Monday, March 30, 2009

sofobomo book ideas

Big Bend

In early May Amanda and I are hoping to head out to Big Bend national park for a week. I think that'll be the subject for my SoFoBoMo book. Possible titles:

Round the Bend

A West Texas road trip

There and back again

Driving Amanda around the Bend

A mix of landscapes, road side curios, travelogue and trip report. Amanda mentioned she was glad it wasn't another Amanda-focused project. I might even try and get a guest author to write the accompanying essay...

Friday, March 27, 2009

Pepper #30 (and what happened to the first 29?)

jackson pollock

One gallery that we visited in London was the Tate Modern, in the old power station on the South Bank. A huge space and a really dramatic old building set the stage for a varied and challenging art collection. The exhibits range from beautiful Cezzane portraits of his gardener, to small piles of firebricks and a sheet of cut out paper afixed to the wall. The more recent contributions to the collection seem to spend more time trying to challenge perceptions of art rather than really producing anything appealing or even displeasing to the eye, which seems to be a common condition of modern art. All form and idea, not much expertise or craft on display and not much consideration of the surface appearance.

In one room, a Mark Rothko colour painting of rectangular swatches hangs beside a massive Monet canvas of water lilies, facing a Jackson Pollock action painting. I sat there for a few minutes taking all three of them in and thinking about the crazy focus each of those three artists brought to such a narrow range of subject matters. The gallery had just recently finished a large exhibit of Rothko paintings, all very similar, different sizes, different colours, different arrangements but all his trademark swatches of rectangular regions of colour. I do wish I'd been there early enough in the year to take all of them in at one time, just to see them all in one space. Over the years I've seen many Monet paintings of waterlilies, huge panels, small paintings, different colour palettes awash with the same simple theme. Pollock's action canvases are similarly focused on the same techniques. Weston's photography of 30 peppers until he found the right one is a small example of a similar level of photographic commitment to a theme.

What drives someone to return to the same small set of subjects time and again? I've talked about creative constraints in the past but these three seem to take those ideas to further extremes. Maybe that is something that separates the great and good in the art world from the rest of us. This monotonic focus and manic ability to return to the same small set of constraints time and again to see what is there. Contrast that with the typical hobbyist photographer that always wants to argue for creative freedom of expression or never wanting to be boxed in by the same subject twice. I know repetition is a key to doing interesting things with a subject, returning time and again to find something new. I'm just not sure I could take it to the extremes I see in Rothko or Monet or Pollock.

Karen expresses concern that nobody would be interested in 35 images of clouds for a SoFoBoMo contribution, but I think if an image or theme is repeated often enough it can help the viewer start focusing on the differences between each instance of the subject. You start to really take the time to notice what is special about each individual composition, rather than just labeling and dismissing it as the general theme of all the images. The subtleties get a chance to come out.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

valid concerns

valid concerns

Paul Butzi raises some valid concerns about any attempts to move away from the bookishness of books, when considering the design of a PDF photographic book. I'm not proposing ripping up and throwing away everything that has gone before, but I do think some of the assumptions are worth investigating. The computer screen is different to a book. The way we interact with documents on a screen is quite different. As a result, the design and presentation should maybe try to reflect that, not just emulate directly what went before.

I think Paul's cringing at the history of desktop publishing is well founded. However, that particular genie is already out of the bottle. The reason that things got so bad there for a while was that the personal computer democratised the design process. You didn't have to go to a professional designer to type up or design the flyer for your garage sale. You could do it yourself, with all the good and bad aspects that brings along. That problem already exists within photographic book publishing. Blurb, Lulu, iPhoto, et. al., already pulled that cork out. They try to contain the damage to a certain extent by providing generic templates that enforce a particular book flow, but there is nothing to stop you going alone - many people did last year for SoFoBoMo. Full bleed layouts, done in design software, exported as a full page and then dropped into the POD software lets you do what you like, for good or ill. If you are planning on doing your own layout for SoFoBoMo, I'd urge you to expend a little bit of effort and learn some basics of good design and typography. If you want you can read about my experiences trying to learn the fundamentals of book design and typography from last year. There are some book recommendations along the way. In particular, if you want to see how bad my early efforts where, they are still here. Maybe that's the first lesson - PDFs don't go out of print.

So I don't think considering the change of medium from physical book to PDF really is concerned with that other orthogonal concern of bad design or lack of knowledge. Bad design is bad design, irrespective of medium. Where it gets interesting though is if you bring a good design principle forward to a medium where it becomes less optimal. Paul's example of the Kindle and its lack of spatial search-ability is one of my main frustrations with digital books, in a ebook reader or on a screen. If form is to follow function, then maybe we should reconsider some of the layout and design principles. I have a Safari account with O'Reilly. For a book reading geek like me, it should be a constant treasure trove of new things to read. It always looks that way when I browse through, but something stops me. I just can't read books on a screen the way I can curled up in a chair, or lying in bed, or anywhere else I can enjoy a good book. The Kindle tries to go someway towards addressing that, but it really just isn't there yet. I think the real future and goal of the Kindle is tied up in its name. Something better will eventually arrive. But for now, the Kindle isn't a graphical display and not really a suitable target for a PDF photographic book, so lets put it to one side.

If I tire quickly and can't read books in PDF on a computer screen, is the same principle at play when looking at photographs? Should we take that into account? The resolution between a computer screen (72-96 dots per inch) compared to a printed document (300 to 600 dots per inch) is quite different. Maybe that factors in. Then again, with a PDF you can zoom in and out, so maybe again we need to reconsider the resolution we share images at - should be size them for a 100% view, or consider providing something much higher resolution that a viewer can zoom into and explore? Do we care about protecting those high resolution images, or not? In terms of layout, a screen seen as a page presents one full spread at a time, not two facing pages. But maybe that screen can be viewed as a window onto a much larger space and pictures laid out differently as a result.

Most of these ideas are half-formed (and that's being kind) but PDF books on a screen are a different thing to a physical book. I think it is worth considering that carefully and designing appropriately. Hopefully without using Comic Sans.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

sofobomo rss feeds

page not found

After a few days of tweaking and testing, I'm reasonably convinced this year's blog feed aggregator is working. The feed is here and you can subscribe/ consume it any way you like. As an example, I'm using it for the sidebar on this blog, on the top left. I also have it in an RSS news reader (Google reader). It is currently getting the feeds from all of the blogs that have been entered into the SoFoBoMo website by people who have registered to participate. Currently the list of blogs is not automatically updated, so if you've registered in the last couple of days you may not see any of your content appearing in the feed. The plan is to automate the inclusion of new blogs, soon. For now, if you have a blog with SoFoBoMo-related content that you want added to the pipe, let me know in the comments and I'll add your blog. If you do this, be sure to also add it to your book/ profile on, or it may well disappear when we automate things.

Entries are filtered on a variety of criteria for inclusion in the feed. Basically if you have SoFoBoMo, in any variety of case ( SOFOBOMO, sofobomo and other permutations), anywhere in the post, title, body, categories or tags, it should get picked up. If you have examples of this not happening, again please let me know in the comments and I'll find out what's wrong. The feed should update approximately once every hour with new content.

This time around I decided to forgo using Yahoo pipes to manage the feed. While the Yahoo pipe worked well and didn't require any hosting, it was a royal pain to update via the graphical coding interface. In particular, adding new blogs took far too long. I've also automated the discovery of the RSS feeds, so we just need to know the blog address, not the RSS feed URL. Let me know if there are any problems.

the medium is the massage

bike workout

(and no, the title does not have a typo in it) Continuing on from the previous post, what I'm really interested in is how to design a PDF photographic book to best take advantage of the medium. That's opposed to my previous approach of cloning and copying everything I could find that made a photographic book a real book - two full spreads of title page - one plain, one ornate (seems to be a canonical form of a photographic book - check and see how many of yours have the same structure at the front). A colophon page, facing page layouts designed to work together, all these things that are constrained by the printed medium that I tried to copy and bring forward into a PDF.

This time around I want to consider more the design of the book for a PDF, rather than as a segue to a printed copy. McLuhan's tetrad of media effects might be good way to explore this. At least I can use it to think about what a PDF might contain, so I can then think about what it should contain. Really these questions are about the difference between electronic media, presented in PDF vs a physical book. I'm not so interested in making it interactive, I am more concerned with how to design and layout the result to take advantage of the features on offer.


   1. What does the medium enhance?

   2. What does the medium make obsolete?

   3. What does the medium retrieve that had been obsolesced earlier?

   4. What does the medium flip into when pushed to extremes?

Much of this also expresses the things I don't particularly like about the Amazon Kindle - it tries too hard to look and feel like a book, but along the way loses many of the things that make a small paperback book so successful as a medium. Being able to flick quickly through pages. The ability to take it anywhere, use it anywhere.

pdf design

Some links for now. All about magazines in PDF format and I realise my book isn't a magazine. Interesting to look at for the design aspects (more than the content) of how or if they adapted print magazine conventions to PDF display.

Smashing Magazine's list of inspirational PDF magazines

Ubiquitous PDF

PDF mags

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

a durable mutation

SoFoBoMo last year was caught up in trying to understand just what a photographic book classically looked like. I studied books, read about the design process and tried to emulate all the best practices of a print book that I could find to copy. I borrowed as many big, expensive, heavy photographic books as I could get from the library. I poured over the books in my collection, not looking at the photography for a change, but looking at the construction and commonalities that made them a photographic book. All of this understanding was used to create a PDF. An electronic book. A simulacrum of a real book.

This year I'm beginning to question that approach. It may well be the right process to follow if you see SoFoBoMo as a step towards printing a physical book. Then you be right to view the PDF as a lesser version of the final goal. Something that you can share online to give people an idea of what the real end result might have looked like.

However, this time around I'm thinking about a different tack. One where the PDF is the actually desirable end goal, not just a compromise required to prove to the rest of the online world that the SoFoBoMo challenge was completed. Not a second class citizen, but a better option altogether.

This is in part inspired by Brooks Jensen's writing and podcasts on the utility of PDF. Brooks and I exchanged some email on his slight disappointment in the displays of books from last year that used Issuu. His disappointment stemmed from the removal or restriction of many of the best features of the PDF format (e.g., full screen views, full control, higher resolution, zoomable), by the use of an embedded flash-based viewer. At the time I was a bit uneasy about the features such as the animated page turning, that tries to mimic a real magazine or book. It seemed very gimmicky and a mistake to be using this new technology to emulate the older realization. Many of us used Issuu last year because of a lack of hosting options. This year SoFoBoMo will hopefully be able to host the PDFs directly, removing one level of indirection between the PDF and the potential audience, which should be an improvement. I'm beginning to think there are more interesting things that can be done with PDF than just trying to copy how a book looks.

Many of these thoughts crystalized in my mind today while watching Scott McCloud giving an overview of "Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art" in the TED talk, below. Take the 17 minutes to watch it. I'll wait. The good stuff starts about 7 minutes in though the whole thing is enjoyable.

Scott is obviously talking about comics and comic books. But comics are just another form of picture book, in many ways similar to a photographic book. Photography too is obviously a visual medium that tries to channel all of the senses through vision. Photographic books might seem like the highest form of displaying photographs, along perhaps with a gallery show. These are probably the two goals most photographers strive towards. A book and exhibition. But perhaps the PDF can be something more, something different. Books represent many compromises for photographs, the number, the size, how they relate to other images. Maybe we are making the same McLuhanesque mistake of trying to emulate physical photographic books in PDF form, rather than embracing the opportunities presented by the new medium. My first thought would be to add audio and hypertext, but from the content of Scott's talk, I wonder now if that might be a false path. Just like pop-up books aren't a big success as photographic books, I'm not really thinking about an interactive solution. Mostly I'm wanting to consider different layout choices that aren't constrained by the 2 sides of a sheet of paper, assembled to be read left to right. So then what is the durable mutation of the photographic book? What should it look like? How should we interact with it? What happens when you consider the screen as a window instead of a page?

If we can understand what the compromises are for a physical photographic book, then we consider how those change in the digital realm. If you find out how you can break free from those constraints then SoFoBoMo might be the perfect opportunity to see where things might go. It doesn't have to be a physical book rendered digitally, one fake virtual page turn at a time. The thing to consider is what might be the best mutation for the photographic book.

We are currently constrained by the screen size, and the resolution and the bandwidth available. But PDFs present exciting opportunities to explore what a book might be if it wasn't restricted to the physical realities of the printed page. SoFoBoMo is a great opportunity to collectively and individually explore what a digital book could be all about. Last year I said 'So give it a go. Sign up and pledge to take part in SoFoBoMo. Make a book.' This year maybe I'll try to urge some of you to give it a go. Make a durable mutation. What do you think? Are you really more interested in making a book and SoFoBoMo just gets you part of the way there? Or do you think there are more interesting things to do with the PDF?

SoFoBoMo piping

This is just a test post to check if the new style SoFoBoMo blog aggregator is working. Meanwhile, here's a question for you. Is lateral thinking required for creativity?

Sunday, March 22, 2009

the joy of cheap lenses


It's that bluebonnet time of year again in Texas. The shot above was taken with a second-hand, manual focus, fixed f8 aperture, low quality Samyang 500mm mirror lens, with some fungus on the glass. Not the best lens choice in the world, but the poor quality of the optics adds a certain something to the end result. There are even a few tell-tale 'donut' rings to prove it is a mirror lens.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

PDF as a valid end in itself

bar italia, soho

A thought-provoking podcast from Brooks Jensen on PDFs, over at Lenswork. Brooks pitches the PDF as the next big thing for publishing and the medium where photographers who are interested in working on the cutting edge should be publishing their work. I've heard Brooks talk about PDFs in the past as a great means for publishing but he seems to be going further this time. I assume that's the experiences he's gained with the Lenswork Extended product. Typically photographers think about the published, physical book as the ultimate end goal, but here the PDF is put forward as a better option, particularly as a means of distribution. I've produced a few PDFs and it is a good experience to go through, making the selections, doing the layout and editing. It does always feel home-made - without that stamp of authority that a publisher, other than yourself, gives to work.

But here the argument is made that the PDF is worthwhile goal in of itself, which certainly matches well with the goal of SoFoBoMo. Even there, the PDF decision often can feel like a forced compromise - we'd all really like to have it be a 'real' book, not an electronic file. But perhaps the PDF can be thought of as a higher goal than a printed book. More opportunity try new things. Perhaps even mix in audio with the images. Also, thinking on last year, I was able to see over 50 photographic books, that I'd never be able to see if I had to buy them - because of the cost, and the physical space required to store them. PDF certainly enables more people to see the work. Given how few of my pictures see print, PDF probably makes even more sense. There is the downside that the resolution of a PDF isn't currently as good as physical book. Also you've got the issues of controlling the viewing environment - you have no idea what sort of screen or calibration is being used to look at the end product.

At the same time, photography always feels like a successive series of disappointments, or reduction in quality. The images in your head aren't often as good as the image on the back of the camera. Those small images on the back of the camera often don't live up to the full size version on a screen. Once it's been processed, the prints are always one step removed from how it looked on a screen. Each stage reduces the quality of the image, real or imagined. PDF removes one of those levels of transformations. Maybe it can even be a truer representation of the image than a print, if we can sort out these resolution and calibration quandaries.

So what do you think? Is a PDF a good end in itself, or just something to settle for when you can't make a real book?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

photo project planning

You can't just dance or paint or write or sculpt. Those are just verbs. You need a tangible idea to get you going. The idea, however minuscule, is what turns the verb into a noun - paint into a painting, sculpt into a sculpture, write into writing, dance into a dance.

- Twyla Tharp, The Creative Habit

Jeff Curto just posted the second part of his Camera Position series on project planning. The first in the series really just sets the stage for what he plans to talk about. This second installment is more interesting and starts to talk about what kinds of projects you might want to work on. He provides some pointers on the ways to excavate project ideas that will be useful to photographers in general and also for SoFoBoMo in particular. Doug Stockdale is running a workshop with a similar goal in Long Beach in April. If you are interested and can't go, maybe you could let Doug know in the comments over there and he might provide a podcast.

Monday, March 16, 2009


Shameless ad: ride the Rosedale Ride on Mar 28. Great Ride. Good People. Worthy Cause. Make Vivian's dad happy.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

run recovery



ice bath

Friday, March 13, 2009

mary ellen mark

Went to the ACP Mary Ellen Mark lecture last night. I was amazed by how many people showed up - they had to turn some people away at the door I think. A packed auditorium and an interesting array of images. One thing that stood out was she kept using the word 'relentless' to describe how to achieve the images she made. Going back, time and again, facing rejection and just turning up the next day to eventually get the acceptance and access she wanted to make the images. I'm already looking forward to the Alec Soth talk on the 4th of June. You can see more of Mary Ellen's pictures in the USA Character project. The rest of that body of work is also fantastic, with some great portraits by 11 photographers. Some really arresting images.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

advice for the first time biamer

Trying to think through the things that worked well for me when doing SoFoBoMo and the things that I struggled with or would do differently if I was doing it again. Paul Lester has already provided some of his thoughts on this topic, too.

  • Project selection

Don't over think this bit. It doesn't have to be the most overarching, complex project theme. In fact, the simplest idea is often the best to work with. Great ideas come from putting two small ideas together in an interesting way, so don't worry about it being too deep and meaningful. The real key is to make it something that is accessible to you. Maybe you'll shoot your entire project in a day, in which case, accessibility isn't too challenging, if you happen to be near the subject or theme. But if you want to return to it for a few times over the month, don't pick something that is far away or difficult for you to get to. It just adds one more barrier to getting it done. The best subjects and projects are those close to home that you are familiar with and have access to. Don't pick the American Southwest as your theme if you live in England and won't be there during the SoFoBoMo month. Some of the best books I saw last year had the simplest themes, for example, the numbers 1 to 35 in 'I can count' by ndalum78. A treasure hunt, a witty book, all in one simple and elegant project - all from a very simple idea.

At the same time you aren't over thinking the project selection, it is worth giving it some thought. Pick something you want to do or that interests you. You will be looking at the pictures a lot, so find something that fires your imagination and has enough depth for you to shoot 35 pictures of.

  • Book design

I'm not a graphic designer. I'm not a book designer. You don't have to be. I do have quite a few photographic books at home. I looked at them, with an eye to how they were laid out. Take some time to study the books you have available to you. Go to your library and look for some more. Instead of looking at the pictures too closely, pay attention to the structure and flow of the book design. Notice how almost all books you look at have two title pages, one very plain and readable, the other more stylised? After a bit of time spent looking at the structure you'll get a feel for the patterns you'll want to replicate in your book. It is also worth reading some introductory books on graphic design and typography. You don't need to be an expert but it helps to have some appreciation of what is going on.

If you plan on doing a layout of your own, find a book with the sort of structure and design you want and copy it. Make it your own, borrow hints from it, rather than going all out to design it yourself.

  • Software

There is plenty of software that will let you lay out the pages. I used Adobe InDesign to lay out my pages, which has a big learning curve. There are easier options. The key is to spend a bit of time before the SoFoBoMo period getting all the kinks worked out. Make a sample book just to work out how to get from the start to the end PDF or printed book. It'll help you a lot to do this without the deadline pressure. I made a small book with Blurb the month before SoFoBoMo that really helped me understand how I wanted things to look. Use pictures you have already, or go shoot some in an afternoon. It will help.

Adobe InDesign

Adobe Photoshop


Some people used PowerPoint. Microsoft Word. Microsoft Works. Most anything you can use to put images and text together and then print from, can be used to create a PDF book. If you have a Mac, the PDF printing is already built in. Most Adobe products on either platform will generate a PDF. If you have a Windows machine, there are several free PDF printer drivers you can install - then all you have to do is print to them and your PDF will be created. e.g., Foxit PDF Creator or pdf995

You probably don't need to go and buy new software to create a SoFoBoMo PDF. If you want to go to a finished book, things get a bit different. Shutterfly and Blurb both provide layout software for creating books. However, this software doesn't typically let you produce a PDF, without heavy watermarks or branding, so isn't ideal for a SoFoBoMo submission. I did my book in layout software and generated full page JPEGs for each page. I then used the Blurb software to put each of those pages as 'full bleed' (print to the edges) images. So I had the same layout without really using the Blurb layout software, other than to assemble the pre-designed pages.

good info on underwater photography

I've been looking for information on getting an underwater housing for my Canon G10, to do some underwater photography. This site in the UK has a lot of good information.

evolution of the evolution of an idea

Following on from the previous post, based on the idea of doing a book in a weekend. I then thought, maybe I could do one book each weekend for the whole month. Four books. Now maybe then they should be tied together somehow - common theme? Suppose maybe the front and back covers could be all parts of the one same image, that work together when arranged side by side. Now that needs a four individual but related project themes. Maybe you have 4 people in your family that you could use - a book on each person? Perhaps you could be one of those people and do a self portrait book? Doesn't work for me but it'd be a way to join the four themed books.

Monday, March 09, 2009

evolution of an idea


Paul had the good idea to request that we post more about SoFoBoMo and where the ideas flit in and out from, or try to capture some of the experience from last year that we gained. This evening an idea popped into my head for a SoFoBoMo project, while reading a different photography book. Reading always seems to stimulate these random ideas for projects. The main thing I've learned to do is to write them down. Then and there. So I was sent scrambling for a notebook, almost upsetting the cup of tea on the table beside me. It was just a simple idea, in part stimulated by Mark Hobson's post over on the Landscapist, about shooting a book in a day, that was very similar to Paul Lester's book in an hour from last year, One. I was thinking about what might make an accessible shoot to do in a day, maybe shooting from sunrise all the way to sunset or in to twilight. A good sunrise is always a colour event in my head and that triggered an idea from the book I'm writing, about shooting colours and using those as the motivation and guiding idea. I've used this quite often to help people get moving and taking pictures and I thought it would be a decent theme for a day's shoot.

Then I start thinking that I need 35 images and maybe I need to consider more than one colour. That leads easily to the colours in a rainbow - 7 colours, 5 shots each. Now that seems like something that could be shot in a day. Maybe the whole book could be shot and finished in a weekend without too much trouble.

But what does the book look like? Probably sections, themed or titled for each colour. Maybe I could use one of the standard mnemonics to bind the sections - Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain. Or just go with something graphic using typography. The words repeated over and over, with the section picked out in that colour and everything else black and white. Or just repeat the word over and over.

Then maybe the pictures could tie or blend in to each other - so I shoot more solid reds for the middle images, but start to find some red/orange mixes for the overlapping sections, then more orange, all orange, then mix in some yellow and so on. These images could all be strung together small on one page as an overview of the whole book - 7 wide, 5 deep. Perhaps the cover page could be created out of letters shot on the same day, a red R and so on.

I might never make this book. It might be forgotten tomorrow - especially if I hadn't written it down. Maybe I'll come up with another 3 ideas and do 4 books in 4 weekends. This idea may well morph and evolve into something completely different. But the key was getting some of it down on paper. If you have ideas, respect them, capture them. You can always throw them away later and come up with more. But get used to paying attention to them and keeping them.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009


Main _ Gordon McGregor

I've been wanting to re-vamp my website for quite a while now, over at A while ago, I cobbled together some html that did a reasonable job of showing the pictures I put up. It was automated slightly, to pick up new pictures as I added them, but somehow I never did. This morning I read about Indexhibit and thought I'd take a look. I've tried various Content Management Systems (CMS) in the past, for web hosting. Including the often recommended Gallery Photo Management System. However, they've always been too feature-rich, and hence complex, or just not quite what I was looking for. I wanted something fairly simple, clean and easy to maintain. That includes being able to add new pictures easily. I wanted to be able to organise the images in terms of projects or folios of work. I use flickr for my stream of consciousness images - all the stuff I shoot ends up on flickr. Family images, holiday snaps, more planned stuff, everything. However, flickr is really not good at all for showing sets of finished work. The long-teased flickrfolio might do that, but I got fed up waiting. I managed to resist my natural urge to start with Indexhibit and then spend the next few weeks researching other options, just in case there is something better out there. Instead, for a change, I decided just to try it out and see how it works.

I was very pleasantly surprised how easy Indexhibit was to install. It took me about 10 minutes to get it up and running on my 1and1 hosted site. That includes setting up a MySQL database backend and configuring the Indexhibit install. I haven't done much with it yet, but you can preview the new look. I'll no doubt be playing around with the format and content over the next few weeks but I am impressed by the ease of use and the look and feel so far. At this point I'm really not interested in doing web design, I want to be able to host the images in a clean and simple way. Indexhibit does that very well.

abject failure

On the starting new blogs front. I suppose at least I'm only just contributing articles in this case. Meanwhile, the Austin Center for Photography seems to be off to a great start. A lecture from Mary Ellen Mark next week, then Alec Soth in June.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

finding the spine

player, Savannah

Had an enjoyable lunch a few weeks ago with a friend who is a writer. I've been trying to make the time to have lunch with people in different creative fields, to try to explore a bit what makes them tick and how they work. She is currently finishing up a book and it was great to get to hear about her process and progress on the project.

One thing that we talked about was how she got started on the book and how she'd been told to find out what the question was. This would be the motivating question for the whole project. Twyla Tharp talked about a similar idea in her book 'The Creative Habit' when she brings up the notion of the spine of a creative piece. In both cases, the fundamental question or the spine idea of a project are the thing you can keep coming back to when you feel you've lost your way. It is the scaffolding or foundation of a project that gets you started, even if everything else really branches quite far away or heads off in a different direction. The spine might not even be visible in the final work but it is what helps to keep you on track and bind everything together along the way. These core ideas don't need to be complicated, in fact I think there is a value in keeping it simple. As an example, the spine idea for my ironman triathlon project is to show the everyman aspect of the participants. That idea helps keep the project grounded, to try to show the normality surrounding the huge task the participants have set themselves.

I was intrigued to find this same idea being expressed by two different people within a couple of weeks. Maybe this could be one of the design patterns for creativity that Merlin Mann is looking out for? Certainly it is a simple notion but it also seems to be a fundamental concept. Find the spine or driving question and keep it somewhere you can see it every day as you work on the project. This might also be a good starting point for thinking about a SoFoBoMo project - discover what the spine of the idea is that you want to work on and run with it. Last year I wanted to explore different expressions and how quickly those change. I wanted to show that a photograph freezes one of those instants but that it really doesn't hold any truth about the subject. The spine helps with the shooting and also helps with the editing. Any time you feel stuck it is the thing to go back to.

blogging explosion


You have to watch these blog things carefully. They seem to reproduce when you aren't paying attention. Right now in addition to this main blog on photography, I have four others that I'm contributing to. Doug Stockdale asked me to give some insight into the photographic exhibitions that are happening in and around central Texas, at his PhotoExhibit site. There is a new post there from me on the Fritz Henle retrospective that just recently started at the Harry Ransom Center here in Austin.

I am also part of the Stills photographic group, who create a collaborative photoblog. Membership is limited to 10 people and commenting is only enabled for people within the group. We've had some interesting discussions in the short time I've been a member. The final photographic blog, Everyday Ironman, is dedicated to my current triathlon project, with additional contributions from the two other writers working on the idea. This is more of an ongoing log of the progress of the project, with typically more photographs than I'm showing here.

I also have an infrequent technical/work related blog, Five Computers, which covers topics of technical interest to me, including data visualisation, electronic design automation and verification.

These blogs are like rabbits. Hopefully I can refrain from starting any more this year.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Photography.Book.Now 2009

Blurb just announced the call for entries for Photography.Book.Now