Christopher Manson

For my portfolio book I chose to create something that illustrated the humanitarian element of the photography that I enjoy doing. I wondered if this area of photography would lend itself to being published in a book and how much of a living I might be able to make this way.

Christopher Manson is a photographer that studied in Hull a few years ago and has since moved around the world, taking photos, lecturing and publishing books. I contacted him this week to ask him for some advice about making and self-publishing books.

I firstly wondered what made a topic worthy of a book.

Manson explained that all topics are worthy of a book depending on how successfully the project has been realised. When he has finished shooting a project he spreads all of the photographs, interviews and anything else out to decide whether it is appropriate to make into a book or not. He says, “I have many projects that didn’t work completely so they just sit on my shelves collecting dust until I figure out how to finish them.”

So I asked how he chooses a topic for a book.

Manson said that his project’s don’t initially start out as books, he finds it too restricting and instead allows the work to dictate how it should be presented, possibly through a book, an exhibition, just a web gallery or presumably, a combination of formats.

He has numerous small project ideas running through his mind at any given moment he finds ideas everywhere, from reading newspapers to having conversations with friends and colleagues. Eventually, two or three of these smaller ideas will come together to make a larger project and Manson decides to begin researching it. He says “If it holds my interest I continue with it.”

Sorting and sifting photos to decide which ones are included in a book is something that I find really difficult. I take so many photographs and find it a wrench to leave any out of a collection. I asked Manson for advice on how to do this better.

He agreed that editing and sequencing is the most difficult part of the photobook making process.

He explained that images could be grouped simply – they can be paired together based on objective similarities such as colour tone and composition. Images could also be grouped chronologically just like a film, consisting of a beginning, middle, and end. Alternatively, images could be grouped more experimentally and loose, with no real connections at all. He suggested that I may also want to utilize more complicated organizational strategies, such as creating a thematic grouping. This is done by placing images together based on their content (love, war, religion etc.). 

Manson explained his process:

  1. “I print all my successful images as cheap 5x4inch prints (I use a laser copier)
  2. I look at each image one-by-one and ask myself: “What is the image saying?” It doesn’t have to be anything particularly deep, but it has to communicate something in relation to my project. If my project is about love, then how does a picture of a gun relate to the project? Then, on the reverse of each photo, I list some keywords to remember the content, such as “religion”, “love”, “war”….that sort of thing. After doing this, I should have learned something about the themes embedded in my imagery, and therefore my project as a whole.
  3. I then stack the images in groups according to their keywords and begin making pairs. Each set of images can be related by similarities in colour or composition or subject matter. Important: Always edit/sequence when you are fully awake and alert! You must pay particular attention to how the meaning of an image changes when you place it beside another. For example, a picture of a gun (which may originally have the keywords “violence” & “war” attached to it) beside a picture of a criminal creates a new meaning. The gun can no longer be “read” in the same way when it is placed beside a criminal, it’s meaning changes. Maybe the image now speaks about “security”?”

I could see from the Christopher Manson website that many of his books are self-published. I wondered if this was a deliberate choice.

Manson explained that by self-publishing it gives him total control over the look of his books.

I have used Blurb in the past and could see that at least one of Manson’s books is published through Blurb so I asked Manson for his opinion on the service.

He responded, “Blurb, like all ‘Print-on-Demand’ book makers, use a limited selection of templates and binding options, which do not always work for my books. If I want a spiral wire spine, then I have to figure that out myself. Sometimes I make “Frankenstein” books, where I use Blurb to print the book (because they print pages cheaply) but then cut away at the spine when it arrives and re-bind the pages myself. I used Blurb to begin learning about books, they’re great for beginners!”

Its all very well making these books but I wondered who would buy them and how they might be promoted to the target audience. And of course I wanted to know if someone could earn a living from making books.

Manson suggested that unless I was Martin Parr it would be unlikely that I would make a lot of money from my photobooks. He said “I’m happy just making the money back from what I initially spent. I sell more books face-to-face and at my artist talks than on my website. I also submit my books to festivals and book competitions/awards. An exhibition is always nice to launch a book. I approach libraries to buy my books, I usually have them in one or two art book stores too.”

I find all this very interesting and it is good to understand that photobooks will not always be the end point of a project or the thing that pays the bills but that it is a useful addition to my portfolio of services.

Although the main point of this assignment is to create a book that can be used as a printed portfolio I think it would be useful to have books, showcasing the photographic projects I undertake, that are available for people to purchase and can be used to highlight my best images.

I really like the process that Manson uses and will try this for my next project. I think I work best in the evening and often end up writing these posts quite late at night so it will be a challenge to ensure that I am fully awake and alert when I edit and sequence images for a book.

Mason also suggested a number of websites and blogs that he has found useful. I have checked them all out and found the following to be particularly useful.

  • Photo-eye: http://www.photoeye.com/bookstore/index.cfm
  • The Angry Bat: http://theangrybat.tumblr.com/

The Stranger’s Tale

Yesterday we called in to look around an exhibition in Hull Library called The Stranger’s Tale by Quentin Budworth. It included photographs of refugees, asylum seekers and migrant workers, their stories and volunteers at Open Doors, an organisation that supports them.

The exhibition is part of an ongoing project called Untold Stories that tells the stories of ordinary people in Hull in the run up to the City of Culture.

The photographs were of individuals with various illustrations relating to them or their country of origin photoshop’d in the background. The photos themselves were quite interesting although some of the photoshop work could have been a bit better.

IMG_0452The accompanying stories were printed at the same size as the photographs and took quite a long time to read. So long in fact that I gave up reading them part way round the room. Most of the stories were from very genuine people who were escaping real danger and looking for a safer life. A few however left me a little disturbed they were from men who had left Syria and Iran because it was too dangerous for them to stay there. They seemed to be quite content to leave their wives and children behind in such a dangerous place though. Another man had left China because of the one child rule, his wife was too ill to go through the sterilisation operation and because he didn’t want to be sterilised himself he had run away to England. Apart from their appalling attitude towards women, I was most disturbed that each of these men had been granted leave to stay in the UK.

The exhibition was certainly thought provoking and started a good discussion. I’m not sure how much benefit the project is or how much it might contribute to ill feelings towards asylum seekers. When I asked Quentin Budworth about his view on this he was very quick to say that it wasn’t for him to put a spin on the exhibition. He just took the photographs, told the stories and allowed us to make our own mind up.

A Strangers Tale
Taken by Anna Beal http://www.bluebeany.com

http://bluebeany.com/

Budworth told us that the project began back in April. It is only in recent weeks that the topic has become so hot and at the beginning he took the decision to simply tell the stories. He likes the idea of narrative with imagery. The long texts were written, often without names as people wanted to remain anonymous. The short text underneath the photographs was from spoken interviews, some remaining very short as they were happy to have their photograph taken but didn’t want to give much information away.

The images used in the background of the photographs came from a variety of sources including wiki commons. The photographs and long texts were printed by Scribes and mounted on foamex. Budworth had distributed leaflets himself and through the local libraries as well as setting up a dedicated website, facebook and twitter accounts to accompany the exhibition.

When asked about how he makes a living Budworth explained that he received some funding for this project although there was limited profit within the funding. He took this on because he wanted to do something to support Open Doors. When pressed further he was very adamant to say that he would never give his services away for free. He is an artist and if someone came to him and commissioned him to do something he would expect to be paid fairly whether they were a charity or not, otherwise he would not accept the commission.

Budworth went on to tell explain a little about his next project Chavocracy which sounds a lot more fun.

Local Commercial Photographer

This week we met local photographer Tom Arran. He is a young man who decided not to study photography at university but instead took on a photography apprenticeship at Hull College.

The apprenticeship has given Tom lots of experience and he is now running a successful business that includes commercial, music and wedding photography.

Tom was able to talk about local business grants, enterprise grants for young people and Badger’s Set Enterprise Challenge. These are probably not for me, given my more senior years, but may be useful for other ventures.

Tom explained that he now gets some of his work through photographic agencies. One of them being Mercury Press. This has enabled him to go on some great assignments around the country. His advice was to always do what people ask and then always do a bit extra too. He has often found that the bit extra is actually what the client uses. He also recommended using bursts of photos, particularly of groups of people. Shooting on a multiple frame setting makes it more likely that you are going to get a photo with everyone in the picture looking good.

We talked about the equipment that Tom uses and he recommended Value Basket and DigitalRev as great value places to buy equipment. While Scribes is his supplier of choice for printing.

Tom talked about Public Liability Insurance and Professional Indemnity Insurance that he has taken out with the artist’s information company a-n as being good value and offered by people who understand what a photographer’s needs are.

Finally Tom revealed his formula for pricing jobs. He recommended that we include a rate for photographing, editing, expenses and profit in an hourly and daily rate. He also recommended WaveApps as an easy and cost effective way to do accounting and invoices.

 

Edgelands

I’ve been given a short assignment to take some photographs on the theme of ‘Edgelands.’ It is a theme that is appearing in many contemporary landscape photographers work. Edgelands being forgotten or abandoned places and particularly those that are along the edge between urban and rural spaces.

Paul Farely and Michael Symmonds Roberts on their book Edgelands, describe these areas like this:

“The wilderness is much closer than you think. Passed through, negotiated, unnamed, unacknowledged: the edgelands – those familiar yet ignored spaces which are neither city nor countryside – have become the great wild places on our doorsteps.

In the same way the Romantic writers taught us to look at hills, lakes and rivers, poets Paul Farley and Michael Symmons Roberts write about mobile masts and gravel pits, business parks and landfill sites, taking the reader on a journey to marvel at these richly mysterious, forgotten regions in our midst.

Edgelands forms a critique of what we value as ‘wild’, and allows our allotments, railways, motorways, wasteland and water a presence in the world, and a strange beauty all of their own.”

Paul Harrison and Nick Dunmer, for their project describe Edgelands as, “a photographic exploration of neglected and largely forgotten landscapes where nature and people have left indelible marks on each other. Unusable, marginalised and unattractive, these wastelands are however embedded with personal and historic resonance.”

Artist George Shaw is well-known for his paintings of the Tile Hill Estate in coventry which identify with this theme. These are two of my favourites from his series ‘Scenes from the Passion’.

Contemporary Australian photographer, Mark Kimber has taken a series of photographs on the theme of Edgelands. They are all taken during the evening or at night and I like the deep blue and orange colours in them.

South African photographer Dewald Botha has taken photographs of Suzhou, in China in a collection called Edge of the city. I think these are the most beautiful pictures that I’ve found on the theme of Edgelands. The foreground is less wilderness and more parkland and the tower blocks give the illusion of a forest in the background.

For my own Edgelands landscapes I took a stroll along the edge of town to places that are signposted as being left to wilderness before development at a later date. On my way I also took a couple of photographs of places that have been neglected.

Although this photograph doesn’t fit with the series above. I’ve included it here because I think it does fit with the theme. It was taken last winter of some stairs going from a public footpath through some woods to the housing estate lower down the hill.

Stairs
Stairs

While I had a nice walk, I’m not sure that these are the type of landscapes that I would normally enjoy taking. Politically I’m sure the council has a plan for most of these areas and they will be converted to housing or industrial land. The land where the cinema used to be is for sale but it has been for several years now and there is no public strategy for the plot that I am aware of.

Abstract Photography

It really does amaze me what some people find to photograph.

These images are of soapy hair and are taken by Lo Cheuk Lun.

The series was originally published as an editorial piece in Chinese beauty and fashion publication Numero Magazine. Contrary to the common conception that only finished, styled hair is attractive, Lun’s photos glorify the washing and styling process in a rare change of perspective.

The original post can be found at http://www.mymodernmet.com/profiles/blogs/cheuk-lunlo-shampooed-hair-art