I’ve just finished writing my new second book, Creative Portraiture, to be published in spring 2012 with Ilex in the UK and Pixiq in the US, & the world thereon. The book focuses on my work involving other subjects, but it also features some of my self-portraiture particularly the work I have created since finishing Self-Portrait Photography.
The hardest part of writing any book is not the writing itself… it’s setting the focus, angle and organisation to the whole book before actually writing each part. Making a book is much more than writing. I’ve found I’ve had to spend much more time staring at my Page Plan than actually typing…. and then a lot of time traipsing through file archives, writing captions and figuring out what will look and work best where. How you choose to contextualise and lay out your work is an art form in itself. Even if you have an idea of which pictures look good together, doesn’t mean you will have something significant to say on that page where those pictures are displayed. It’s not about isolated visuals for this book, but how pictures combine appropriately with words and the angle I’m adopting for any particular page/chapter. Each shoot/set of related images are presented as stories, which go beyond the ‘before and after’: but discussing how I actually got to the ‘before’.
The book again has contributors. The section will be slightly smaller than the contributor section in Self-Portrait. The whole book will be slightly shorter at 160 pages. The five contributors are made up of 3 American artists, 1 British, and 1 Dutch. Two are men and three are women. They will be revealed closer to the launch.
I spent some time wondering how best to organise the book into chapters. Looking across the work I wanted to feature in the book, I sought a way to categorise the material without having to base everything around technique, and also a way that can allowed me to develop on the chapters and add to them over the course of writing it. So I decided on a chapter organisation that is organised by ‘Portraits in nature’, ‘Urban portraits’, and ‘Everyday Interiors’.
Within each chapter are appropriate images relating to those environments. There is an initial chapter on ‘Aspects of portraiture’, where I cover what I consider are important things to think about, including depth, angle, motion, shape, colour and so on, which talk in context about technical aspects such as lenses and lighting. And the last, sixth chapter, just like in Self-Portrait, is a short reference section where I write about marketing topics relevant to this particular book – in this case, mostly about working with models, with some thoughts on artistic style, advice on exhibiting, and on developing a portfolio.
Whilst Self-Portrait was about a definitive part of photography, a niche almost, potentially any image or contributor was appropriate as long as it was a self portrait. This time however, I was aware that the topic is a vast one, with hundreds of books themed on the massive area of ‘portraiture’. I wondered, is my work actually ‘portraiture’?! I see nudes, lots of landscapes, some props, with bodies as shapes and forms rather than just faces. How can I write a book on ‘portraiture’? The fact is, it’s not about conventional, headshot or midshot ‘portraiture’, people standing looking deadpan at the photographer. This kind of ‘portraiture’ is pictures of people but with a certain ‘creative’ kick, what is essentially contextual portraiture. Images of people that use environments in an interesting or arresting way; images that could even be brilliant landscapes or formalist pictures that also happen to have the conceptual addition of a human being. There are very few head shots or close ups. So in that same vein I sought contributors who can offer that same ethic and aesthetic.
I am also aware of the things that can be improved upon in my first book. There was a certain review on Amazon that made very blunt points about Self-Portrait, some of which I fully agreed with: namely, the need for polishing up the text, and avoiding repetition and redundant technical information. I also know personally what thought process I went through when I wrote my first book. Although I was free to write what I wanted, my initial trepidation of entering the mainstream book shelf led to me writing stuff I thought I had to write. Stuff about equipment that everyone knows already or can find in one of the many boring technique-focused books, organised with a kind of masculine linear structure according to technical approach. In this book, I thought I should write what I want to write. The material is organised by stories: covering both the technique and artistic process behind each shoot. This time, I am stepping out to write stuff from my own gut, to describe everything that goes into the creation of images (with a good few edits and re-writes to make sure I don’t write anything embarrassingly impulsive, of course). It is a book for the photographic artist.
Since reading a book called Art & Fear, I have become extra excited about Creative Portraiture. Books about great artists that show lots of pictures are absorbed in mystically lionising the artist, and (I quote from Art & Fear) these books express the notion that ‘while art should be enjoyed or admired, it certainly should not be done by the reader… a finished piece gives precious few clues as to any questions the artist weighed whilst making the object’. Then, on the other side, there are how-to books, which usually have lower quality work shot just for the book, and are absorbed in recounting technique step-by-step to encourage an infantile replication that requires no thought from the participant. So, I hope this book comes across as a revolutionary halfway house between the two types, with both text and images in equal weight, to show the beauty and realities of artmaking!
The book is now going into editing & design. When it’s ready to be released, I’ll post a launch blog post to officially unveil it.