Last year my partner Tamzin and I returned to the UK from a glorious, year-and-a-half long adventure in China. A sad moment. However, salving the inevitable onslaught of post-travel blues was the realisation that we could then go on to ‘make something’ of the experience. Tamzin had amassed a spectacular collection of documentary-style photographs, and I was in the process of writing a poetry collection.
It was time to make a book.
What we found though was that, despite some polite interest in the idea, folks back home were a little sceptical. Telling people we were hoping to make money off a book combining photographs with poetry was like announcing that we intended to sail the Pacific in a colander.
Photo books are expensive. Poems are ‘niche’. Combining the two seemed wildly optimistic.
In a world flooded with content, where publishers are increasingly risk-averse, I wondered: what are the creative strategies to skirting these problems? Eager to get our project underway, I sought out some answers from Bristol’s most versatile artists.
In a world where publishers are increasingly risk-averse, what are the creative strategies to skirting these problems?
‘This sells for just fifteen Euros,’ said prolific Italian photo book author Nicoló Degiorgis, at a Self Publishing Strategies workshop at I.C. Visual Lab. ‘It was cheap to produce, and people buy it. Tourists, children, old folks.’ With a flourish, he folded away the concertinaed postcard collection La Laguna di Venezia, and continued: ‘My bigger projects, such as the book Hidden Islam, were funded by unpretentious, humble projects like this one.’
His words reminded me that, while we typically think of heavy coffee table hardbacks when we hear the words ‘photo book,’ their shipping costs are notoriously high. Degiorgis seemed to have created a formula, combining stylish design with lightweight materials, to keep costs low and profits high. Hungry for more inspiration, I headed over to Watershed Studios to meet poet, artist and ‘neuro-gastronomy’ practitioner James Wheale.
‘Photographs don’t have to be expensive,’ he said, at a desk cluttered with the tech-detritus of his numerous projects. ‘And poems needn’t be inaccessible. I’m very interested in the use of technology as a means of skirting the obstacles of old-school publishing. Apps, animation, augmented reality. Have you heard of Google Cardboard?’
He picked up a pair of goggles – which looked like they were made out of a cereal box – and pressed them to my face. Then he slotted a smartphone into the front.
‘So, now you’re on a roller-coaster,’ (I actually was. My head spun.) ‘You should be leading viewers through your content, through your journey, as you are being led along the tracks right now. The technology’s all there, it’s all accessible. You just have to start experimenting!’
I left the building feeling inspired: perhaps embracing technology was the answer; perhaps through a weird pair of VR goggles I could create my own La Laguna di Venezia. However, I couldn’t help wondering how much this wizardry really applied to someone as technologically illiterate as myself. Was it really so easy, once acquiring the tools, to start getting creative?
You should be leading viewers through your content
‘You want your work to be a spontaneous experience, said graphic designer Greg Orrom Swan, who I met for coffee on Gloucester Road. ‘Not just a book, which can be glanced at and then left on a shelf. Think of Longplayer, the Jem Finer composition which lasts a thousand years. Every time you stream it, you know you’re having a unique experience which won’t be repeated until the next millennium.’
‘So, you feel the book as a medium is too static, too predictable?’
‘No, not necessarily. On one hand, consumers are excited by transient, innovative methods of displaying images or text, and there’s lots of potential for that with the material you have. However, people love something they can hold in their hands and take home with them. Books are useful in that sense, and I think it’s important to satisfy both urges.’
Brain fizzling with ideas, I decided to lay my cards on the table. ‘I do have one concern: I’ve never created an app, or experimented with augmented reality. I don’t know where to begin.’
Greg frowned for second. Then, with a dismissive flap of the hand, as if it was the most obvious thing in the world, he said:
‘Well, you have to start somewhere, and the first step is reaching out to people who can teach you, which you’ve done. If you like, I can help you.’