I was familiar with Maira Kalman‘s work through the many New Yorker magazine covers that she’s done over the years. It wasn’t until I came across her a video describing her work recently that I connected the dots. It was fun to see that she had a blog for a while called ‘And the Pursuit of Happiness’ although it wasn’t through my dive into ‘what is happiness’ that I found her. Kalman has a unique painting style and her combination of words and images really works for me.
I have a couple of photography related book projects that should see the light of day by the end of the year and need to prepare the files for printing. To that end over the last week I’ve started aggregating the materials that I’ll need to start teaching myself the rudiments of InDesign. Now I’m feeling a little overwhelmed and stalling beginning the learning process.
I love books, so much so that my kids have asked me on more than one occasion whether I’m going to open a library, and being in a position to make my own is an amazing opportunity. But here’s the thing, I’ve spent a long time learning how to make my camera do what I want it to do which meant a long period of knowing what it was that I liked but not being able to get there – the Ira Glass video above is an apt description of this gap.
Does this apply to book design? Certainly, there are lots of tiny decisions that have to be made from small typographic questions such as whether or not to use ‘&’ in the title and what font to use to larger layout questions. Without getting these right the result will be jarring even if you couldn’t quite put your finger on what the problem is. Your work will suffer by how it’s presented.
While the answer of course is to make lots of books and test them in a safe environment, what to do for projects where you don’t have the time for those cycles of improvement?
I’m tempted to look for a book designer that I can work with to help me bring my first projects to life while I learn the rudiments of the software and the design process so that the books that I make present my work in the strongest way possible. What would you do?
I can’t say that I’d ever come across Alan Shapiro before watching his google talk ‘A Plea to Photographers: Use Your Words’ that I’m sharing here. His talk touched something of a raw nerve for me – the importance and power of telling stories with your photography and how that story can be amplified by the combination with words.
Check out Alan’s talk below and more from Photographers@Google by clicking here.
I thought that it would be interesting to share here a pair of exercises that I did recently and one that I have continued with that is intended to help connect you with your story, your voice and your aesthetic.
As I mentioned previously we all see the world in a unique way and as a result we all have a different and interesting story to tell. One of the difficulties is owning that and being true to what you have to say.
Many of us haven’t spent the time to explicitly say – these are the things that attract me, these are the things that repel me, these are the things that I find energizing, these are the things that I find draining, these are the places that I feel most comfortable and in these places I feel uncomfortable. Exercise 1 – go do that! Carry a notebook around with you and make notes about where you are and why you’re responding in a particular way.
If that is the first exercise then the second is to acknowledge what photographers produce work that attracts and which produce work that repels you. Broaden that to include other visual artists, to designers – furniture etc., Then ask the question why they appeal or repel? Finally how is this aesthetic captured in your work.
Taking time to do these relatively simple exercises has helped shape my thinking about what I photograph and why. I suspect it may for you too.
What do you think of when you see or hear the phrase ‘visual story-telling’? My mind immediately goes to the classic Life magazine photo-essays such as Eugene Smith’s ‘The Country Doctor‘, or the kind of article you might see in the National Geographic the Smithsonian magazine or my new favorite magazine Orion.
My reaction has also been that I don’t see the world this way, that I’m not trying to tell a story but look for things that resonate with me. That there’s no story here. In part that’s true but stories are all around us, whether we realize it or not. Any time there is a gap in our understanding we tell ourselves a story to explain it. Any time someone does something we like we tell ourselves a story. Any time someone does something that we don’t like we tell ourselves a story. The photographs that we choose to take do tell a story, whether that’s our intention or not. They tell people how we see the world.
The more we understand our own story the better placed we are to tell it to the world and the stronger this understanding the more likely that your work will be unique. My question for you then is ‘What’s your story?’