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  • jessejejune


Updated: Apr 8, 2022

I wanted to consider Photo-books. Prior to starting my studies into photography, in fact even until I started my degree course, I was not really aware of Photo-books. Since then they have become supremely important.

Since then the photo-book has always been a consideration as to the way I would present my work.

While considering methods of display and locations I started to consider audiences - we are encouraged to look at demographics and psychographics etc to target them. In doing so I couldn’t help but be aware that in aiming an art work at a certain audience we were also, in fact, aiming to remove it from everyone else.

Having been steered away from Art for much of my life (or at least not made aware of its importance) I felt that the wide distribution of quality Art that might reach someone who has yet to embrace it’s benefits was an important aspect to the way I chose to reveal my work (or at least the hypothetical way it would be revealed).

As part of my research I came across two documents that help show art as an important part of our democratic freedoms;

With so many disparities in society it seems that despite warm words from international and national organisations there is little real prospect of certain portions of society being able to afford quality pieces of art. Some may even struggle to visit quality exhibitions if travel and entry costs are too high.

Photo-books then, look like an important option that could bring high art to those that wish to involve themselves in it, at an affordable and easily distributable form.

In my previous entry I extolled the virtues of viewing art in an art gallery. That is still an ideal but photo-books create a different type of art and perhaps require a different type of artistry.

In his short essay, ‘In Praise of the Photo-book’ (March 2020), writer, photographer and Art Historian Teju Cole states;

There are photos everywhere, and most of them are like empty calories. A photo, even a good one, tends to simply show you what something looks like. But if you sequence several of them, in a book, say, or in an exhibition, you see not only what something looks like, but how someone looks. A sequence of photographs testifies to a given photographer’s visual thinking, a way of seeing revealed through his or her choices of color, subject, scale, and perspective. The photographs encountered in an exhibition might be beautiful new prints or vintage prints imbued with the aura of “originality.” But there are disadvantages to exhibitions: they can be noisy and crowded, open during inconvenient hours, and bound to have a closing date. With a book, though, both the images and the photographer’s arrangement of them are yours for all time.

One of my first photo-book purchases (and still probably the greatest) is the renowned ‘Ravens’ by Masahisa Fukase. Images of the birds of the title make up a good portion of the photography within the book but it is expertly combined with disquieting images of what might seem unconnected subjects - a cat, a plane in flight and a naked sex worker. Even the images of the birds are a considered combination of micro and macro, real and implied, presence and absence.

The result is obviously an intentionally gloomy portrayal of a somewhat wretched mind yet the artistry is unmistakeable and unsurprisingly it has become a true classic.

My first foray into creating an example of a Photo-book (what seems to be commonly referred to as a ‘Dummy’) was for my very first degree course printed work. It was not submitted as my marked piece but as a consideration as to how the work could have been alternatively been presented. In hindsight it seems amateur and more like some kind of cobbled together scrap book than a true photo-book. Yet it still conveys the essence of what I wanted to get across. It was mixed in with the odd quote that helped emphasise the message and as an addition to my submission it was a reasonable example of what could be a way of reproducing my work.

More recently I went a bit further. I made another photo-book - but as you would expect with more experience, I put a considerable amount more effort into the production. I was really pleased with the results. It was an attempt to convey my thoughts on the anonymity that we surrender and the privacy we forego by our choice to use social media and mobile devices with such disregard for the ways in which they are used to influence us in untold ways.

It was called ‘Forest of Nononymity’ and focussed on the prevalence of transmission masts throughout the country and how they seem to be expanding exponentially where as real trees may be considered in a decline. (The images can be seen in my gallery pages)

I have reproduced the pages of my book here as not to do so would leave any reader confused as to the content yet it does not convey the experience of handling an actual photo-book which is a genuine experience - perhaps made more so by the very personal experience of literally making the book - covering board for the front and rear covers, covering the insides of the covers to neaten the glued covering paper, laying out the images, finding and laying out the quotes, trimming the pages to size, choosing he right stock to print onto (which feels right and reproduces the images correctly) and finally binding it all together.

This image was included because, for whatever reason, whilst taking some photos near a collection of transmission masts, the thumbnails of the images on my computer became corrupted and produced this image.

The image here is of the routes taken by people exercising whilst using smart watches to track their efforts - the representation of their route is posted to the internet to see - fabulous unless, as here, you are on a top secret army base in Afghanistan and it supplies any interested party with a perfect map of the location.

A more common practice recently is to disguise telecommunication masts as trees. The more you look into it the more easily you can spot them.

A ‘tree’ mast in the background but no-one is allowed near it!

Classic and iconic buildings are now ubiquitously accompanied by masts.

This would be where the original image or a photo-book would help - hidden amongst these trees is a ‘comms mast.

One of the things I learnt from this project was to be more subtle. I will later include an image or two that I rejected from my final work. Initially I thought they were great and I was really excited to have taken the images. Yet they were too brash. They didn’t require consideration and they weren’t considered. I had to literally be told that - and it was a little painful and initially dispiriting but has so far been the very best advice I have received and something that I think about with every image I make and every image I look at.

Consequently my main images don’t throw the masts in your face, they are in the images but hopefully as a little niggling disturbance to what might otherwise be an instagram style image (the square format was my other subtle dig at social media and it’s effect on our loss of anonymity).

Of all the images in my submission this one I found the most pleasing. It is not sharp. It was created with a stupidly long super zoom bridge camera that truly can’t produce (traditionally) quality images at the extremes of it’s zoom function. As such there is little in the photograph that could be clearly defined and yet, with it left to the human ability to decipher images, it is all there. We can tell it’s the sea, we can tell there is land with trees and the ‘comms mast towering above them, we can tell there are birds (blurred as they might be) and with the over saturated sky we can conclude it is dusk and they are looking to roost. Most of all I like the way it makes me feel, it is a fine balance between sickly sweet instagram image (the kind I have no tolerance for) and post-apocalyptic disaster. I feel that because of it’s lack of clarity it demands more consideration and so inadvertently does exactly what I want my images to do.

Shortly after taking the image I sold this camera because I didn’t consider it ‘professional’ enough. I deeply regret that now and I am looking to buy another just so I can make better images by making them worse!

In part this perpetuates my previous entry on fear. In my mind it is quite a perilous jump to make worse images even if I do believe they will create better photographs. It is easy to subscribe to the amateur camera magazines perpetual insistence that image quality is all that truly matters. In some fields this may be true but in the field of true Art photography there is far more to consider and that is when the fear can step in. Going against the common thinking may well always create that feeling but small moments allow me the persistence to carry on with the rebellion against prosaic. In this case my beacon of validity came in the form of a welcome but unsolicited appraisal by a member of staff at my university. Now I don’t know her name and I’m unsure of the subject they taught but it presumably was a philosophy based subject as they were suggesting that I read some texts by Michel Foucault in relation to the concepts I was covering in my photo-book.

Regardless, she seemed genuinely effusive about my work and stated that it would have communicated ideas she had recently broached in a seminar in a way in which was difficult to verbalise. Getting this kind of endorsement from someone whose opinion seemed worthy was uplifting and has had a genuinely persistent and positive effect. It allows me to continue making work that I believe will have an audience and will induce the reaction that I was aiming for.

This image is a 2002 coverage map of masts near to the area where one of the ‘tree’ style towers is now situated. Local authorities rejected the building of the mast yet central government overruled this and allowed the build to go ahead regardless.

This is the ‘tree’ mast that was built despite the local authority objection.

Now I am not suggesting my book is yet on par with the many fine published photo-books that are available at the moment and it pales into insignificance compared to some of the truly inspired works I have had the pleasure to read but I am a little more confident now that I have the chance to continue in my struggles to find the right message, for the right time, with the right style and presentation to be able to embark on a road to being published at some point in the future. And having that self belief, being confident that I can satisfactorily blend the mixture of necessities that Teju Cole advocates, means I will carry on trying and carry on enjoying the process of trying.

That's all for now,


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© All Images Copyright of Ian Kemp 2023

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