Friday Inspiration: Josef Sudek

In my poking around on the web I recently came across the photography of Josef Sudek. Sudek was based in Prague and actively photographed until 1976 when he was 80. He had lost an arm to shrapnel in the First World War which makes his work produced with a large format camera all the more impressive.

Prague was occupied in World War II which meant that Sudek’s photography business ground to a halt. During this time he continued photographing mainly shooting from his studio. These images and more from later years can be found in the book ‘Josef Sudek: The Window of My Studio’.

Sudek is often referred to as the poet of Prague and I can understand that. I find his images to be quiet and contemplative. I get a sense of loneliness or melancholy from many of the images. Perhaps that’s just me. The images shot in and around his studio reminded of Saul Leiter’s photographs – largely because of shooting through the condensation on the windows.

Learn more about Josef Sudek in the videos below.

When is a Project Finished?

I’be been thinking about projects over the last few weeks. You might call it a series, others might call it a portfolio but for me all of my photography sits as part of at least one of a number of on-going projects. I picked up this way of working from one of the earliest workshops I did online with Bill Neill.

I had been thinking about initial ideas and how to develop them into a rich body of work when I started to think about what’s the goal? What would success look like? When would I know that I was done?

I must admit though that I never feel like I’m ‘done’. I just keep looking for images that will either raise the standard of the work that’s in my project or that will extend it in some way. But I had never thought about it being done.

It was encouraging then to listen to an interview with Michael Kenna who said something similar. That he’s never really done but an exhibition or a book deadline line will cause him to bring a group of images together that suits the need. He keeps working though and extends the work beyond the exhibition or book.

Other people that I’ve been listening to have discreet projects – I’m going to photograph here for a week, a month, a year and then after that time I’ve got what I’ve got and I’ll move on to the next project. Even then some of these photographers look for a milestone event such as an exhibition or a book to signal being done.

I like the idea of getting your project out into the world as an exhibition, a pdf, a chapbook, zine or larger book as a signal that the work is done. If only that means that chapter of the work is finished.

How about you. How do you know when you’re done with a chapter or the whole project? I’d be interested to hear about it.

Chapbooks As A Vehicle for Your Photography

Time to finish the thought about zines and chapbooks this week.

I had never heard about chapbooks until I came across them through Brooks Jensen. Chapbooks have a long history as a way for artists to self publish smaller bodies of work. This seems to mostly have been a way for poets to get their foot in the publishing door and to pave the way for publication of a larger collection.

With the advent of inkjet printers we photographers can get into the game too! I had said previously that for me the real difference between a pamphlet, zine and chapbook is really the production value. With a chapbook being at the top of the heap, requiring more hand work – i.e. sewing of the signature than a zine which I would typically expect to be stapled.

I have included below a flip through of a Brooks Jensen chapbook ‘Worlds Within Worlds’ which I think illustrates the chapbook concept nicely.

I really do like this idea of small handmade books as a way to get my photography out into the world and will be exploring these more in the coming weeks.

Friday Inspiration: Gerry Johansson

Bridgeport, Nebraska: Gerry Johansson

I’ve been enjoying finding photographers that are new to me and exploring their work. I recently came across Gerry Johansson, a Swedish photographer known for his black and white photographs of what would otherwise be unremarkable places.

Gerry has a ‘geographic’ focus have produced books of work from photographs taken in America, Sweden, Germany, Antarctic and Tokyo. I like his thinking in that the book is really the tangible product of his work because exhibitions are too fleeting. Gone after a couple of weeks.

He clearly has a love of photography books as you can see in the video below of Gerry in his studio going through some of his photo book collection.

I wonder whether the books that he selected to discuss influenced his decision making about his own books which are often relatively small by some standards. I think that these smaller books, smaller prints and images call for a closer engagement with the work and for a more intimate experience.

Gerry talks about his work in the video below. The audio is in Swedish, if you don’t speak Swedish there are captions in English so that you can follow along with the conversation. Check out Gerry’s website here to learn more.

Chapbooks and Zines

Dark of the Moon

I’ve been enjoying an exploration of ideas for handmade artists books. I was started off down this rabbit hole by a ‘how-to’ video that I saw on the Peg and Awl website.

Whether stitched or stapled this kind of single signature book is the foundation of Zines, Pamphlets and Chapbooks. I have yet to find a good explanation or description that really differentiates between the three. My interpretation is that it’s the production value that really sets the three apart but even then that’s not cut and dried.

I had been thinking of zines as being a bit rough and ready, a home made DIY magazine. I had come across zines before in the context of music – fans diy efforts to put together a magazine that supports their local music scene or their favorite band.

A collection of zines from Another Place Press

Photo book publishers such as Another Place Press and Kozu Books are producing zines, using the term zine to separate these smaller books from their other books. For Kozu books this means perfect or pur binding rather than thread sewn. While the zines (Field Notes) from Another Place Press are folded and staple bound. Take a look below:

I definitely think that a short body of work could be printed and finished by hand in a similar way to these more ‘commercial‘ zines are. Looking forward to giving this a go in the next couple of weeks.

More about Chapbooks soon!

Feeling Bloated

For a variety of reasons my diet went south at the end of 2020. I indulged in making all the things I enjoy but I’m not supposed to eat – ice cream, pizza (I could live on these alone!), bread, cookies and cakes. A few months of that has left me feeling bloated. Happy but very bloated. Fortunately my choice of clothes can tolerate a 10lb swing in weight. I’m now following my version of the Fast800 diet and back into a zone my doctor would rather I be in.

Thinking about this and the bit of spring cleaning that I have been doing in my office has made me recognize that I need to trim back on some of the stuff.

I love books, so it’s always hard to consider getting rid of them. Low hanging fruit are the manuals for long gone versions of photoshop and light room. I like Scott Kelby’s 7 point processing system which is described for Photoshop CS3 (Wow – that was 2007) while a little dated the thinking is still sound. I’ll hang on to that one until the new edition comes out later in the summer but the others – Lightroom 4, Lightroom 5, Photoshop CS5 and more – will all have to go.

I have boxes and boxes of prints that I made when I was first starting out. While it kills me to do it, these also really need to go. I’m never going to use them for anything – the prints are my first attempts to make art prints, long before I met Bob Korn and had some foundational lessons in how to see color in a print.

I also have boxes of gear that need to be purged. I found recently that the speed lights I have didn’t work because the batteries in them had corroded. Oops! An expensive mistake. How much other stuff that I have that is in danger of going the same way?

How about you? How often do you have a good clear out? Where are you in the scale of minimalist to horder? How do you decide what to keep and what to toss?

Friday Inspiration: Do Lectures – That Crazy Dumb Idea

Stay Curious – How we created a world class event in a cowshed Clare Hieatt

I’ve been thinking a lot about community recently – how do you build it and how do you sustain it. Even harder as we live through the challenges thrown our way because of COVID-19.

David and Clare Hieatt seem to have built a great community with the ‘Do Lectures’. I was flicking through the book ‘Stay Curious’ about the first 10 years of the Do Lectures in search of inspiration.

Clare and David started the Do Lectures with the simple goal:

‘To gather together the world’s Doers – disruptors and change makers, experts and pioneers – to share their stories, and encourage others to go and Do.’

Looking through the list of speakers by year I was curious to see when they hit the mainstream and ‘big names’ started to appear. I recognized some of the names – Tim Ferris right there at the start, David Allen of GTD fame in 2010 and others that I think I know from the Do Lectures themselves.

Rather than make the Do Lectures a huge circus they’ve stayed true to their core values and purpose, kept the event intimate and made a good deal of positive change in the world.

I couldn’t resist finishing up with the video by Andrew Paynter ‘A Visual Language’ about his journey as a photographer and the recommendation to check out his book Do Photo.

An Alternate to the Folio – Boxes of Prints

Having written about folios as an alternative to a book I thought it was worthwhile pointing to another solution which is the box of prints.

I understand that historically these might have been matted prints but a trend that I am seeing emerge over the last few years is for photographers to offer boxes of prints to their audience. These prints can range from a representative collection of prints spanning a few years, the output from the previous year or just the most recent season.

I was exciting to receive Simon Baxter’s first box set of prints recently and thought I would show you how he pulled this project together as a case study for what excellent could look like.

It’s easy enough to to buy a photo box off the shelf pop your prints in and call it a day but Simon went beyond this. He has his logo embossed in the box lid, the lid itself is hinged and held closed with a small magnet – a nice touch! Inside the box is a colophon/text sheet describing the project and the package of prints. I was impressed – the small details took it to the next level. Take a look in the video below.

Check out more of Simon’s photography at his website here and take a look at his videos at his YouTube channel here.

Friday Inspiration: David Gentleman

The view from Primrose Hill, by David Gentleman.
The view from Primrose Hill, by David Gentleman

When I took a dive into the world of Urban Sketching over the Christmas break I came across David Gentleman. Actually having grown up in the UK I had seen David Gentleman’s work many times before, on stamps and also on Charing Cross Underground Station in London. David has been incredibly prolific over the course of his career – working in watercolors, wood engravings, illustration and design. He’s created stamps, coins, cards, books of his own work, illustrated books for others, murals it goes on and on. Impressive and something for us all to aspire to.

Primrose Hill   David Gentleman 'My City

David lives in a part of London called Camden Town and his studio is at the top of the house. Check out a tour through his studio here. Most of David’s books are out of print, some of which go for a shocking amount of money used. I’m fortunate enough though to have a couple of his books – the most recent one is ‘My Town: An Artist’s Life in London.’ Check out Danny Gregory talk about David’s Book Britain in the video.

Finally listen to David himself talk about his life and his book ‘London, You’re Beautiful: An Artist’s Year’ in the video below. To find out more about David Visit his website here.

Sketching Techniques for Artists – Alex Hillkurtz

One of the urban sketchers that I came across during the Christmas break was Alex Hillkurtz. Alex teaches a course called ‘Architectural Sketching with Watercolor and Ink‘ that you can find on domestika.org. I highly recommend it!

From his biography it seems that Alex has had a peripatetic life – he born in England, grew up in California and now lives in Paris. His sketching and watercolor work use and are informed by his work as a Hollywood storyboard artist.

Digging into Alex’s process more I was delighted to learn that he had a book recently published that details his approach.

Sketching Techniques for Artists: In-Studio and Plein-Air Methods for Drawing and Painting Still Lifes, Landscapes, Architecture, Faces and Figures, and More as the title suggest goes beyond the architectural sketching that I had enjoyed in the online course and provides a much broader foundation for the beginning artist. I particularly enjoyed the pages that are in light yellow. These are pages where it feels that Alex is talking to you as a friend and mentor, advice that helps provide some perspective on the particular lesson or example. Really great!

To find out more about Alex visit his website here and check out the video of the interview with him below.