Would you buy a book on smoking?Oh no you wouldn't! Oh yes we would!Well it is pantomime season, after all.This was the argument we had toward the end of the presentation of my book to my fellow students. I adamantly believe that the dirty subject matter of my book is too undesirable for someone to want to own. No one would by it (should it ever become available).I base this opinion on two things: Smoking is perceived as being 'dirty', even by smokers, and photography books don't sell well at the best of times, so on the rare when someone does by one they will plump for a beautiful landscape or architectural book.But my colleagues, and even my lecturers, disagreed. The short debate which followed said I was being to dismissive of photography.I do think sometimes these lovely people get a bit carried away with the ideology of photography. The conversation reminded me a group discussion I think I mentioned before where a few students got a bit ideological over what a glossy travel magazine should publish (though-provoking abstract images over chocolate box landscapes). If a magazine has made it success on stunning landscape images, it is not going to use abstract travel snaps instead, however well-intentioned they are. What is superior and what is wanted by a commissioning editor are two different things. And I think the same argument applies to people buying books. You have to give them what they want, not what you want to give them. There are dozens of amazing documentary photographers out there producing great, award-winning work. The problem is, a lot of these photographic essays are winning awards despite never having been published. There just isn't a market for them in the press or as books.Every documentary photographer I have ever spoken to or interviewed has to carry out commercial work to earn a living, with their documentary passion nothing more than the unpaid bit extra.I'm a big believer in thought-provoking photography, I just don't think it sells.
Smoking is brash, dirty and fast. And so is my book. I went A4-ish portrait size to make the most of my portraits (at full bleed). I used only one photograph per page (sometimes one photograph with no picture on the opposite page). And I used a bright red cover with a no smoking and a camera symbol to echo the book's title Flashes to Ashes.A photo book can be a beautiful object, and indeed there were some beautiful, huge books produced by some of the students on my course. You can sit down with a treasured book and slowly take in every photograph and read every piece of text. But this is not what my documentary subject matter was about.The photographs themselves were fast, mostly with flash and in-our-face. That's how I've tried to design the book too.I see this book as something you would flick through and toss away, so the text is minimal. In fact, I've done everything I can to make it a fast flick The photo captions are very brief and, on some pages, I have used a huge headline-style font to tell the story and help push the viewer to turn the page as fast as possible.It makes for a quick, flowing book. But I do believe the viewer will look at every photograph, which is not true if your book has hundreds of photos crammed onto loads of pages.I think I might even re-print it on a smaller scale on comic boo paper. It's lighter and more trashy, like a cigarette.
I decided very early on to use lulu.com to publish my book. If you ignore the photobook section and use one of the general book sizes, you can effectively upload your book with any design you want - if you convert it to a pdf. And here lies the problem. Converting your book to a pdf is more complicated than you ever dare imagine.So, for the reader's awareness and to remind myself, here is a list of problems I encountered.1. You have to change the document size through the Adobe pdf icon in the printer folder because if you do it through page size it goes wrong when the pdf is converted. 2. You have to embed all the fonts before you convert to a pdf (but you actually have to print to postscript first before your process the file through Adobe Distiller. 3. The most common fonts do not embed and have to be done separately through another process which involves dropping the file into Adobe Distiller. In Distiller you need a new printer-set up. 4. In the new printer set-up there is a glitch in the system that can see your page measurements being changed from inches to feet - resulting in a 7ft wide 40gb document being converted. This problem was almost insurmountable. 5. After converting to pdf, your front and back cover file includes two blank pages and is useless. In the end, I had to import the pages separately as jpeg's to lulu - but this restricts what you do with the spine (i.e. you can't change its colour). It is very complicated and, only a week or so after doing it (dozens of times) my mind is already frazzled. There is a link on the lulu FAQ section to a tutorial, but this is not as straightforward as it should be.Next time I do it, I will make detailed notes. Then I can blog it all again.
For my next meeting with Pieter van der Houwen (PVDH) at the end of November I showed him 100-odd photographs. The main subject of debate was my Shisha café smoking photographs.He said they should be dumped from the book. I'm open-minded and willing to listen. And so, it appears is Pieter. Because when he asked one of my fellow student Rob Colin Thomas (I never did ask him why he uses Colin in his name) what he thought about it, RCT said: Keep them in.Then PVDH said: Yes, keep them in. He changed his mind! In a matter of seconds! This, to me, sums up the subjectivity of photography. You glance at a photo and make an instant judgement. But sometimes your judgement reflects how you're feeling at the time. And feelings change. Often.Now I'm not knocking PVDH. A nicer man you could not wish to meet. He's got lot to say and is worth listening to. It's just that such changeable, subjective views should not necessarily be taken as gospel. Still, I came away from PVDH with some new ideas about the layout and the flow of my book. And the Shisha pictures will be included, mainly because smoking and these Asian-run Shisha café's are an important part of British culture.PVDH also recommended I dump the office workers smoking photographs. So from now on, this project is all about social smoking. I think he said that because the office worker shots were quite boring. I agree.
When you start these blogs, it's with the best intentions. Updates every week, informative chat. I didn't do too badly this year, until the work started to get on top of me. A horrendously complicated book project and a stupidly theoretical 5,000 word essay meant no time for thinking, or writing, or reading (my huge pile of unread magazines are testament to that. Still, four days ago the toil ended when, on Thursday, December 19, 2007 my photography MA course at Bolton University ended. I shall now endeavor to catch up with what went on over the next few blogs.
I'd just like to make a point of mentioning my last night taking smoking pictures.
It was one week before November 5, when Blackpool's famous illuminations go dark.
I wanted to get some street light shots before I hit the pubs - but it was raining and very windy and I ended up wasting a couple of hours. Nevermind.
On Pieter van der Houwen's advice I was looking to get more portraits. I did get a couple.
But I'd like to pay my respects to the lass with the orange hands from Yorkshire (Barnsley or Doncaster - I can't remember. I bumped into he outside the chippy. And then there was the shoeless bunny girl with the panda eyes sitting on the step outside the famous Tower Lounge. 'What? You wan't to take a photo of me looking like this?' she asked, as sweat dripped down the side of her smudge-make-up face.
When you start these blogs, it's with the best intentions. Updates every week, informative chat.
I didn't do too badly this year, until the work started to get on top of me. A horrendously complicated book project and a stupidly theoretical 5,000 word essay meant no time for thinking, or writing, or reading (my huge pile of unread magazines are testament to that.
Still, four days ago the toil ended when, on Thursday, December 19, 2007 my photography MA course at Bolton University ended. I shall now endeavor to catch up with what went on over the next few blogs.