Dug deep into the photo archives for images for the monthly newsletter published today. In this edition, I took a look at beauty in photography and the benefits those images can have on our lives. You can read more here. You can also subscribe to the monthly newsletter, if you want (upper left corner). Click the images to enjoy larger
What is: At 6,643 feet, Clingmans Dome is the highest point in the highest point in Tennessee, and the third highest mountain east of the Mississippi. On clear days views expand over a 100 miles…although air pollution now impacts that.
What Was: The Cherokee Indians, a branch of the Iroquois nation, trace their history in this region back 1000 years. Clingmans Dome was a sacred spot for the Cherokee where the Magic Lake was seen. The Magic Lake was a place to go when you were old and sick, if you had loved the earth and family, to be made well again. During the Indian Removal Period of the 1800s and the Trail of Tears, the mountains were a safe refuge and place to hide from the soldiers.
Consider making photo books where the images speak and relate to each other,
holding hands to make a work that is greater in impact than the individual parts.” . Harvey Benge
Thoughts about Photo Books
Today, most photography is consumed on our phones and computers. Shared on social media, scrolling and scrolling as the images go by, liking and commenting here and there. Digital consumption of photography makes for broad distribution for the photographer and gives viewers lots to look at and enjoy. However, viewing a photograph in print is a different experience.
One form of a print photograph is obviously the print – owned or viewed at an art gallery and on museum walls. Another form of print is the photobook, more often owned. Like a print, the photobook is an object you can hold in your hand. Unlike a single or couple of prints on a wall, photobooks include numerous images sequenced and laid out in a manner that brings meaning to the series as a whole. The composition of the photobook is not simply about the rectangular framing of a single image, rather it is about the series, the sequence and the overall narrative.
Walker Evans suggested that “he could create a sequence of pictures that could become in and of itself a work of art,” Sarah Hermanson Meister, Curator of Photographs at MOMA has noted. “It’s not just that each individual picture was great or actually described its purported subject. But without any knowledge of narrative or chronological structure, he was creating the photo book as a work of art. That laid the groundwork for the whole artistic potential of what the photo book became in the 20th century.”
Some photobooks are simply images. Some photobooks include text. Others include materials that contextualize the pictures, such as correspondence, diary/journal entries, maps or illustrations. Some photobooks include design features that enhance the experience and materiality of the book. However, what is especially interesting across all of these formats is that a single photograph may tell a story, but a series of photographs brought together in a book offers a more complex and complete narrative. The cover design, image sequencing, accompanying text, and the pages themselves come together to play supporting roles. The books can rise to the level of art themselves, and art that that you can hold in your hand or leave on a coffee table, accessible to you and others to flip through and enjoy — sometimes seeing new things each time.
In fact, today the photobook is not just art, it is considered collectible art. Like all art, some collectors of photobooks base decisions on personal taste, knowledge or interest in an artist or specific subject matter. Others choose to collect based on artists but also with a view to rarity and seeking vintage first editions. Collectors are willing to pay steep prices for the world’s finest photography books, including: Ansel Adam’s Sierra Nevada; Walker Evan’s Let us now Praise Famous Men; Robert Frank’s The Americans; and, Henri Cartier-Bresson’s The Decisive Moment. For a primer on factors for consideration when collecting photobooks, check out this article.
The photobook has also become a way for photographers to disseminate their work to a broader audience than a single print can reach, while also serving as a way to tell a longer-form story about a project they have been working on.
If you want to explore photobooks by photographers of our time, check out: Radius Books, Aperture, Steidl, Phaidon, and Dewi Lewis Publishing. For reviews of some recent photobooks and a further understanding of the form, function and overall understanding check out The Conscientious Photography Magazine.
The more I study photography, the more it seems clear — photobooks are the optimal format.
Portable, shareable, permanent.
Behind the Scenes: Making a Book
A couple months ago a reviewer of my Roadside America portfolio of 15 images suggested I take those 15 images back up to roughly 40 images — the size of a book. It would prove to be a good experience in terms of editing and sequencing and offering a new way to look at the photographs, as a whole, as well as individually. Out of that came new ways to see the different ways the images connect with each other.
While Robert Frank’s 84 page book, The Americans, was a result of editing and sequencing from 27,000 photographs, my little project edited just a thousand images down to about 100 and from that, a book of 51 images.
The Process: At first, I went back to the raw material to see what I thought might build upon the portfolio of 15 images. As I identified those photographs, I made 4’’x 6’’ prints and then laid them out, mixing and matching sequences (see photo above). As I played with which images and sequences might work, I gradually settled in on a “master narrative” or what you might call the topics and chapters/sections of the book. Once that was settled (although the sequence of the chapters changed another couple times), I then reorganized photos and choices of photos in each section. I would often let the changes sit for a few days in order to digest the individual image placements, as well as the overall flow of the the sections and story. Of course, that would inevitably lead to more changes of both the images and the sequencing. I would go back and add, delete, rearrange the images all over again. Several months of this went by and I finally got to the point where I was no longer shuffling images around. The story was complete and images worked separately and together to do what I wanted.
Here’s a tip about all that editing and sequencing, in case you get the book (details below). The images are arranged as if you are on a road trip, coming into and going out of a town. Each “chapter” is about key elements in any community – the economy, transportation & distribution, travel, commerce, social and home.
The next steps were easier. I organized the photo files on the computer in the order I had settled on (photo below) and uploaded them to Blurb – an online self-publishing service that also includes a store front. I printed a couple proofs to see the book in reality. I made some additional changes to end up with what you can see today.
While Blurb is not the stature of the publishers I mentioned above, and there is no curator writing an introduction/essay or any assistance for wonderful design or typography, and it is mass produced, but it is nice to complete the project and have a book to hold in your hands and flip through. A good experience and a fun first effort.
Roadside America, In Black and White Infrared
If you are interested in previewing and/or purchasing the Roadside America book, you can visit Blurb. It is also available as an instant pdf download if you would prefer that.
Limited Edition of the Book: I am also printing a limited edition run of 15 signed copies of the book with a premium archival paper. You can email me if you are interested in that.
Additional Roadside America photographs are available on the website: https://binhammerphotographs.com/galleries
Prints from the Book: The images in this book are available as limited edition prints by emailing me directly. They are not all on the website.
Every photograph tells a literal story. The image itself is a story. Then there is the story behind why the photographer took it — what was included in the image or left out, why it was taken, the lighting and mood. And then, there is the story that is told because of the viewers’ response or what it means to someone looking at it.
In Henry Carroll’s book, “Photographers on Photography, How the Masters See, Think & Shoot,” I was struck by this quote from Jason Fulford:
“When a person looks at a photograph you’ve taken,
they will always think of themselves”
Henry Carroll in his commentary notes, “right after we interpret the literal aspects of the image…we enter into a second, much more personal meaning. The second reading is informed by elements such as our memories, personal experiences, tastes and cultural backgrounds…this second reading is unpredictable and entirely outside the photographer’s control. For Fulford, this gap between what is pictured and what it might mean is where photographs come alive”
There is an image on my website whose owner told me it touches her deeply to the point of tears when she reflects on it. Another image has been described by its owner as “art that stirs the soul.” For yet another owner, their print has an intimate feeling, and a nostalgic tone with a sense of timelessness. It is these kinds of personal reflections that turn the literal stories behind the images into art that means something to you. That is what brings an image to life and gives it real meaning.
It is personal reflections like these that I value in delivering Limited and Personal Exclusive editions to you. For example, these two images, “No More General Store” and “Guard to History”, became fine art Limited Edition prints as a result of direct discussions about the photographs with people who had seen them and wanted prints for their own reasons. In the case of “Guard to History,” the backstory is this photograph is of the guard booth on the grounds of Mount Vernon near George Washington’s tomb. It is empty and even a little weathered. It was taken in the winter months…but there is a little light reflection on the bushes. Perhaps the title should have a question mark after it?
From a recent trip west, a look at some of the black and white infrared photographs.
Along the backroads of America are instances of human efforts serving as reminders that along today’s roadsides there are opportunities to pause, reflect and wonder about the people who settled once empty lands and the vibrant communities that were once part of the roadside
A look at some of the black and white infrared images coming out of digital processing. Images are from the recent road trip along Route 66, time in New Mexico and back through Mississippi
My friend Geoff Livingston, who was featured here in a photography showcase, has a podcast (also available as video) called the “Show me podcast” where he chats with folks about iconic photos and why they work (or not).
We caught up to talk about Robert Frank’s book, The Americans. And then we talked about the Roadside America project, Infrared photography and some of the thoughts behind PhotoNexus (at the 27 minute point) which I am organizing in Santa Fe, July 26 & 27.
Hope you can find the time to check out the podcast…and yes, a saxophone walks through it.
A little photo compilation from ArtExpo New York including the new aluminum prints, the booth and the photography friends