February 7, 2017
by Matthew Schmidt
February 7, 2017
December 31, 2016
by Matthew Schmidt
Happy New Year!
Taking a break over the holidays, so I asked Colin Brown, finisher of two fine books this year, if he could fill in. I hope it will be more interesting to get some views other than Suprada and myself. Colin was kind enough to provide two posts, one about each of the books he had created. Today is part I of the two-part post.
SoFoBoMo2016: the first book
Matthew Schmidt asked me to write a blog post about the two books I produced for this year’s Solo Photo Book Month. Ordinarily, I don’t really enjoy writing about my own work, but in this instance I thought that doing so might be informative for others, some of whom may not have dipped their toes into the inviting waters of SoFoBoMo yet.
Because my two books look quite different from each other I have decided to write about each one separately. This post covers the first book.
The making of too close to being far away from everything
The title came before the photographs. I liked its contrary nature, the way in which it juxtaposed ‘close’ and ‘far away’. It would allow me to approach my project in psychological terms, meaning that I would be able to take photographs of whatever interested me at the time a camera was in my hands. This is a method of working that has served me well on previous projects. I am not a genre photographer. I like variety and see no reason why various forms of photography should not be used in the same book.
They say that necessity is the mother of invention, but in my case it’s financial hardship. I couldn’t fund trips to exotic or even mildly exciting places that might yield great photographic opportunities, so I worked with what I had. However, I felt confident that I would be able to illustrate my theme. I work in a small town, and right now that town’s centre is being regenerated. It’s a massive undertaking, and it means a daily negotiation of what is practically a huge building site. However, the construction work does provide a rich seam of photographic interest if you point your camera in the right direction. There’s a real sense of dereliction in a lot of places that I knew would suit the tone of my project. Temporary hoardings provided some beautiful abstracts.
This area is also blessed with some wonderful natural resources, so I was able to get some shots that contrasted well with the urban elements, whilst at the same time remaining true to my theme. I included a couple of images that were deliberately shot out of focus to emphasise the idea of being so close to something that you might as well be far away.
I also felt it was important to include some photographs of people in the book, since it’s theme is really about us. I thought it would be appropriate to use a slow shutter speed for these pictures, which resulted in out-of-focus people against sharp backgrounds. I hoped this would illustrate the idea of people moving too fast to notice either their environment or the others who share it.
I decided fairly early on in the process that my final images would be black and white, since I wanted to achieve a documentary feel to the project. It also has a way of focusing the mind on content rather than the distractions of colour.
I shot the images over a three week period, gradually refining my choices for inclusion in the final book. I always shoot RAW, because sometimes I just don’t get it right in-camera and those highlights need to be reduced and those shadow details reclaimed. I do all my post-processing in Adobe Lightroom, and for this project I also used Silver Efex Pro 2, a B&W plugin from Google’s Nik collection (recently made free to use). Some may argue that presets are a form of ‘cheating’, that I am merely applying someone else’s settings to my photograph. But I am not a photographic purist, and I have no intention of reinventing the wheel. All I want is something that gives me an image that I like.
If hope is the thing with feathers (according to Emily Dickinson) then a book is the thing with pages. A page is a defined unit of space and comes in left-hand and right-hand flavours. Together, a left-hand page and a right-hand page make a spread, and this is very useful when it comes to arranging a sequence of images for a photo book. It means I can decide to use two similar images together, or two contrasting ones. Or I could use one image to comment on the other. For me, it’s always important to have a range of possibilities. I’ll share some of my behind-the-scenes thinking for the following three spreads from the book.
This spread uses two very different photographs. The image on the left from Swinley Forest depicts some deliberately out-of-focus trees. On the right, the discarded hypodermics of drug users, photographed in a neglected area on the edge of town beside a car park and across the road from a Health Centre. In placing these photographs together I am attempting to suggest that the image on the left can be seen as a consequence of the one on the right. Far from opening Huxley’s Doors of Perception, drugs dull the senses, and those things that are close cannot be recognised. There is emptiness, confusion, and the addict ends up far from everything.
This spread uses a portrait and a semi-abstract photograph. The portrait is a rare shot of a person in focus instead of blurred against the background. It’s a photograph of a work colleague who didn’t want me to take her picture. It’s all about the hand. It says stop, back off, go away. It says ‘you’re too close’. (I don’t think she believed me when I told her what she’d done was perfect. and that I’d be using it in my book project.) The semi-abstract ‘asterisk’ is a detail from a larger graffiti work in an underpass in, believe it or not, Swinley Forest. As I reviewed the photographs for inclusion in the book I looked at this picture and immediately saw in it my colleague’s ‘hand’. For me, it illustrates how two unconnected images say the same thing: you’re too close. And it makes you far away.
In this spread I’ve kept it simple. By using two landscape photographs I hoped to illustrate the idea of being small in a big world, of being lost in an environment defined only by sky and horizon. Are you close to something? Too far away? Both these images were made by shooting multiple frames and then getting Lightroom to merge them into a single panorama. Having tried to do this in other pieces of software over the years I was exceptionally pleased that Lightroom was able to produce a pretty flawless result. All the more impressive because I didn’t even use a tripod. After I’d put the pictures on the page I was surprised by how much the two photographs, taken in completely different locations, looked as though they might be joined together as a single image.
Most books are viewed in a linear fashion, moving from beginning to end. This means that my images will more than likely be viewed in the sequence in which I have chosen to present them. Unlike, for example, a web gallery where a viewer may choose any one of a number of starting points and view images in whichever order they desire. A slideshow of images may partly resemble the format of a book, in that a sequence is predetermined, but this method of presentation reveals only single images.
For me, the best books have form and function in equal measure.
In the final week of the project I began constructing the book. I used to design books for a living, so it’s no accident that I chose to use QuarkXpress. It’s what I know. There are many other options available for putting books together. You don’t need to use expensive, professional software to make your book. It won’t make you a better designer any more than having expensive photo gear makes you a better photographer. It’s what you do with what you’ve got that counts.
Simplicity is the key. What is my book for? It’s for displaying photographs, without any unnecessary embellishments or distractions. One photograph per page, with some used full-bleed to add variety. In one instance I chose to use three images on a page because they formed their own sequence, and perhaps form the best illustration of the title found anywhere in the book.
I always try to provide some sort of an introduction to my books. Sometimes I use the words of others, because their eloquence far outstrips mine, but for this book the words are my own. Type layout is minimalist, to complement the general tone of the book, and begins with a statement that is intended to give an overview of the theme. The block of smaller text in the right hand corner of the page, and on the three successive pages, sets out in very brief terms the different strands of the project. The introduction uses a very small amount of words. I could easily have placed the entire text on a single page. Why did I not do this? Two reasons: firstly, white space on a page can be a very powerful design element, and I specifically wanted to illustrate the notion of ‘peripheral’; secondly, by placing type in the same position on each page I was able to reuse the two-line overview. By reducing the opacity of the type on each subsequent page I was able to make a connection between ourselves and the words, which are also ‘treading the line between being and being erased’.
I chose to use only one typeface in a single weight in the book, with variety introduced through use of colour and size. Choosing fonts for a project always comes down to personal choice, and everyone has their own favourites. Best of all, you don’t have to spend a fortune (unless you really want to), since free fonts are to be found all over the web. However, before you download, install and populate your latest project with them, you might want to check out their usage licences. All fonts are not created equal. The typeface I used in this book was downloaded from www.fontsquirrel.com, an excellent site that provides a good range of fonts. More importantly, it tells you which uses are permitted for each font. If I know I’m going to be using a font that will eventually end up embedded in a PDF, I’ll look for a font that allows that usage. Why do I think it’s important to abide by the terms of the licence? Because the font belongs to the type designer, and they decide how they want it used. As photographers, would we like it if our images were used without permission for a purpose we perhaps didn’t agree with?
So, how did it all go? The hardest part of the project was finding a hook to hang everything on. Once that was done it was a fairly easy process. I had plenty of time to take the photographs since a lot of the source material was within walking distance of my workplace. I also had at least one day every weekend when I concentrated on the natural environment elements.
Designing the book was also a stress-free experience, as it should be for someone who made a living from book design. That’s what first drew me to Solo Photo Book Month back in 2011. Here was an ideal opportunity to indulge both my love of photography and my love of books. It’s these two things that keep me coming back each year.
Am I happy with the end result? I think I am. Did I learn anything? I think the project taught me that you can take a seemingly random assortment of images and make them into a cohesive work. When all is said and done, I have been true to myself and that is all that matters. I have made something which I am happy to share with others in the SoFoBoMo community.
If you like photographs and books then I recommend without reservations the yearly adventure that is Solo Photo Book Month. After all, they say everyone’s got a book in them, and why shouldn’t you share yours with us next year?
November 15, 2016
by Matthew Schmidt
I don’t have the time to do a book, exclaimed Darnell.
Sure you do, Marc responded in a soothing voice. You’re out shooting every week anyway.
I couldn’t get enough shots anyway. There’s not point in even trying!
We all have considerations we need to deal with in our lives, some more important than others. This past SoFoBoMo was quite a trial for me. When life doesn’t seem to go the way we planned sometimes we have to just accept it, do the best we can, and move on.
The priorities in our lives vary, and if you’re life is at all like mine, it can feel like we don’t have any control.
I work for a TINY company and we all have to pitch in when the going gets tough. This past summer, that tough time was directly on top of SoFoBoMo. I try to balance my personal needs with that of my business, but this summer was way out of whack.
I had planned to start my SoFoBoMo book over the 4th of July weekend, with the rest of July to finish. There would be 5 weekends, plenty of time to get in 35 good images.
So on Sunday, the 3rd of July, I went out and shot a bunch of images. Mostly nature images, but there were a few architectural detail shots as well. I like a wide range of subject matter and I wanted my book to reflect that.
Miss one weekend? How bad could that be?
My company’s summer party was the following weekend and that would consume most of my weekend. Since I would still have 3 more weekends, I felt I had everything in hand. Plus I had a week of vacation planned at my Dad’s house in North Carolina. Plenty of time to capture more images and think about the book.
After that weekend, my company received a Thursday evening request for proposal (RFP). The request stated they needed “a response by Monday morning at 8:00am.” So a second weekend was completely shot, at the same time canceling my vacation.
Now that little voice in my head keeps repeating “you’ll never get done, you have to take some time off” over and over.
And the work keeps coming.
During the third week of July, we got another RFP. This one with a more reasonable deadline, but with summer vacations, I was on my own. I worked that entire next weekend too.
And now that little voice is screaming “there is no way you’ll EVER finish!!!”
I’d shot images for exactly 1 day in 28. I had one weekend and a Monday after work to finish the book.
I took one weekend day to shoot some more images. Then I spent the second weekend day processing my selections. After work on Monday, I sorted my processed images and used Lightroom to create a PDF book.
I posted my book with only hours left in my 31 days.
So like Darnell, I could have given up. I certainly had reason enough to quit. And who would be the wiser if I didn’t finish?
But doing that work. Finishing that book gave me a great sense of accomplishment. It was just what I needed during a period when my personal life was… hanging in the balance.
And we won the work from both proposals, so business life wasn’t actually hurt in the process.
that little voice in my head is being quiet. Just as it should.
September 13, 2016
The making of my Sofobomo 2016 photo book, just like years past, was a struggle – in finding a good subject to worth an entire book of 35 photographs. For those of you unfamiliar with SoFoBoMo, it is a photography challenge where photographers all over the world make solo photo books in .pdf format in 31 days from start to finish. They make 35 photos, write needed text, lay out the book, and produce their ebook, in one SoFoBoMo fuzzy month – a continuous 31 day period between July 1 and August 31.
So back to my book, or rather the troubling subject of finding a subject for my photo book – my problem is always that I cannot envision more than a handful of photographs on any given subject – in other words it is a problem of a limited imagination.
So, I default to a trial-and-error approach. I start with a theme, and then when my imagination runs out, abandon it and go to the next theme on my pre-prepared and well-thought-out theme list. Most times, as I look at the already taken photographs of a given theme, an alternate theme pops up. And once I actually shoot about 35 or so photographs, the photos in front of me suggest the theme.
This year was a little different. I wanted to shoot something “common” to me, something I see everyday. A big influence in this is my copy of Ruth Bernhard’s ” Gift of the Commonplace“, a beautiful beautiful book with amazing photographs about ordinary things.
I realized I love the light and reflections in my glass and metal office building. The reason I notice these in the first place is because of my previous SoFoBoMo book – Shadows and Reflections. In making that book, I had to closely notice the light and shadows and reflections of just about anything, and I have not stopped that after I finished that book… I digress.
After a couple of shoots, I had about 50 photographs, but just about 15 which were good enough to go in the book. I was at the end of my imagination, and didn’t have any alternate ideas for themes, nor enough time to brainstorm and go through an iteration of my trial and error method. I came home one evening and started looking at my collection of LensWork magazines. And then, sitting among other books, I found “Building Blocks” by Barbara Bender, LensWork Monograph #6. It is a beautiful book. After a little while, it is easy to forget that what you are looking at are buildings!
Inspired, I shot some more. And then I decided to experiment with Lightroom develop presets. Especially those presets which accentuate or change the mood of the photograph. After some trial and error, I ended up using these, or a combination of these presets on some photographs
- Dragan-Intense free lightroom preset by photographypla
- Daido Moriyama Kit Free Lightroom develop preset by reallyjapan
- Autumn Fresh Free Lightroom develop preset by Flixelpix
And so, I have my SoFoBoMo 2016 book. The book was laid out and converted into a pdf in the Lightroom Book module. I found the book module sufficient, but left a lot to be desired in terms of additional layout flexibilities. I definitely need to find a better software and create layout templates for next year.
So this was a first analysis of my SoFoBoMo 2016 experience. I might write more here as I ruminate more over this.
I hope to see you participate in SoFoBoMo in 2017, and show me your photo book, and tell me about your experience.
August 9, 2016
by Matthew Schmidt
I had my doubts right up until the last minute… but was able to finish.
I started my SoFoBoMo 2016 book on 3 July, a holiday weekend when I had three straight days to work on the book. I shot quite a bit on the 3rd and 4th, but had other commitments the following weekend. I had a week of leave planned starting on the 16th.
Interrupted by work demands, my week of leave turned into a single day off. I spent that day at a motorcycle racetrack trying to see if I could go as fast as my motorcycle. No wrecks but I did run off the track once. Not terrible for my second time on a road course. Especially with a ten year gap between the two days.
My point is, if I can get back around to it, life happens. I got one more weekend to work on the book, 30 and 31 July. I had to process my photos in about a day, sequence and produce the book the next day. I finished just after midnight on Tuesday, 2 August. Exactly 31 days from when I started.
Is it the best work I’ve ever produced? No, it isn’t.
Am I happy with the result? As happy as I could be.
Life has continued and I’ve been too busy to write anything about the experience. But I’ve got a small gap in feeling overworked and I figured I should put some thoughts on paper.
- Even as stressed as I’ve been about work over the month, I was still able to find a little time.
- Books do not take as much time to create as we tend to believe. Our preconceived notions are often overkill.
- No matter how much time we spend on something, we feel like there is more we could have done.
So I guess I’m saying if I had it to do over again, I’d do some things different. And I’m still happy with the result and the fact that I did the work to finish the book.
July 5, 2016
by Matthew Schmidt
“The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex, overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, then starting on the first one.”
— often attributed to Mark Twain in error
Working my book like all my life. I tend to grab something that makes a big dent first, then knock things off one small item at a time. It is the method I’ve developed for accomplishing a lot in a short period of time.
I chose triangles as a unifying theme for my book. It is a subject from Freeman Patterson’s book “Photography and the Art of Seeing.” We find triangles everywhere and they are an important elements of composition. From a psychological perspective, we ascribe male or masculine attributes to triangles. I favor abstract representations in my photography. For this book I chose to include a wider variety of techniques. I have included landscapes, nature and architecture as well as abstracts.
I create my photographs with a range of digital cameras fromCanon and Sony. I photographed all my subjects with a Sony NEX-6 compact, mirrorless camera. To process the photos, I used Adobe Lightroom, Photoshop and Nik filters. Viveza andColor Efex Pro are the filters I used most. When processing images I go for the feeling I recall when looking at the subject. This process leads to variations in the adjustments that may be unacceptable to some.
Photography reduces the stress I feel in my life. It is one of the few pursuits in my life that has no purpose other than my pure enjoyment. It gives me an outlet for emotions long divorced from conscious self. For that reason I strive to present that emotion in my images.
I ended up being happy with twenty-three of the images I took on Sunday, but narrowed that down to eighteen. So in two days, I’m almost halfway to done. I doubt that I will use all eighteen, but I would not feel bad if I did.
SoFoBoMo 2016 – The Artist Statement first appeared on Lorelei Studios.
July 3, 2016
by Matthew Schmidt
“What was that you were saying, asked Fred? I’ve got so much on my mind I can’t seem to get anything finished.”
“If you’re feeling overwhelmed, why don’t you go take some pictures? You know it relaxes you replied his girlfriend Kathy.”
Today I am starting my SoFoBoMo 2016 project, I’ve decided to work on a personal project of Triangles.
I tend to shoot abstract photographs when left to my own devices. But for this project I have decided to mix it up a bit and include a variety of techniques. With each image I am trying to build in a triangle as a dominant design element.
Today I visited a local park where there are playing fields, lots of trees and a stream. Of the images I shot this morning, my favorite is the one on the right. I am intrigued by the triangle created with the two sprinklers as they cross over the bench. It directs my eye up into the leaves of the trees in the background.
For landscapes I use triangles as a base for my image more often than any other way. But for this image, I like the positive message created by an upward-pointing triangle.
Of course I could not resist abstracts completely. I took several, some stairs, close ups of playground equipment, some motion-blurred trees.
Only time can tell what will make the final cut. I’ll be working on an Artist’s Statement for my book over the next couple of weeks. I’ve found that often images I like will not fit the statement and I must cut them. I also find this to be an essential aspect of developing a “body of work.” The Artist’s Statement drives my final edit. Much in the same way a magazine story will dictate the images that get selected.
If you are looking for something constructive to why not start your SoFoBoMo book?
This post originally appeared on Lorelei Studios.
June 21, 2016
by Matthew Schmidt
“It’s too complicated,” said Joan. “I’ll never understand how to make my pictures a PDF. Why can’t this be easier? It seems like computers are created for engineers.”
Making it Simple
“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” – Arthur C. Clarke
Why is it that so many tasks, that seem simple, become so complex?
Part of the problem comes from the designers of the applications. If you understand enough to write the application, understanding what is happening is trivial. If you are a user of the application, you may not understand what is happening at all. You just know when you do A, B should happen.
What is happening under the hood is “magic.” But there is good news, we can create PDFs at the press of a button with several applications.
Today we’ll discuss applications that exist on the Windows and Mac computers 99% of us use. Lightroom, Windows Explorer, and Photo. Lightroom is arguably the most widely used photo management software. Windows Explorer is a bundled application with Microsoft Windows. And Photo is a bundled application with Apple’s OS X.
Lightroom to PDF
To create a PDF in Lightroom has become simple. Choose your photos, go to the Book tab, select PDF, and click the Export to PDF in the lower-right.
Windows Explorer to PDF
Windows Explorer is the application most of us use to navigate the file system in Windows. Starting in Windows 10 Microsoft included a right-click menu item Print for JPEGs. In the Print Pictures dialog, there is an option to choose Microsoft Print to PDF. Selecting this option provides the options for creating a PDF albeit with limited control.
Windows 7 & 8
If you have Windows 7 or Windows 8 you can download doPDF to add a PDF printer to your system.
OS X Photos to PDF
Starting in El Capitan Apple provided Photos as your image viewer. To create a PDF, select the images you would like, then select File, Print. You can choose any format or printer, then click Print. In the Print overlay dialog, choose the PDF button in the lower-left and Save As PDF…
OS X 10.10 & Earlier
For earlier versions of OS X, the procedure is similar, except you use iPhoto.
Although it once required specialized software, today you can print to a PDF. On a Windows or Mac computer it IS trivial to create a PDF. Simply print your images to a PDF printer.
June 7, 2016
by Matthew Schmidt
How does he do it, asked Jeff? Year after year Alex creates these wonderful portfolios at the camera club. How does he come up with such great subjects? And where does he find the time to take all the photos?
Ashley says, “I don’t know, but I really want to learn what makes Alex tick.
How To Create a Book
Every year about 80% of us who sign up do not complete a book. The reasons are unique to each case, but most of them fall into the category of not knowing what to do or where to start.
We want everyone participating in SoFoBoMo to complete a book. And we want everyone to enjoy doing it. That is why we’ve expanded our support network this year.
Here at SoFoBoMo, we’ve all lived through the pain of not knowing what to do to create our photo book. That is why we feel that we are well suited to help you. You CAN work through the issues. We will help you.
There is nothing stopping you from creating your vision, except your own self-doubt.
We’ve broken the process down for you. We will provide you with feedback and motivation to get through. No matter where you a stuck, we can get someone to provide help.
Having trouble choosing a subject? We’ll be your sounding board.
Don’t know how to create an e-book? We’ll help you identify an application.
Can’t get the photos off your phone? We can point you to the right application and instructions.
Have a question we haven’t covered? Post it on our forum.
Want to print your final book? We’ve made a fantastic deal with MPIX.
MPIX as a Sponsor
January 31, 2016
by Matthew Schmidt
And now in Part II or Colin’s excellent series of posts about his motivations and approach. I personally liked both of Colin’s books, I find them interesting and engaging. They are very different books that are well written, well photographed and well laid out. I have a great deal to learn from Colin and his approach.
SoFoBoMo2016: the second book
This is post number two about book number two for SoFoBoMo2016. Why did I make two books? A good question. The second book just kind of evolved really. I suppose what made it possible was the fact that I had started and finished my first book in just less than a month. Since SoFoBoMo takes place over a two month period, this left me another full month in which to put together another book. This book.
The making of mediocrity and the atom bomb
I wrote in the introduction to my previous post that both of my books look very different from each other. This is true. But it does not make them different books. The background to book two was exactly the same as its predecessor. I still had no money. I still had the same photographic opportunities available to me. Same camera. Same lenses. Same software on the same computer. Same everything. So, here was the problem: how to take all that sameness and make something different? I don’t like to repeat myself. I think it shows a lack of imagination. Perhaps more importantly I have no enthusiasm for it, since I consider that I’ve ‘been there, seen that, done that’. I need something new to inspire me to take the plunge and create another book. I did not want to create Book One, Part Two.
Once again, it was all about finding the right hook. Find that and you can hang what you like on it. This time the hook was twofold. First there was the quote that spawned the idea, then there was the method used to present that idea.
Sometimes, a good quote is enough to get you started. I was lucky enough to find one by one of my favourite surrealists, the Belgian painter Rene Magritte. ‘The present reeks of mediocrity and the atom bomb’. I didn’t (and still don’t) know what Magritte meant by this phrase. But I liked it. Enough to use it as a basis for a photo book. I shortened the quote to use as my title: mediocrity and the atom bomb. Great title, but what’s it about? I looked up ‘mediocre’ in the dictionary, and just to be thorough, in the thesaurus too. I already knew it meant ‘average’, but I picked up a few more definitions of it too. I think I can say without fear of contradiction that it’s a very fitting word for this project, given that I had access to so much mediocre subject material.
At this point in the project I decided to make a distinction between taking photographs and making them. In order to illustrate the destructive power of the atom bomb I chose to produce collages, since these could be formed of random and disparate elements echoing the effects of a nuclear explosion. To further mix things up I decided to add in some typography, drawing my influences from the Dadaists, the Futurists (who were opposed to typographical harmony, and who saw nothing wrong in using twenty or more fonts on the same page in order to increase the expressive force of words) and the work of Kurt Schwitters, El Lissitzky, and of more recent vintage, David Carson. I should say here that these influences were a background hum to the project, since I very rarely consult my sources directly, just in case their influence begins to dominate my own ideas.
So. Enigmatic title. Collages. Typography. But how would it all fit together in a book? I already knew that I would be using type as part of every collage I made, but what would I be getting all typographic with? During the course of my enquiries into the Magritte quote I had discovered a couple of suitable texts on the theme of atomic bombs which I could borrow from. Additionally, I found some words from Magritte that seemed appropriate. I decided to use the words mostly in the manner of soundbites to incorporate them into the collages. Some passages I thought worked better in their original form, so that’s how I used them, with the type arranged on a whole page. I realised as I began thinking about the form of the book that I would not have time to create thirty five collages. Therefore, as well as whole pages of type, I chose to intersperse single photographs amongst the collages. This would help introduce a contrast between the single object of focus and the more densely populated collages.
I had engineered my theme so that, exactly like my first book, I could take whatever photographs I fancied without worrying about them not fitting in. I revisited some of the locations from the first book. I took a walk to my local arts centre, always a rich vein to mine. I built a collection of ‘mediocrity’. Photographs of the everyday and ordinary, nothing that made you go ‘Wow!’. My place of work provided a lot of material too, and the timing was perfect. I work in a Further Education College, and during August the students are all enjoying their summer break. Which makes it much easier for me to roam around with a camera. To be honest, I photographed a lot of things in my office; some things which looked like they’d been there a very long time without anyone ever having found a use for them.
Eventually of course I had to stop taking images and start making some.
I knew what I didn’t want. I didn’t want that ‘is it real or is it Photoshopped?’ look about it. I wanted it to look old-school. To have rough edges. To make you think of paper and scissors and things stuck down with glue. In the back of my head was the work of the German artists John Heartfield and Hannah Hoch. You can see in their work the components that go into creating it, and that’s what I wanted to achieve in my own collages.
Honestly, in a perfect world I would have printed my pictures out and taken scissors to them. But in the world in which I live it was always going to be a job for Photoshop. I use Elements, which isn’t as powerful as the full version, but it is available as a standalone license, which means you don’t have to subscribe to Adobe’s Creative Cloud. Of course there are other image editing programs out there, most of which will allow you to do the same kind of things I did in Photoshop. It depends on your budget and how much of a learning curve you want.
The actual creative aspect of making collages is very difficult to put into words. For me, it’s very much a case of something just ‘looking right’. How exactly that moment is reached is a combination of what images you choose and their relationship to each other, which probably isn’t a very helpful guide to anyone other than myself. In essence, you’re making art so there are no rules beyond the ones you impose. Or, if it looks finished it is finished.
The making of digital collages is a little easier to define. Here’s what I did, and as an example I’ll use the first collage in the book.
I started with a blank canvas of 200x200mm (which is the same square format as my first book). Then I chose an image that I thought provided a good starting point. In this case it was the photograph of my industrial looking office fan in front of a concrete column that is allegedly part of the building’s heating system. Next came the scaffolding-clad building. Finally, the scattered paperclips. This is a simple arrangement of three elements, but to make it all work I used just two effects. In the screen grab of the Layers palette you can see I’ve changed the blending mode of the paperclips to ‘overlay’. This means that it assumes a level of transparency so anything placed on a lower layer will be visible through it. I also used a layer mask to reduce opacity in the areas where it is used. Specifically, for example, where I wanted the blades of the fan to be more clearly defined I simply masked off the blades to make the paperclips more transparent.
I more or less repeated this working method for all the collages. It was only when the images were complete that I began working with the text I had chosen. I could have applied the text in Elements, and probably would have done had I needed to go overboard on effects, but since it was my intention to use my fonts unmodified I decided to use QuarkXpress. Beyond the rule of legibility there was no other restriction on how the type was used (throughout the whole book, not just within the collages) so, much like creating the collages, I arranged it until I was happy with it.
After a one-page introduction to the project, the book follows the sequence of a collage preceded by a photograph on each spread. On three spreads I’ve substituted the collage with a page of text. At the end of the book I opted to give additional information about its content, starting with a list of all the typefaces I’d used. There’s nothing worse than finding a typeface you really like and not knowing what it’s called. The other thing I did was to display each collage on its own page together with the individual images from which it had been constructed. The reason is twofold: not only does it let you see how each image was incorporated into the final collage, it also proves that I took more than the thirty five photographs required to satisfy the rules of SoFoBoMo.
Was it a blast?
I did have a lot of fun with this book. I enjoyed putting together the typography as much as the collages. It was great to work with so much mediocrity and not give a damn about it. To me, photography is not about tack-sharp, perfectly composed works of art (give me Robert Frank over Ansel Adams any day), but about finding a hook on which to hang your own vision of your own world.
I managed not to make Book One, Part Two.
Instead, I made a book I really like; a book I hope others might like too, which is why I’m happy for it to have been a part of Solo Photo Book Month 2016.
If you feel like you should put together something for SoFoBoMo 2017, then you really ought to. It can be whatever you want so long as it’s got thirty five or more photographs and some pages on which to display them. And who knows, you might just be asked to write a couple of blog posts too.