Create: Books I Love, Dancing on Fire, Maggie Steber

This is the face I make when I’m trying to make a point.

There is nothing I love more than exposing people to good photography books, especially those books that influenced me in becoming a photographer. One such book is “Dancing on Fire,” by photojournalist Maggie Steber. My history with Maggie goes back to my photojournalism studies of the early 90s when I was denied a chance to take her class. (The faculty decided to not let me take the class because I was a transfer student.) But I did not let this deter me. Her work in Haiti is world-class and her Aperture publication is evidence. Classic long-form reportage. (PS: I also interviewed her which you can find under the Dispatches tab at the top.)

14 Comments on “Create: Books I Love, Dancing on Fire, Maggie Steber”

  1. Dan, loved this discussion of Maggie Steber’s work. I am a fan. I can’t remember if I have mentioned this before, but I encourage you to look at some in-depth work on Cuba by Ernesto Bazan. He now has 4 books on Cuba, long term projects of about 18 years. You mentioned her awards, Bazan was awarded the Alicia Patterson award, the Eugene Smith, … . A link to his books is I have no financial connection, but I am a personal fan of the work and as you often say, the in-depth, long form project, is wonderful when it works.

    1. David,
      Yes, love Bazan’s work. I’ve met him a few times but don’t know him well. He’s solid and committed.

  2. Interestingly Maggie’s latest work “The Secret Life of Lily Depalma” is revolutionary. It really re-defines what stories photographers can tell and how they can tell them. Truly fascinating work. I’ve always thought “Dancing on Fire” really established her as a legend. Great presentation Dan. I’d love to see more of these book reviews.

  3. I’m sitting here looking at a couple of binders of negatives, frustrated with my archiving skills. Is that in Lightroom, was it a good scan? Is there anything worse than flatbed scanning? So I feel like a huge whiner doing that while watching this video. The amount of work that must have gone into that. Taking the photos, getting the access, the travel, the risks, getting the photos to the lab, making sure you have the Who What Where Why When notes to match, taking time to remember what you were thinking and feeling, editing. Impressive.

    I’m curious what the sales were for that book and for photobooks in general. I imagine that it’s a small market. I don’t mention that as an indicator of success. I know there are amazing photobooks out there that have dismal sales numbers.

    1. Scott,
      Yes, it’s a full commitment. Full time, totally immersed and that is just to make the images. Then you add in the business of being a photographer and it becomes another level. Traditionally, photography books have never sold well. Often printed in small quantities and often times still don’t sell. I’m not sure about the sales of this particular book. I know others that were printed in 3000 copy runs and couldn’t sell and others that were initially printed in 10,000 copy runs and sold nearly 100,000 copies. Hard to predict.

  4. Maggie’s book looks impressive, insane story telling. So much inspiration. I can’t say I have anything close to story telling yet… maybe that time I photo documented that mouse mom who loss her babies in my lawnmower. I never could get close like Maggie. Kidding aside, very inspirational, thanks for sharing.

    1. MC,
      She studied under two legends. Got training and then dedicated herself. And it took years I’m sure.

      1. Dan, yes. Years and years. And more years. That’s why I’m puzzled to see so many “photographers” try to pass what they do as good work after a few years of having picked up a camera. I can’t even see the end of my learning journey. So much to know and learn beyond gear.

        1. MC,
          I’ve seen young photographers spend two days on a project, label it “Long term” and then start looking for gallery shows and book deals. I’ve actually seen this many, many times and it’s becoming more frequent. The world we live in. I’ve also seen young photographers go into publishing deals thinking they are going to get 100,000 copies.

  5. If I may recommend: The poetry of Philip Larkin. English poet and writer. Born 1922 in Coventry, which coincidentally where i was born too. He died in 1985. His observations on life are priceless. famous for a poem entitled…”They F*** you up, your mum and dad”

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