It was Dr. Hunter S. Thompson who said, “When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.” And oh how true this is. What you see here is another of my quick, Blurb experiments. A cover and back cover wraparound with nothing but a generic title. The font, the title, and the design do not work, but what does work is the image itself. Why? Because it’s just weird enough to cause a pause. Yes, you read that correctly, to cause a pause.
This is a double exposure of peak color up in the Sangre de Cristo mountains. Look quickly and you might miss the fact it’s a double. Look a little closer and you will see the overlap. This is my favorite kind of double, one that MIGHT be real or it might not. And that “might” part of the equation is what I’m after. You see, I know you better than you think. I know your mindset because I’m interested in your mindset. Some of you are more difficult to read than others, but I still have a pretty good idea of what you might be thinking. I have a pretty good idea of what you expect from me, and how I can trip you up and manipulate you to do what I want. Which in this future case would be opening and consuming my book.
At one point in my life, I worked as a professional portrait photographer. In fact, I did this full-time for seven years. Over this timeframe, I produced over one hundred and twenty books of photography for portrait clients. Some of these were commercial clients, stock-based, while others were private commissions. Can you guess what rarely landed on the cover of these books? Yep, you guessed it, portraits.
Portraits come with expectations, especially if you know the human in the images. You can make a book for an individual and use their image on the cover because, well, most of us are self-absorbed enough to want to see how we look. And most of us will look at a book of ourselves again and again. “Jesus honey, look how fantastic I look.” But put a stranger on the cover and most other humans respond, “Whatever.” They simply won’t open the book.
They were abstract, bizarre, and probably confusing to some. I’ll take confusing over predictable all day long. I don’t want you to know what I’m thinking until you open the book. If you think you know where I’m going, I’m not doing my job. This, my friends, is where we are at in the attention economy. The days of the expensive, coffee table-style photography book are numbered. The economics don’t work, but the public has been so deluged by imagery they hardly pay attention to their own images let alone anyone else.
Curation has become the single most important factor in the success or failure of a long-term project. Curation and presentation. How and when to share, and how much, are as important as the images themselves. And this is where a “weird” book comes into play. A friend wrote yesterday and said he had just come out of a NYC meeting where he was showing work to a potential client. At the end of the meeting, he handed the client a copy of his “weird” publication. A Zine series based around people who work around the water. “He just about did a backflip with how impressed he was,” he wrote. “The power of print.”
So, next time you are designing something that you THINK needs to be a certain way, let’s say a book of landscape photography, think again. Try something new. Try something you aren’t quite sure will work. Try something that forces the viewer to connect dots they didn’t realize they needed to connect. Einstein was here before us, and he gave us a line that sums up this entire idea. “The most beautiful thing in the world is the mysterious.”