Creative: ESSAY Magazine, Issue One, Update Three

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My second set of test copies. Getting closer.

This project has been the most entertaining photo-related endeavor in a long, long time. And I didn’t even shoot anything new! I can’t stress this enough. You COULD, and in many cases, SHOULD be doing this as well. It is so easy, so educational and so important as a photographer to put your work in print. If all goes as planned there will be many issues to follow.

Here is what I’ve had to change, redo, or rethink.

1. I took out all the knockout quotes due to legality concerns. There is SO MUCH contrasting information about legally using quotes that it actually made me slightly sick to my stomach. Yes you can. No you can’t. You can if you do this, but not if you do that. You can if the quote means this and you are doing THIS with it, but that’s really hard to prove so you might still have to go to court. Consequently, my pubs are now on a quote diet, which is too bad because I had three quotes that were SO good and right for this story, from three authors who spent their lives trying to protect these places. I just don’t have the time, patience or legal team to gain permission.

2. I’m giving myself a “C” on the overall publication. I know this might seem strange because why would I print a “C?” Well, if you have ever worked as a photographer you know that this happens routinely. You might do a magazine assignment and everyone in agreement thinks it’s suboptimal, or subpar or could have been done better. Newspapers run retractions. “A’s” are so damn rare. But, I’m giving myself this score because I’m going to release it without going back to refresh the imagery. I’m giving myself a “C” because my design isn’t where I want it. I’m giving myself a “C” because I screwed up while changing formats, forgot to save out my original magazine and then had to rebuild it. REBUILD. Never put yourself in this situation. Having to rebuild is like being kicked in the neck. How stupid can I be? Evidently, pretty stupid. I am giving myself an “A” only for unbridled enthusiasm. Think of a pig finding a huge field of sludge. I feel just like that when I even THINK about how much fun this idea has been.

3. Issue Two topic has been chosen and the images pulled. It will be another completed story because I don’t really have time to shoot right now.

4. I won’t be buying an XT2. With such limited shooting time it would only spend it’s life in my trusty Tenba bag. Because I want to edit and print in the field I think I will take this time to explore, really explore, the Canon 5DIII, which I’ve had for two years and RARELY used.(I’m now testing a 5DIV.)

5. THIS SERIES WILL GET BETTER AND BETTER. Even after all these years the learning curse is steep. There is so much I want to do, but so much I have to work out.

6. I thought about just doing one format, but I really love both. The trade format will be great for shipping to people as a box set. The magazine shows off the work a bit more. Love the trade paper. Uncoated, white base. It’s lovely. Standard color paper for those interested.

7. Okay, two people stopped by to look at the test copies and there were good arguments made for keeping both styles.


9. Believe it or not, I’m still learning about Blurb. Figured out that I like moving from the smaller format to the larger when designing, and not the other way around, which seems backwards. But, it’s all about the copy. When you change formats from large to small the text gets cropped. When you upsize it has plenty of real estate to investigate. So, start with images large enough for the larger of your two publications. Any questions about this hit me up below.

10. I am NOT a designer. And it shows. However, I keep telling myself that this experiment isn’t specifically about photography, even though it is to some degree because of my past, and it’s not about high-design. I want to make something that ANYONE can look at and think “Hey, I can do that too.” Ultimately, this is SO much fun, but I want you to have your own fun.

11. I think too much. Making images, telling stories, creating publications means next to nothing in the grand scheme. I love doing these things, so I’m grateful, but I can hear the dissection of these publications happening before they even land in the world. It’s what we do now, but none of it matters. Just go do. Enjoy. Make. Put forth and explore. Always. Move forward. Be smart. Don’t fear. Leave your ego at home.

12. Issue Two is finished. Issue Three might be old work as well. This might seem odd but the reality is I never really did much with this older work, so in some cases ESSAY is the first time this work will really be in print. I’m thinking Peru needs an issue. And perhaps a recap of all my dogs and graffiti work. All I know is that I now feel like I have a home for all my work. All of it.

13. How should Blurb utilize ESSAY?


Comments 20

  1. Good you’re nearing the end of the process. I’m looking forward to get my copy (yes I know I already said that). Looks great and the subject matter is dear to me as I love the outdoors.

    I also wanted to comment on the making part of the process; you’re showing me (us) the way to do something real with our photography and as I said I’m also doing 2-3 trade books right now, waiting for 2 of them to be delivered for Xmas (my “test copies”). It’s fun and instructive and everything else you said.

    On the other hand there’s this new book coming out from Jorg Colberg, that I have in my amazon basket right now; it’s a book about photobooks ( and he’s basically saying “leave the work to professionals, don’t try to to the design yourself because it shows, bleah those blurb books”. He may well be right, hell, he’s probably super-right. After all he’s professor of photography, he’s reviewed countless photobooks, but still there’s this sensation that I have about him, about the guiding principle behind his book, that makes me feel a bit uneasy.

    On one side I have you saying all good things and encouraging people to do some real work, all excited and pumped-up. On the other there’s Colberg saying nahhh leave the work to real artists and professionals, if you want to excel and get all the recognition and fame in this world THEN read my book because I’ll show you the way to do just that.

    I will probably end up buying the book anyway because maybe I will get something useful out of it — but rest assured I’ll still do my shitty tradebooks with Bookwright.

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      I don’t know Jorg, but he’s a smart guy and knows books, so I would suggest buying his book if possible. To Christian’s point, we are talking about two different things really. Working with a full publishing team, meaning acquisitions editor, book editor, designer, publicist, etc. can be a remarkable way to bring a book to life. Having said that, 75% of the photographers I’ve met with the past ten years who have done books this way have provided me with negative feedback about their experience or their actual book. You would be surprised how many people end up with books that don’t resemble what they wanted at prices that cost them dearly. There is what I would call “the considered book crowd” who believe that certain things have to be done in certain ways or the books just aren’t valid. As you know by now, I don’t subscribe to this thinking. The same way I don’t describe to a writer needing to be drunk, broke and miserable to be able to create beautiful and meaningful prose. Or a musician needing heroin to find their most sacred of creative spaces.

      Over the past ten years I’ve met many, many people in the publishing world. In total, there are a handful I would want to work with. That’s it. In fact, if I ever had a body of work I thought worthy of the 12-18 month publishing cycle, and the high cost that goes with it, I would wait to do the book with one of these handful, and if they declined I simply wouldn’t do the book.

      Now lets look at the flip side. Blurb, Lulu, Artifact, Asuka, and dozens more. These companies are offering something entirely different. Fast, fluid publishing without the consideration. Now some of you might think “without consideration” is a bad thing. I don’t. One, I don’t care what “book people” say about my work. Never have. I’ve turned down three publishing deals in the past ten years, and that’s without trying to get published. I don’t make books for book people, galleries, museums, or the academic elite. Hell, I even avoid telling people I’m a photographer. I make books because I enjoy the process and find the entire idea a total blast that often times shows me just how feeble my skills really are. But every single book I’ve done has been rewarding in some way, shape or form.

      There is also the hybrid lifestyle, which to Jorg’s position, is to straddle both worlds. Hire a designer, editor, etc. and then do the book you want on your own. I have friends all over the world doing this as we speak. In fact, I’d say that this will soon become the norm. The freedom is just too great. The real issue still is distribution, but even that is fading as so many book deals don’t come with distribution, or marketing for that matter.

      I have nearly 400 monographs on my bookshelf. I know this number because I organized them last weekend. But off to the side I now have a “special” section of one-off books, magazines, etc. BY FAR this is the most interesting section. In this section are two of the most well known, talented professional photographers I’ve ever seen. These photographers have traditional books under their belt, many, but they also do these small run books, which I find more interesting because they are simply more personal and have less pretense. These small run books were not put into the world to a make a traditional statement, as we like to do with books, but rather for pure creative expression. The “special” section also includes publications from total unknowns who are as talented as the professionals but want no part of being a professional photographer or bookmaker.

      In the end, just make stuff. That’s all. Don’t overthink it. Just do. Create. Move on. Realize that most people in the world will never care about what you do. 800 million people don’t have enough food to eat and photobooks aren’t going to remedy this.

  2. Well, I don’t agree with Jorg at all. That’s fine if you are doing your books to go after assignments or other commercial or art work/opportunities, but what I think Daniel is talking about and what I am doing with books is using them as a vehicle for personal expression. I often print and bind my own books too. That way, it is totally my work and that to me is more valuable than having the book or zine, or whatever done professionally.

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  3. I’m really enjoying watching this process come together; thanks Daniel.

    Your reply to Alessandro’s comment says it all: it’s the antitheses of ‘don’t try’.

    I don’t have almost 400 monographs on my bookshelf, but I do have quite a (select) few. Now that I’m making my own books, I’m viewing the monographs in an entirely new way. Instead of just enjoying the photographs, I’m paying attention to the design of the book, even to the choice of font for the text.

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      Great books are more than the sum of their parts. Most are highly engineered pieces. NOTHING is left to chance or default. Book designers are worth their weight in gold.

  4. Downloading the BookWright update as I type. Been awhile since I’ve looked at it. Been even longer since I made a book with Blurb. I need to start doing this.

    A long time ago, I picked up a book directly from Blurb, “How to Make a Gorgeous Photo Book” ( Dan, it must have been right after you started working for them or very near that time. The information in it is still pretty relevant today.

    Alessandro, you may want to take a look at it as well as Colberg’s.

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      Thank you. I’m learning. A LONG WAY TO GO. I’m entirely frustrated by the first two, but I think the third issue should be an improvement.

  5. Sean, Daniel, thanks for those other books you recommended (“How to make a gorgeous photo book” and “publish your photography book”). Will put them in my cart as well. It’s going to be a jolly Christmas after all!

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  6. “13. How should Blurb utilize ESSAY?”

    I often think it would be fun to watch you create one of the many publications you have, from scratch. I reckon Blurb should have a series on Creators Creating (I have no idea if they already have something like this, and am too lazy to go and find out), and use ESSAY in that capacity.

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      We kinda did it YEARS ago with a video series, but those are so expensive and time consuming. Not sure where it will fit in yet.

  7. Following on from Charlene’s comment, what I would love to see is an updated version of this classic video

    showing you out in the field working on a new “Essay” project and then a video showing an insight/your thoughts of how you would edit the shots from your trip into an “Essay” volume!

    Charlene has the video skills, get to it guys! 🙂

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      That would be fun. Not sure it’s in the cards. Looking back on that film the world moved at a snail’s pace compared to now. That film today would be 60 seconds max and we probably would have had to do it all in one day. Plus, we didn’t have the weight of Facebook and IG hanging over everything, suffocating the idea of letting something marinate, making a good edit, etc. But, the idea is great.

    2. I know what you mean and I totally agree with your recent “Let it Be” post and leaving something to marinate.

      I don’t like the urgency these days to post something online to get your first Like or Comment from someone else. Most of the time those comments are not true reactions and the response is something like “Nice photo” or “Good shot” anyway.

      Keep up the great work and I shall look forward to more Essay news as/when it’s ready…

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      We’ve created a fake industry of speed and urgency. A fair number of people will fabricate this urgency because they no longer know how to live any other way.

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