The self publishing market has blossomed in recent years, you don't need me to tell you that. With everyone looking to make their published mark, the yearning for physical pictures and stapled spines has never been higher. I imagine it like a tidal wave of opportunity and now we are floating in the water of books made by disappointing printing houses, the ink rubbing off leaving nothing but cheap paper left.
This all seems quite dismal, and in fact this is an over celebration of the problems in self publishing on my part. On the whole it is a beautiful thing.
With the content of photography now being rather questionable, multiple platforms have begun to gather force, presenting books/zines of their friends smoking cigarettes - doing the standard youthful routine. All of which avoids the charm Chris Killip possesses and many other greats who photographed youth culture. Youth culture, of course, is important to document but whether it warrents a printed page without purpose is another question.
Of course there are better publishers than others considering the more successful, 'on paper', publishers who have a more sophisticated following. From this I seem to recall being in an LA bookshop, in Fairfax (which sounds really cool I know). The shame being I did not have twiddly legs, shaved sides, perhaps a peace sign earring and a supreme hat to fit the zine type.
I was in this LA bookshop shaking like a leaf because I had just met Tyler the Creator and got a Polaroid of me and him. Giggling like a school girl with my friend we brought our excitement into a bookshop playing some kind of southern Hip Hop. I came across a variety of interesting books and their production values were brilliant, as expected. The most disappointing thing was the content - usually self publishing short comings. Seeing a series of beautiful blue books at the back, immaculately put together, flicking through the book I even spotted some pictures I'd seen decorated on Tumblr walls and the sites of important interviewees. After the rush of excitement the work fell stale. The content was content less and had no purpose. It had hype and that spurred the initial excitement but what it communicated appeared to miss the mark. Seeing the price of $45 was an interesting factor in deterring me, as although it was a piece of art in printing, I could just look at it online and get the same feeling, for no cost at all.
Picking up a book because it looks good from the bind, my eye is usually led to the front cover, and then the first image. This book has to pass three stages before it is even considered. If one of them fails that book doesn't reach any part of my thought process. This brings me to think how highly we regard books, but how critical we can be. If we are going to spend $45 on a book it has to intimately hit us and influence us. It has to become a mutual friend on your shelf.
The sheer act of bringing people in, makes publishing probably the hardest art of all, when you can sell a can of red stripe at an exhibition but not sell a book for £2. It is all down to taste.
The same could be said about red stripe in fact.
Several factors come into this and I believe it to be partly the makers and viewers fault. The makers throw their book out with unbelievable excitement without any consideration for content. They want to make a book. Its what we need to do, hey, its not a problem at all. The issue lies with the content and whats in the book. From two different variants, we could spend £2 or $45 but is it worth doing?
I ran into a little predicament with a friend of mine regarding this and admittedly it was mainly from my end and perhaps my pessimism on making a book about a road trip through America. We've heard of those, right? I have always winced at the sight of projects showing what the Grand Canyon looks like when you can just google it. It is all a catylist for the maker to see America and of course this is no issue at all, but is it worth publishing?
No, I'd say.
But the photographic world is a fickle place and the flashiest names shine in a market of bright colours.
All is not doomed and perhaps my pessimism is quite high today, but after looking through a lot of books in zine markets I can't see past the trees of smoking friends, vastly bland projects wrapped up nicely and contentless work that has slipped into self publishing.
There is a lot of rubbish work out there, that's a given, its always going to happen, but someones rubbish is someones beauty so that is perhaps why this predicament arises. How can you please everyone? We should not be pleasing anyone, but ourselves. Saying this, the content of the zine you are making is the most important part, it rivals your name you've built up, the fan base, everything and we should look at each project as if we are completely alien to the maker because then a beautiful chemical reaction can occur that goes past superficial knowledge of who they are and what they've done.
Self publishing is not in a state of panic, though, it is in danger of overflowing. We are pushing the printer button too early, and we need to go back to the drawing board on our ideas. Then, the hit rate of books/zines will be much higher making photography a much more consistent place to be in.
Illustration image was my first attempt to design a book myself.