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‘Publish your Photography Book’ by Darius D. Himes & Mary Virginia Swanson and general notes on getting my own photo book published

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I recently finished the excellent ‘Publish your Photography Book‘ by Darius D. Himes and the irrepressible Mary V. Swanson, who I have had the absolute pleasure to meet on 2 occasions and is one of the true characters of the photography world.  You can see her authentic energy and passion for the photography book interwoven into the fabric of this excellent book.

While some in the industry give downbeat accounts of the state of the photo book publishing world, from the outset ‘Publish your Photography Book’ is positive and charts in great detail the structural changes that the photo book publishing (and indeed the publishing industry as a whole) has undergone in the last two decades – especially with the onset of PoD (Print on Demand) technologies.

From the very first sentence there is a sense of optimism and a belief that the dynamic nature of the industry will lead ultimately to a healthier and re-vitalised landscape in coming years:

Talk to anyone who has been involved in the photography world over the last ten to fifteen years and they will affirm that the photography book market has exploded…Never before has there been such widespread interest in the printed image.’

In consideration of the question:  ‘Will books fade?’  The book states:

‘The short answer is no, not a chance… Books are conveyors of ideas, mementos of civilisation & harbingers of change…’

The book is highly informative as well and a must-read for those seeking to publish their own photography books.  It opens up and explains the inner-workings of the photo book publishing industry and process required to attain that goal.  From encouraging the photographer to ask themselves the tough questions required before beginning the process and breaking down what makes a successful photo book and what doesn’t – to the in’s and out’s of the submission process and inner-workings of a publishing house – right through to the design and production process and the specifics of a successful marketing strategy for the book itself.

It also includes very useful testimonials from a wide range of well-placed people in the industry – from the likes of Robert Morton, Michelle Dunn Marsh, Denise Wolff and Rixon Reed to photographers themselves like Alec Soth and an in-depth interview with Alex Webb and Rebecca Norris Webb on a rare collaboration between photographers on their book ‘Violet Isle’.

The book has certainly helped me to chart a course for my own work and to start to clearly see how I could take either of my long-term projects forward.  I have been in touch with a few publishers who have shown initial interest.  The main obstacle at the moment is finding an audience for the very niche subject matter of my current work. I’ll give an example in the form of a convo I was recently having from one very helpful and interested publisher who I met last year at Paris Photo in LA:

Hi George,
So nice to hear from you.  Hope you are doing well.  I love your photos.  If you are interested in submitting a book proposal that would be great….My concern here is where is the market for the book?  As you must be aware book sales have been tough in recent years.  Are you represented by major galleries, do you have exhibitions lined up? 
If you can help us identify the market for a book that would be a very big help.
Let me know your thoughts.
Best

I have only recently began presenting myself to the outside world as a book and gallery photog and need to find a voice and audience within that world.  That will take time.  More importantly, I have to engage a local audience in South Africa – with which my work is more relevant firstly, before being able to engage with the international market more fully.

‘Publishing your Photography Book’ has helped a great deal in understanding the goals I have to set myself if realising my long-term projects as photo books is to be realised.  While in NYC, I am mostly looking to engage with contacts – both old and new – to find interested magazines and editorial space (both published and online) for them and to begin conversations with as many publishers, consultants and galleries as possible with a view to engaging them in the long-run if I succeed in building an audience for the work.

I cannot re-iterate more the basic given that completing a long-term photo project is only the beginning of a very long process that requires just as much energy and passion as constructing and putting together the images themselves.  ‘Publish your Photography Book’ is a great and essential resource for anyone setting out on that long journey themselves.

 

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A Selection of Images from my final trip for my long-term project in the Karoo ‘A Changing Landscape’

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The current online edit of ‘Karoo: A Changing Landscape’ is up at: http://www.georgephilipas.com/gallery/karoo/

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Palm Springs Festival – Part 3: The Video Editing Workshop and Moving Forward and other Issues with the Child Assault Documentary I have been shooting

I spent an important day away from the photography side of things to do a Video Editing course with Fletcher Murray.  The course itself was educational and I got to ground myself better in the important post-prod side of shooting video.  I have been undertaking a doccie last couple of years concerning the front line services, including counsellors, forensic doctors and police department involved with the dark issue of dealing with the deluge of child assault cases in the main township of Cape Town called Khayelitsha where as many as 1 in 3 children will suffer some form of sexual abuse by the time they are 18.

I have shot a fair amount of footage – mainly talking heads though – but have been unable thus far to move it forward.  One problem has been technical, falling a bit flat at the first edit stage partly.  In the past pre-digital era, editing was more formulaic but these days, editing is increasingly one of the most important part of the doccie production process and knowledge of it and technical know-how of prem pro or final cut is essential even if I am not going to edit the final cut myself ultimately.  It is not just techinical though – knowing what to cut and what to keep – even when I know my story intimately has been difficult for me.

Taking the course was important and will allow me to begin to move the doccie forward again.  But it is not just on the technical side where I had issues:

For starters, while being a strong and important topic to tackle, in practice there is not much leeway of what can be shown.  I was hoping to depict the gravity of what was being dealt with and essentially the ‘unseen horror’ (which could never be shown directly for obvious reasons) through the emotions and reactions of those working with the issue.  But what has happened essentially given the monumental task of achieving access through South African Governmental departments and of course the police force is that access is very controlled and restrictive and what essentially I have is a whole load of talking heads.

Professionals are also hardened to the issue and it is very hard to capture the emotionality of the subject and therefore the ‘unseen horror’ with people who have to protect themselves and form a professional barrier between their personal feelings and the terrible nature of what they deal with on a day to day basis.  And it is especially hard when the access is limited to a series of interviews.

I also realised a while back and even at the Palm Springs Photo Festival where I was pulled in so many directions – from photography to time lapse and then back to video editing – that I have very much spread myself a bit thin professionally and something had to give.  I see myself as a photographer first – but also know that I got into it as a photojournalist with a love and training in essentially telling linear stories.  The days for doing that in photography are essentially gone or going but in documentaries the possibilties are there and very much relevant.  I certainly feel that I will possibly end up in this field one day – but for now I have had to put the documentary on the back burner as I decide what to do and how to get the essential B-Roll that will make or break the doccie.  I have ideas and with more ideas about editing and the principles behind it will certainly help.

Palm Springs Photo Festival – Part 2: Time Lapse with Jeff Frost

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I spent 2 days at the festival doing a workshop on time lapse with Jeff Frost – one of the people who is taking the medium onto new and innovative places.  For all those who haven’t seen his work please check his website:

http://www.jeff-frost.com/

What I particularly love about his work is that he is really testing the boundaries of the genre and is one of the few time lapsers out there who is moving it more towards the art installation world.  Many have said that time lapse might have reached its peak with all the amazing nature pieces out there.  But Jeff has begun to show the possibilities and you can see – through his work especially – that the medium is just starting to get going in many ways.  Check out in particular the piece ‘Circle of Abstract Ritual‘ which is a great mix of time lapse, hyper lapse and video to create a seminal piece of stand-alone time lapse work:

https://vimeo.com/106181453

His course matched expectations to say the least.  He begun by telling us that this was probably the last time he would teach and he was willing to let the cat out of the bag and leave no stone unturned so to speak… and he was true to his word.  We spent a long time analysing his pieces and he would be very open about the techniques he used which was useful to say the least.

In particular what I really connected to was the hyper lapse technique where one would move in unpredictable ways in all directions – all done on a tripod and camera and using personal judgement when moving the tripod in a certain direction after each shot.  The dedication required to achieve some of the work he does is impressive and scary for me at the same time, but I love the medium and hope to take it forward on some level going forward into the future.

Learning as well as the possibilities to monetize the medium was very interesting to say the least.  For now, I have given my small pieces meant for show reel to one of the libraries I am working with who was interested in trying to sell them but I think in the long-term, after doing this course, I will probably scrap it all for show reel and start again.  Ideas and possibilities are endless and hopefully I will find some sort of niche in it in the future.

Palm Springs Photo Festival, and the Good, Bad and Surprisingly Pleasant thing about Portfolio Reviews – Part 1

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Well, just spent a hectic but awesome week in Palm Springs, California at the 10th Annual Palm Springs Photo Festival.  I have now done 3 or so festivals (of which only another in New York in the US) and must say this was by far the most relaxed and enjoyable and inspiring on a personal level.  It was a complete whirlwind of a week, spending anything up to 15 hour days non-stop with workshops, reviews, networking, symposiums and presentations.  Apart from the workshops (which I’ll come back to in subsequent blogs) the highlight had to be the daily presentations by some of the biggest and historically-significant photographers such as Mary Ellen Mark, William Albert Allard, Dan Winters, Jock Sturges and Frank Ockenfels.  Seeing Mary Ellen Mark’s presentation in particular made the largest impression even though I must say I had seen and heard a lot of the stories about her seminal work before.  Seeing her talking about it in person though was an experience of note.  Along with Don McCullin and Lee Miller she is one of three photographers who inspired me most to become a photojournalist and get into photography in the first place.  I have posted her talk on my fb page if anyone is interested.  At 75 years of age and looking painfully frail I imagine this might be the last time I would get to see her talk and just being there to witness it was an honour in itself.

Meeting my fellow photographers from all walks – all connected by their dedication to the cause and seeing their work was almost as important and inspiring as well.  Sometimes stuck out in a small village outside Cape Town I really miss contact with my fellow peers from around the world so just getting to hang and talk photography was such a great experience in itself.

On a professional level, the workshops and showing my new work was the main reason for flying all the way from Cape Town to attend.  I have done a few portfolio reviews and had general conversations about their worth with people who sit on the other side of the review table and had my doubts before as to what I would ultimately gain from them.  It is great that you have so many prominent members of the photog community that you might want to see in one place, but the fact that they are seeing anything up to 30 photographers in a day in small 20 minute segments doesn’t help you stand out and puts a photographer at an instant disadvantage.  I had been told by a reviewer that in general a photographer is lucky if he gets one good contact to begin building a positive relationship with from all the reviews he might do.

Going in therefore my expectations were already low.  But my experience after 10 reviews during the week was very positive.  I think having done them before and knowing exactly what I wanted from them really helped.  I was there to show a new style of work and artistic and conceptually-based long term projects, to get feedback and advice and to maybe start relationships to build on in the long-term with prominent members of the art and book world of photography – an area where I haven’t had much contact in the past.  Firstly the general consensus was that the pieces worked and were strong (the Karoo project as I clearly stated from the outset was early in development and needed a lot more work but had good foundations but the Hangberg work was perceived as ready to go).

On the downside, the socio-documentary based nature of the work and South African content means that avenues especially in the gallery world in the US are limited.  I knew that already but what came out of the reviews is that it is not necessarily impossible.  What I will need to do (and something I knew before) is to start by approaching local globally esteemed galleries in South Africa and use such representation to build up interest elsewhere.  As I said when this was brought up in the reviews, I essentially want both projects to be airtight and completely ready before approaching galleries in SA and I was more at Palm Springs to get the necessary feedback and use the general consensus to help in the development of the projects.  And on that level, the reviewers connected with this approach and helped enormously.

In terms of starting relationships though I was more than pleasantly surprised with quite a few giving me their details and asking me specifically to keep them informed on developments.  One really cool guy and also large and esteemed book publisher, who I thought would not develop into much, gave me his personal mobile phone contact details and allowed me to call him for advice as the projects progress.  I think a lot of that as well has to do with the way photographers connect with the reviewers.  I was particularly relaxed and often joked with them and just talked about all things even outside photography.  I even talked about growing olive trees with the book publisher I just mentioned which is his passion now for a good 3/4 minutes of my review.  When meeting Holly Hughes (PDN Editor-in-Chief – a highly respected and important mag for us photographers based out of NY – I advise all photographers who don’t already to read it regularly for advice, great work and keeping up with what is going on with all fields in photog- it is in fact my homepage) asked what I wanted out of the review I immediately joked back – well to publish all my work of course! I didn’t obviously knowing that is not what these reviews are about.  But breaking the ice in such ways is a good way to settle in and hope to build later on a serious working relationship.  One reviewer who I particularly wanted to see and who I found out later had told someone independently he thought mine was the best portfolio he had seen, ended our pleasant session by saying ‘Now get the hell away from my desk!’ – I responded with feigned puppy dog eyes ‘But I thought you liked my work?!’ to which he replied ‘Nah – not that much – now go!’.  We both laughed as I walked away.

Ironically where I had most success in actual direct leads for work was the editorial side of things which I wasn’t really at the festival to focus on.  I bumped into a couple of editors I had done jobs for before (and whom I had never met in person).  It is so important – even in the inter-connected digital age to do things the old fashion way and meet face to face.  Tracey Woods of Essence Mag in particular was great to bump into.  I had shot Michelle Obama as part of the press pack for her when she visited SA a few years ago.  Had a few long chats and even pitched one of my older stories I have done (the Life After Rape portrait series).  Not saying it will be published but the interest was there and it is now up to me to follow up.

I even had interest to publish one of my long-term projects in a US-wide magazine.  I didn’t really go for meeting mag editors at the reviews thinking that publishing such art-based projects might hurt my chances later to get them into the gallery and book publishing world.  That turns out to be a load of nonsense.  I should have therefore done more meetings with mag editors but have enough contacts anyway worldwide in that area to go back to SA and do that myself.

All in all, I came away very positive from the reviews and networking.  But this is well and truly just the beginning of a long journey.  The groundwork has been laid but it is wholly in my court how and where I take this and build on the positives that came out of the sunny desert of California in the awesome shadow of the San Bernardino Mountains.

Crisis, Re-working and Learning to Work with Others…

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Well – been a while since I last blogged… been keeping up the commission jobs and still doing the stock photography.  I have started outsourcing cleaning images to a company based in Bangladesh.  They found me on Linkedin and after a process of tests and trials I am happy with the output.  I found it hard to let go though of doing it myself – even with stock – as many photographers will testify – I am extremely fussy how my pics are cleaned.  Allowing others to do that I have found hard and have been putting off the decision to do it for a while.  Given the volume of pics though and the time it would take to do, it was def a wise decision and prices were reasonable when compared to potential returns.

I am still looking for someone to keyword the images – and given its importance I want to be careful with it… I’m sure though – just as with digital cleaning – I will prevaricate for a while before giving in finally and outsourcing.

I find it strange working with people who I have never met, but in this brave, new world it really is becoming the norm – my entire website has been developed and has evolved with 1 designer over 10 years who I have never met in person.

And on that note it brings me back to my short film.

July and August proved to be a nightmare with it as it became evident I had def taken on more than I could chew as 1 person.  I started having dissent from frontline staff who would be intimately involved in the piece.  While permission were sought and cleared at the top of each Government body and organisation – the actual people on the frontline of child protection services were not included in the process and properly informed.  When I started appearing they rightly demanded to know what was going on.

The main gripe was where this piece would eventually end up.  I was originally hoping to make it a multimedia piece for an online section of an international publication.  On that front, I have been in contact and there has been interest.  As the piece grew, I started to broaden my scope and hoped to make it into a longer TV or cinematic doccie.  Frontline staff were simply not happy with this.

After a series of further consultations – and a couple of very helpful meetings with internationally-recognised local film production companies, I decided it would be best to scale back the scope initially and make a simple short 10min piece that would be uploaded online and attention would be garnered independently rather than through mainstream media.  By doing this, it would ease the concerns of many frontline staff who would be involved and – if successful – open the door to make a longer piece.  In this way the process got back off the ground.

I was always worried about working with film production companies – or even experienced film crew who I felt – given the budget limitations would have to be personally invested in the project and therefore would want a say in the central ideas and concepts behind the doccie – something I was extremely unwilling to do at first.  I have now found an audio and camera peeps nearly out of a top film school in Cape Town.  They are technically great and are both invested in the ideas behind the short film.  I have also found it has helped a great deal for me to start understanding better the whole process of filming by divulging responsibility and learning from those around me.

I hate feeling even slightly out of my comfort zone when it comes to the technical side of things and the whole filming process has been a massive step outside it and has taken a lot more time than I had hoped for to bring the project to fruition.

I’ve attached the doccie treatment I put together for it here if it may help others.  I again asked a local director to have a look at some of his treatments to get basic ideas on how they should be structured.  As a pre-shoot script, it is a bit general compared to say a film treatment.  But given that you never know what content exactly you will get it is always better to leave it more general and then write a far more detailed post-shoot script once you have more of an idea of how the piece will ultimately look like.  If it is of interest to anyone, I can wetransfer the entire treatment with the photographs used as visual aids the finished document contains.

I am finally starting shooting again on 1st October.  This time I am far more confident and am actually excited.  The prospects of the short film look far better than they did a couple of months ago… and what was important to achieve this as a photographer was learning to let go of my babies and put them into the more than capable hands of those around me…

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