No, this is not a shameless plug before anyone complains. While the book will become available for sale1, as you can see from the title the potential market is limited.
“Then why are you showing them to us?” you might ask. Well, I want to tell you why I decided to start creating long form visual narratives and publishing them in book form.
For me it’s about three things:
1. the relationship between photographs and the senses
2. creating something tangible with photography other than just prints, and
3. looking deeper into subjects and sharing a record, comment, or story about them, compiled over time and integrating words with multiple images.
Reasons 1. and 2. are straightforward. Most of the photographs I consider good enough to share with other people are overwhelmingly published in electronic form. They appear on my social media channels and, if arguably slightly better than ‘good’, also on my website. I print relatively few images at home, mainly because while I have a photographic printer, it’s not a professional standard machine. Consequently, I use this just to produce ‘rough copies’ for me to inspect (as closely as the print quality will allow) before dealing with a professional printing company. The images printed by professional companies are then strictly-to-order only, either for customers or (in a few cases) for me. This limited approach to sharing images has come to feel unsatisfactory.
Photographs are not just online, monitor-based visual stimuli. To view a physical photograph, even better hold it while viewing it, is to arouse other senses. The feel of good quality, textured, photographic paper gives photographs a tangible reality. They become authentic things representing real subjects – places, people, animals, occurrences - and stories. The sound of the paper in our possession brings them to life, whether a single image or a number of images in a photographic book. And the smell of the printed work, especially books, draws the holder in further. The more of the senses a photograph stimulates the greater the time someone spends with it, interpreting it’s content, story, meaning and ultimately, it’s value to them as the viewer.
Regarding tangibility, to be frank, this is a more personal reason. In short, I’m afraid that when I stop making images for whatever reason, old age or otherwise, all I’ll have to show for my photography passion are electronic images on my website and social media. And once I’ve passed away and these slide into the ether they’ll be gone too. I can, of course, print more individual images for myself. Or store them on external drives and give them to family to preserve. But for me this feels like only a superficial commitment to the work. Gathering collections of photographs, whether organised in boxes or albums, or just stored loosely in a drawer, seems casual at best.
Which is where reason 3. comes in. I began to think that I needed to do more than just capture and share individual outdoor scenes. Don’t get me wrong, I’m committed to continue making singular images and love photographing scenes that tell a story or call out to be documented and shared. This is especially necessary in South East England, where the pace and scale of environmental ‘development’ is so rapid. But as my book illustrates, one or two reference pictures only of my local town wouldn’t be enough to preserve a reasonable historic record, especially at a time when much of Dartford may be subject to ‘re-generation’ over the next decade.
You may say, “That all sounds very laudable but these sorts of books tend to be niche publications and only of interest to a handful of people. Why bother?”
It’s true, this book (and indeed the one I’m working on at present) interrupted my established, relatively efficient photography work flow. And such books are, at times, difficult to work on. Compared to producing single photographs with an accompanying short sentence and maybe some key words, long form photographic projects are like writing novels. Before you capture one image a worthy subject must be imagined and thought through – by which I mean conceived, set aside, re-visited, set aside again, re-visited again and then refined some more. Then it must be researched, a narrative tentatively structured and planned on paper and then the compilation and editing work determined. All of this just to see if the subject justifies the effort.
Yet, long form photography books are much more important than just a collation of related photographs. They’re a way of creating something scripted, curated, real and physical and a means by which I believe I can contribute, in some small but tangible way to our collective body of records, documents, thoughts, stories and maybe even knowledge.
As valuable to me as my individual photographs are, even those only viewable online, these books are so much more. They feel less fleeting and more essential. Okay, they won’t change the world. And certainly, my first book (probably also my second) is unlikely to be of immediate interest. More likely its worth will (hopefully) emerge in 25 years or more. But here’s the key: I love the idea that these tangible collections of words and images can go beyond a single photograph and capture much more of the essence of a subject within their pages. And thereby preserve more of a moment or story in time.
You may not consider my reasons valid and that’s fair enough. You may also believe long form visual narrative books offer little or no value to potential viewers. Again, fair enough, though I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on why in the comments below. But one thing I’m sure we can all agree upon, given our mutual love of photography, is that anyone trying to pursue a creative passion must be encouraged to share their work in whatever way they think is best for them.