Creative: American Backyard

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Pay attention to this one.

From time to time, a project comes along that makes me stop and take notice. From time to time, that same project comes along in Blurb book form and this REALLY makes me stop and take notice. From time to time that same project comes along in Blurb book form and it’s beautiful, written well, edited well, wrapped in an elegant design structure
and it forcibly makes me stop and take notice. This just happened with “American Backyard” a book from Elliot Ross and Genevieve Allison.

I few weeks ago I gave a short talk at the 55th Annual Society of Photographic Education gathering in Philadelphia. After the talk I was approached by a personable, young photographer who mentioned his name and I wondered to myself “How do I know his name?” Well, turns out this photographer, and his cohort, drove the entire 2000-mile border with Mexico and returned with a beautiful, smart, poignant look at life on La Frontera. I’ve spent a fair amount of time along the border, and find it to be one of the most interesting places I’ve ever set foot, so when I see a new project that adds to the conversation I’m always quick to lend it my eye.(And mind.)

Why is this important to you? What can you learn from this project and book?

1. Do great work, and truly commit. Talking about a 2000-mile road trip via the border is one thing, doing it is another, but doing so puts you in elite company. A LOT of people have worked along the border, but I don’t know many others who have done the entire route. This adds time, depth, focus and deepens the pool of work you will emerge with at the end. Not to mention it gives you personal perspective on reality of life on the border, something that has become overtly politicized and often difficult to understand due to all the misinformation.

2. Think about narrative. This was not some random voyage. There was a goal, a mission, an idea that could be followed, outlined and revealed. A set of random snapshots might be fun, but it won’t have the desired impact that cohesive narrative will bring.

3. Make the book! I asked Elliot if they had the book idea in mind from the beginning and he replied “Yes, Blurb was part of the plan all along.” Now, the great news is that this was not the only publishing plan. (More on this later.) Elliot explained that he likes the Blurb option because you can sketch out your ideas in that first book, print one, then refine your process before moving forward with printing more. And, he was able to hand out the books and watch how the book was consumed, which pages people hovered on, which prompted questions, etc. Basically, Elliot sounded….like….me. Have I not harped on this same exact territory many times before?

Seeing this book has reminded me of how far off the photography/bookmaking path I have become. Now, this isn’t a complaint. I love my job and feel fortunate to be in the position I am, however my desire to do projects and books is as high as it has ever been. Even though I’ve completed many projects over the years, and many books, seeing American Backyard made me want to return with a vengeance. And people that is the power of good work, and good books. My advice, learn from this and go forth to create your own visual adventures.

Comments 4

  1. Thanks for sharing, this is really great work.

    I took a look at Elliot’s website and if you haven’t seen it already take a look at the American Backyard Notes link ( and the others in the Journals section. There looks to have been SO much detail that went into this project. Time and effort a lot of people don’t even bother with these days but it makes such a difference to do so.

    Well done Elliot and Genevieve!

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      His journals are really fun. Love that stuff. Their project is a REAL project. Researched, the time spent was considerable and they had a plan. So many “projects” today are little more than ways of grabbing short term attention.

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