Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The "yearly special" for 2011: getting published

The photo has nothing to do with the post, but I hate to do posts with no photos, so there you go—a photo I took from Sacré Coeur in Paris this past July.

And now on with the theme. As I mentioned a couple of posts ago, I'm changing up a few things. The monthly specials are gradually being consolidated into plain old "specials" and I will add links to them whenever I do related posts. I am also adding the "yearly special," which is simply a recurring theme that I will post about during the year. At the end of the year, those posts will be consolidated (like I just did with the grids posts) and will become a new category in the "specials" sidebar.

This year's special theme: getting published. I have been doing photography since I got my first camera at age 7, but I never actively pursued publication of my work until my ABC Paris project. I did a post in 2008 about my attempts to publish the project as a small book. I got really close to a publishing deal with Assouline, but what I learned in the process is that the standard "coffee table" book market is in decline. If you have followed my blog for a while you know that I cannibalized the book project into a series of art prints that got a lot of press and in turn, led me to sign a 4-year art licensing contract with Wild Apple Graphics. Do, the more commercial ABC work has run its course as far as I'm concerned.

Then came my photography book obsession. As I started to explore the world of photo books, I realized that an edition of 2,000 copies is a relatively large run for most art presses. And while I love those books, most of them feature artists that have been famous for decades. "Emerging" photographers have little chance of breaking into that world. This shouldn't have surprised me because when I was guest curating my "Nostalgia and Technology" exhibit, I spoke with curators at major museums who told me that they routinely lose money on exhibition catalogs and that all but the largest of exhibits come and go without a publication. The remaining exhibition catalogs from my show are in their bargain-basement phase of only $5, but we knew going into it that we wouldn't sell them all. I insisted on doing the publication (as a condition of curating the show) because I think that exhibits need something that outlasts the physical show. So, let's say you are a photographer lucky enough to get into a small gallery somewhere. What are your publication prospects. Pretty bleak.

As I started to read blogs devoted to photo books, I learned that some photographers have managed to overcome obstacles and subvert the system through self-publishing. I am not talking about Blurb (or Picaboo or whatever) books but self-published limited edition books. In some cases, these may even be artist's books on newsprint or gloriously staple-bound hand folded editions of 10. It's not Steidl by any means, but some of these books are making their way onto prestigious best-of lists. I recently ordered Sébastien Girard's self-published book Desperate Cars after reading about it on the "Best Books of 2010" post on my favorite photo book blog, 5B4. I am impressed that Girard has made it onto a list that includes the likes of Baldessari, Eggleston, and Baltz. And his is not an isolated case. Last year, RJ Shaughnessy's Your golden opportunity is comeing [no, that's not a typo] very soon (an addition of 500) was all the rage. Another inspiration: Alec Soth's Little Brown Mushroom books. And now, Princeton Architectural Press is coming out with a book called Publish Your Photography Book. Moral of the story: big things are happening in the self-publishing world.

2011 looks like a good time to explore publishing opportunities that are out of the mainstream. I realize that not all of my readers care about pursuing publication, but I will share what I learn anyway as I try to navigate my way through that world. For some it will be a helpful resource, for others, it might at least be an entertaining journey.