#1260. Detox in the art of photobook-making

By pascaljappy | Opinion

Jan 09

Photography is serious business. I shouldn’t be having so much fun πŸ˜‰

My 1 day 1 photo project, on Jan 9
 

Apologies for the title πŸ˜‰ Also, please understand detox in a non judgemental way. This post isn’t about explaining how creating a photobook magically cleans up and elevates anyone’s mind. It’s a purely personal account, in the hope that the joy of this simple project may spread to others in a receptive state of mind.

Maybe I’ve been taking photography a bit too seriously lately.

Deciding not to take gear seriously is serious business. It takes argumentation that the mind who produces it doesn’t wholly believe in. Deciding to get printing, for the love of the artistic final product over the menial considerations of resolution and ISO, stirs up its own drudgery of ink selection and profiling. And even creating a photobook triggers corners of the intellectual mind that are maybe best left in the shadows: subject, style, consistency, layout …

Just a walk in the forest
 

The fact is I do – and believe that most of us do – my/our best work when I’m/we are having fun. Enjoying the process rather than fighting it.

Before this gets too serious again, let’s put a pin in best work, lest it self-inflate and pull along a whole thread of serious business such as selection, curation, message, …

By best work, I mean most thrilling. Most engaging. The work – is that even the proper term? – that makes me want to give up actual work that pays bills to keep going at it, makes me grin like a kid who sill believes in the ho ho ho forbidden child of the catholic church and Coca-Cola, while still making interesting and important subjects fire up my neurons.

Forest run
 

Let me tell you a Christmas fairy tale. It wasn’t in a beautiful cabin in the woods and I wasn’t hiding from a life of rich but ultimately boring work in the family business to save the magic of the holiday spirit in a dying rural village, as Netflix seasonal shows seem to obsess about. I was deleting junk mail on my settee, eating too much cake, drinking too much vintage Taylor’s.

This Matisseo ad popped up. 65% off the 1 day 1 photo book. 35€ instead of 100€, until XX date. Having just received a Matisseo ebook made 4 years late with my Japan photos, I took the bait. Now, as all good creatives, I’m Sponsored by Squarespace. Or would be, if this blog wasn’t hosted by WordPress and if it attracted only 28 times more traffic. This to explain I’m not sponsored by Matisseo. This is not an endorsement or an influmercial ™. Only a story.

Anyway, payment opened up access to the app you see in the first picture on this page. That and a simple daily prompt to add a photo to the list, until Dec 31st. After which the resulting book would be printed and sent out to me (presumably with a list of expensive last-minute options being offered).

Entering the cave
 

The idea of aligning a set of 365 of my best photos over the year immediately appealed to me. If one good print is satisfying, imagine what multiple hundreds can do.

But, right from day 1, that’s not what happened. When came the time to choose that inaugural photograph, the one that best represented the first day of the year (during which we took a family walk and “discovered” a cave on a map that we had never seen), considerations soon steered away from best or most beautiful to most memorable.

That’s when the project started being fun πŸ™‚

Day 1. Inside the cave
 

The photo “Entering the cave”, above, was my first candidate. It’s a nice photo, with nice colours (something I am trying to work on, lately) celebrating an exciting moment, and a solid composition. And I took multiple others showing my wife and daughter wriggling through the crevice, down into the cave.

But it was “Inside the cave” that our jaws dropped once our eyes had adapted to the dark. Using our phones as torches and wet rock as tripod for this long exposure, I got something less formally beautiful but which captures a part of my family along with a sense of discovery, micro-adventure and thrill, that far better suits a 1 day 1 photo concept.

It doesn’t sound like much, but finding that balance between photographically interesting and memorable is a lot of fun.

Inside the cave II
 

Lately, I’ve been battling the feeling that my photographs are technically OK but ultimately empty of meaning.

And, as usual, all grand questions never find an answer on a cosmic scale (not in my case, at least) but tend to loosen up and reveal glimses of promised truth when tackled from the tiniest, most personal perspective. I suppose the Think Global Act Local adage is a similar thing.

And this simple and joyful exercise of finding the best pic to represent one family hike day did just that. If the photograph is meaningful to me, that’s good enough. Some will relate, others won’t, and that’s fine for now.

Red Square
 

Jan 2 saw me walking next to the house with my daughter to test the red filter process featured in my previous post. The red square was one of the few I hadn’t yet converted to B&W and became the natural candidate for that day. I love it to bits. It’s visually striking, and a great memory of a great day.

On Jan 3, my daughter flew back to London, and the airport, as often, was shrouded in mist. I took photos but didn’t use them and instead found one from a previous – summer – visit during which the smog was far worse and used that. Second realisation. Just as the selected photo doesn’t have to be the “best”, it doesn’t have to be taken on that day, provided it was representative of that day, and memorable. This isn’t photojournalism. It’s photo journaling.

Jan 4. My wife has just given up a part of her work, reducing her weekly hours first from 72 to 56 and now to 40. We went for a walk. On a week day!! This is her strolling through a forest in our village, rediscovering a sense of freedom in life.

Walking on a Wednesday
 

Jan 5. A new boundary for me. An aerial photo of a protest in Paris organised to save healthcare in France and which my wife attended. Definitely not a Happy Christmas tale. Nor is it even my photo, but it is so important to our lives and values that it got in, and will be remembered through the little book.

Jan 6. I took a photo of the garden. But later removed it. See below.

Jan 7. Visiting a relative in Aubagne, I photographed the area next to railway lines, where old buildings have very recently been torn down. That stark phone image became the nominee for the day. Then the unimportant Jan 6 image was replaced with one of the area before the demolition, to show a before and after comparison. I wouldn’t have changed Jan 6 if the two hadn’t faced one another on the same page spread.

Gone forever
 

Jan 8 saw me frustrated about staying home all day. Hence a pic of a closed cupboard door. For Jan 9, I was thinking of a screengrab of this post to mark the day but it doesn’t look nice. So I set out to make a photo of flowers specifically for this. There’s nothing like a bit of Mandler love.

Jan 9 – The one that got away.
 

Why is this so much fun?

Because it makes me think about ways to represent an idea, or look for the best moments in the day, and break self-imposed rules. As I wrote to a friend in a private email exchange, “paper doesn’t care what camera took the photo”. Only the photo matters. And, thanks to the brilliantly simplistic interface, the only decision to make, once a day, is memory-related.

Smoggy
 

This shift from gear, technique & processing, to memories, is so freeing. Matching your page to your recollection, deliberately ignoring quality and other crippling left-brain considerations, is so freeing. Focusing on conveying something is so exciting. And so fun. Except for the sad days, discussing which image to put into the book – that low commitment, cheap and easy, year-long project, is often giggle-inducing.

They never told me photography could be fun … πŸ˜‰

And it’s still serious fun. I’m not goofing around. I’m thinking about me, flipping through the pages in 5 years time, thinking about what I’ll want to remember, what made my life worth living 5 years back, looking for the most representative image for the job among a list of candidates, waking up in the morning asking myself what, in my day, will be photogenic, forcing me to notice otherwise-neglected scenes or ideas encountered during a normal workday. I’m loving it πŸ™‚

 

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  • Pascal Ravach says:

    This is so refreshing, Pascal πŸ™‚
    I guess most of us go through these phases about “meaning”…

    Personally, since my life is split between 3 continents, I stopped printing for the moment (my huge Epson 7900 is meant to be used all the time, so I got the awful clogging stuff… plus spitting close to 2 grands for a full 11 700ml cartridges replacement… yikes), but I keep creating – and accumulating πŸ˜€ – “albums”… so easy to do, and I will get some of them printed outside in cute photo-books.
    Same as you, I ended up connecting mostly to spontaneity and fun… and yes, revisiting ancient pictures taken in that mood proved that they stand the test of time pretty well πŸ™‚
    Another benefit for me is that, coming back to the same locations every year (like here in Chiang mai), I simply “add” the new pictures… time is not important anymore.
    And this “loose” approach is so liberating… I can feel it when reading you πŸ™‚
    I can even “curate” pictures from one album to another (like from a specific location to a specific theme – let’s say “Saigon” then “Flowers”…)… just “follow the mood” πŸ™‚

    Guess you’re in for a nice “Happy New Year 2024” πŸ˜€

  • Kristian Wannebo says:

    > “They never told me photography could be fun …”
    What? Is the photo-environment really as bad as that? Or is it just that puritan West-European culture ( – a rest of “anything fun is sinful…”)?
    – – –

    That a-photo-a-day-diary is really a great idea; good for that business – think of all the ‘togs giving up underway; good for the Photographer – as this gives him/her a better price…
    ( So why don’t I… I wouldn’t last a month, probably not a week!)

    Have fun, Pascal!
    And on the odd day do as the Norwegian artist and caricaturist Olaf Gulbransson did – he once drew an excellently executed pencil drawing, perfectly shaded and all, of a hand holding a pencil resting on an empty sheet of paper…
    – – –

    Nice photos ( – as always!)!
    But I’ve two special favourites:

    “Walking on a Wednesday” – lovely!
    I certainly like your choice of that wide format around the walker – but, lucky you, what would it be without all that silvery lichen framing the bearer of a white shawl?
    πŸ˜‰ , πŸ™‚

    “Red Square” – after a short while that red colour begins to seem almost real, and that enhances the photo – for me at least.
    I wonder why, perhaps it’s just a little sinister flavour left by the red shifting the mind away from the real…

  • jean pierre guaron says:

    Ha ha – yes – taking life too seriously does spoil the fun. I’m surprised you didn’t discover that earlier. It reminds me of happy days at school, while our English Master – brilliant man, but not “mon gout”! – droned on and on about fairies in the bottom of the garden, while I plunged into yet another one of Simenon’s detective stories, under the desk.

    Some aimed for “coming top” – I just cruised along, always getting reasonably high marks, and never having to try too hard. Leaving me tons of time to take life less seriously, and enjoy myself.

    By the end of January you must have discovered a lot of other things.

    Like – you have no choice as to “which paper” – they’re all going to be the same.

    Or format – unless you want half the page blank, or something.

    The theme has to be broken, as you did discover – some photos simply don’t work well, opposite each other.

    I knew we had something else in common – delighted to learn you passed up the opportunity to be boringly wealthy, to have fun in the hills instead. Life is too short to squander it on the pursuit of material things – happiness is just as important, if not more so.

    FWIW – my photos are not as likely as yours, to be “brilliant” – I don’t take the hobby quite that seriously. Like everything else, I want it all to be fun. And educational – that’s important to me, too. I’ve just been printing some of my photos of bees – since I’m totally allergic to bee stings, this is a bit risky – but it can produce some “different” macro images! Et vive la diffΓ©rence!

    I do love your “walk in the forest”, “red square”, wednesday walk.

    But I confess to being completely mystified as to who, what or where HMP 2 terminal is.

    • pascaljappy says:

      There’s a lot to be said for that approach, Pete πŸ™‚ Cruising is good.
      I do get bored easily, though. So, challenges are interesting as well.

      So yeah, educational and fun suits me just fine, as well!

      The terminal is one of those at Marseilles airport.

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