In recent years, much of the critical and historical study of photography has focused on books, WITH the photobook becoming a genre UNTO ITSELF. Beginning with Gerry Badger’s and Martin Parr’s seminal trilogy, The Photobook: A History, a canon of historical texts is emerging in the service of analyzing the creative potential and historical significance of bookmaking.
These books by Badger and Parr changed how we look at the history of photography in many ways. They blurred the distinctions between high and low art forms and demolished any hierarchies that might exist between vernacular and artistic forms within the medium. Badger and Parr also attempted to break away from the typical geographic centers of the world of photography – America, Western Europe, and Japan – and tried to give voice to some unknown and under-acknowledged photo markets and regions of the world. Volume III in this series pays attention to the recent boom in self-publishing. In the wake of this trilogy of books, several different historical studies of photobooks have been released, and many of these focusing on countries and regions of the world. Aperture alone has published The Chinese Photobook, The Latin American Photobook, and The Dutch Photobook. Other publishers have taken on Japan, the Soviet Union, Magnum, and nude photobooks. We now even have the Photobook Museum; a collection designed to document and preserve major contributions to the field.
American photographer Lewis Baltz once famously said, “The photobook occupies that deep area between the novel and the film.” The starting point for all these critical and historical studies of books is that the form itself offers photographers an entirely different platform than prints intended for museum or gallery presentations and that many photographers work with the possibilities of book publications in mind. From the beginning, William Henry Fox Talbot saw the potential for photography in book production and worked to find ways both technical and conceptual to bring his photographs to print (many don’t know that Talbot made some of the first attempts to develop methods for photomechanical reproductions in ink).
Today the photobook industry is flourishing. There are more photography books made now than ever, and while 20 years ago there were only a handful of publishers devoted to photography, today they are hundreds. Additionally, conferences and fairs dedicated to the book industry are popping up in major cities all over the world. And to keep up with the growing interest in photography books, there are awards for bookmakers popping up around the globe; Aperture offers three different book awards, Mack Books gives the First Book Award, and the Kassel Photobook Award are some of the more prominent, but there are many others. Each winter, Photo Eye, the largest dealer of photography books in America, solicits photographers from all over the world to name their favorite books published in the year.
Clearly, the book is an important forum for artists working in photography today, and there are more opportunities than ever. However, just like every other component of the photo world, there is more competition for these kinds of opportunities than ever. As many new publishers are emerging to help define and create the market for new photobooks, self-publishing is also flourishing. Within the last couple of years, Photo Eye has started selling self-published books for the first time, and many of these titles are even featured in their annual list of best books. To help support self-published artists, Larissa Leclair started the Indie Photobook Library. This project was started to help support and collect the growing, important contributions of independent and self-published books. Leclair has organized exhibitions from the collection at many different venues. The Indie Photobook Library has been so successful, that several similar archives have popped up around the world, including the Asia-Pacific Photobook Archive. Recently, the Indie Photobook Library was taken over by Yale University, really offering full acknowledgment to Leclair’s work and ambitions, and providing clear indication that independent and self-publishing are making major contributions to contemporary photography.
Recently, there have been some books published to help photographers get their work published. Head of the Christie’s photography department, Darius Himes co-authored with Mary Virginia Swanson a comprehensive book, Publish Your Photography Book. This book offers a broad range of resources and information for photographers interested in publishing, whether with an established publisher or as a self-publisher. It includes interviews with designers, editors, and photographers, as well as information about printing and marketing. Bruno Ceschel, a pioneer of the self-publishing and founder of the (now institutionalized) Self Publish Be Happy (SPBH) has also published a book to help photographers pursue self-publishing, A Self Publish Be Happy: A DIY Photobook Manual and Manifesto. Ceschel started his career working with Chris Boot, now executive director of Aperture, before venturing out on his own with SPBH. His work with SPBH has been extremely successful, and Ceschel now works with some of the leading voices in contemporary photography.
Let’s take a quick look at why to self-publish and how to get started. Before doing so, it is important to ask yourself why a book? Or at least what kind of book? Many critics agree that there is a big difference between books, monographs, and catalogs. The intention of a catalog is typically to document an exhibition and give it a longer life. Monographs typically offer historical surveys of an artist’s work. When speaking of photobooks, however, we typically refer to singular and self-contained ideas, narratives, or sequences that function only when the photographs (and often accompanying text) can be viewed in a predetermined and contained manner. Photobooks have really become a genre of photography, and one that is really defining the current moment. All that in mind, let’s look at some of the reasons photographers choose to self-publish.
Even with the remarkable amount of publishers printing photobooks these days, and even with so many tremendous advancements in technology, photography books are very expensive to make. Some of the top, elite publishers will handle all financing for their projects, but most publishers expect will still expect the artist to contribute to production costs. Depending on the publisher and the kind of book you hope to make, this can cost many thousands of dollars (my own experience in negotiating with at least two elite publishers, I was expected to provide upwards of $10,000). Some prominent curators have even called this trend in bookmaking, in which the photographers must underwrite their own books, vulturous, an industry developed to take advantage of people’s need for recognition. And even if working with one these publishers, there will be lots of negotiation and concession in meeting their needs and design expectations. While there are advantages to working with these publishers (distribution and name recognition at the top of the list), the loss of control and expense push many photographers towards self-publishing.
There are publishers that handle all financial matters, but these are the minority, and these publishers will be inundated with submissions and rarely look at them. Given the time it can take to put a good proposal together, this can be very discouraging. Even the publishers that expect some financial contribution from the photographer will most likely have a tremendous amount of submissions. Some of the bigger publishers only accept books submissions during a small window of each year. Given these types of odds, many photographers choose to bypass this system altogether and publish their work independently.
Perhaps the two biggest difficulties facing photographers interested in self-publishing are distribution and printing. Social media helps with distribution a great deal (there are now so many Facebook groups that help photographers promote their work), but it is also important to develop a more boots-on-the-ground approach. A good publisher should be able to get your book into different museums and bookstores. It is important to call on all your resources and try to get your book distributed any way you can. There are a few dealers in the United States that work solely with photography books, and each of them sells self-published books. In addition to Photo Eye, Dashwood Books in New York City is open to review any submitting books, to consider for their inventory, as well as Spaces Corners in Pittsburgh. Both Dashwood and Spaces Corners have great recognition in the field – Spaces Corners works with the International Center for Photography, and Dashwood distributes books worldwide – and it is important to reach out to these types of organizations. In thinking of museums to connect with, many artists shoot straight for the top, and while this is a great ambition, it isn’t always the most fruitful path. Be sure to reach out to local and regional museums and organizations as well. Many photographers will also try and present their books at conferences, like the annual Society for Photographic Educators. Some also participate in the growing numbers of book fairs; the PS1 Art Book Fair organized by Printed Matter (perhaps the oldest retailer for small edition and self-published books in the States) reserves space each for small, independent, and self-published artists.
In strategizing other ways for distribution, it is also important to think about your audience. Most photobooks today only make it into the hands of photographs, galleries, and collectors, but these are not always the best resources for your work. Think about the subject of your book, and find an audience interested in your subject matter. If you are working with landscapes, perhaps you should reach out to botanical organizations, or think of similar connections based on your pictures. The book American Pitbull by Marc Joseph is well known within the photo industry for marketing his book and tapping into another niche, for dog lovers and pit bull owners.
How you print your book is an important decision, and there are so many choices. Offset printing is so good now that is really the preferred method for most photographers and publishers. This is the most expensive method and will take a bit more research. Offset printing is typically geared towards larger print runs. There are printers all over the country that do this kind of work, though not all of them will be experienced in high-quality photographic printing. Most high-end photography books are now printed abroad, typically in China and Hong Kong. It is worth noting, however, that the remarkable book by Eugene Richards, Dorchester Days, first printed in 1978, was not only self-published, but Richards found a printer locally for the book, one that specialized in printing labels for canned foods.
There are other, simpler ways to print your book. If you are really interested in DIY, the quality of work you can do on an inkjet printer at home can be enough. This can be inexpensive and cheap, but not necessarily simple. This will require some knowledge of bookbinding and structural awareness for book design. Nonetheless, this can also be very satisfying. The remarkable and influential book by Alec Soth, Sleeping by the Mississippi, now in its third or fourth printing, was originally self-published in a small edition, printed on an inkjet printer at home.
And then, of course, there are many, many choices for on-demand printing on the Internet. Many artists and photographers working today use these on-demand printing sites as their primary vehicle. Most photographers will also use these sites to create dummy books to market to different publishers. Regardless of how you use them, these on-demand printers can provide a great introduction to developing your thinking around books. There are several different websites easily found that will guide you through finding the right on-demand printer, listing the pros and cons as well as pricing specifics for many different publishers.
Self-publishing has helped shape and redefine our understanding of photobooks today. Many leading artists of today began and continue to work with self-published books. Magnum photographer Alec Soth still runs his out imprint for self-publishing, Little Brown Mushroom. There are so many great examples of photographers and artists working with self-published books, both for economic and creative reasons, and in today’s age, there are plenty of resources for those inclined.
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Finding and Writing Grants for Working Artists
How can a photographer get a grant, and what kind of photographs do you have to take? This article will explain it and give you resources to finding and writing your first grant proposal.
The images for this page are from a young professional photographer who goes by the moniker, Shiva, for his art work. His images reflect some of the core issues in photography. Like most photographers, Shiva must decide whether to sell images or find funding for these images, photo excursions, materials and more. How does an artist-photographer create an income?
Believe it: a simple Google search can be incredibly helpful. Most grants come from non-profit organizations, so pay attention to the web address; while not a hard and fast rule, more likely than not, most foundations will have a “.org” website as opposed to a “.com.” If you are unsure about a site, do your due diligence before sending information or money.
Another excellent resource for searching grants is The Foundation Center, nonprofit which advances awareness of philanthropies around the globe. From their homepage, you can search any topic you can think of to source pre-vetted grant foundations without worrying about their legitimacy. Another such resource, Praxis Center for Aesthetic Studies of which I am a founder, offers an extensive resource page where you can find open calls, residencies, and of course, grants. The page is curated regularly and I highlight a few opportunities each week.
Of course, it’s no secret that you will not get every grant you apply for, so while quality is key when submitting a grant, quantity also plays a significant role. The actual writing of a grant is an acquired skill, and over time you will become more comfortable with the process. That said, if there is one thing that can make or break your application before you are even out of the gate, it is failing to read through your grant and follow the instructions to the letter. If your grant asks for a 500-word statement explaining how your work relates to the mission statement of the foundation, do not under any circumstances fail to deliver exactly this. Be sure you know the grant inside and out and do not fail to submit exactly what you are being asked for in a timely manner. The fastest way to be out of the running is to fail to follow instructions, and every grant is different.
That being said, not every grant will be right for you. Perhaps your work simply doesn’t relate to the mission statement of the foundation offering a grant you may have found. That is okay, and it is better for you to move on than to try fitting a square peg into a round hole.
As a working artist, finding and writing grants must be part of your regular practice. You must give it some level of priority, because this is a true part of any artist’s bread and butter. Once you get started, and once you begin to feel more comfortable with the process, you will be finding and writing grants on your own, and won’t even remember why that ever seemed so overwhelming in the first place.
Brainard Carey is an artist, educator, and author. He has written three books for artists on developing their professional careers. He hosts a radio series on Yale University radio where he interviews artists, curators, and writers. He also founded Praxis Center for Aesthetic Studies, which offers classes for artists to develop their careers, from finding a gallery to writing a grant.
Focus On Marketing
The days of meeting clients face to face are dwindling, now that social media has taken over as the number one marketing platform for growing a successful photography business. So, if social media is so hugely important, why do so many photographers continually get it wrong?
All too often, photographers don’t fully understand the concept of social media. But when you begin to explore the concept, it’s not that hard to get your head around. The clue for a start is in the name—social media.
Advertising has changed dramatically; we must no longer be set on trying to sell to our prospects, and this is where social media differs from printed press advertising. To sell on social media, you must first earn the trust of your followers. Engage with them using informative and useful content that they will like and interact with. That, quite simply, is the “social” part of social media. First build a following by earning viewers’ trust, and in return they will develop an admiration for your brand and become your loyal community of prospective customers. Once you have a loyal following, they will buy from you, review you, recommend you, and share your content with their own following of social media friends.
Now that you understand the first rule (don’t oversell) you are ready for the second: be sure to post content that is relevant to your social media audience every single day. I find it a lot easier to do this by scheduling my posts on Facebook every Monday for the full week ahead. To some photographers, that may sound like a lot of posting, but don’t worry; it doesn’t have to be strictly your original content. In fact, far from it. Try sharing other content from the Internet, but always add a few lines of your own comments above the shared article. For instance, if you are a wedding photographer, you could share someone else’s post of the latest trends in wedding table decorations or amazing ideas for themed wedding cakes, adding a few of your own suggestions.
Another great way to enhance engagement is to start a good debate on your page by asking a question. I once uploaded an image of two wedding cakes and beneath it wrote, “I’m a traditionalist myself; you can’t beat a good fruitcake at a wedding. What do you prefer, fruit or sponge?” It was surprising how much interaction this comment caused. The brides on my page were certainly passionate about their preferred style of wedding cake!
Don’t give in to the temptation to upload too many images in each post. For maximum engagement, try uploading two or three images from, say, the bridal preparation on the wedding morning, and tell a story about those images. People love stories on social media, and by tagging the bride and her bridesmaids in the photos, you’ve created an immediate audience. Tag the venue in the post along with a compliment, and again you’re creating a second generation of audience. The following day, you can upload a few more images from the same wedding, perhaps this time from the ceremony, telling another story about that part of the day. As before, tag the guests in the photos. Feed your audience with small, bite-sized chunks, and at the end of each post, you can say, “more to come tomorrow, so be sure to keep following.”
To really boost your page and website with search engines, try adding a few keywords to the bottom of your post along with your website address. For example, “fine art wedding photography New York, www.yourwebsite.com.” This way, every time your post is shared, Google recognises that as a piece of authority for your website. The more authority you receive, the higher the search engines will rank your website and social media pages.
Earlier we discussed posting relevant content on your page. Never forget who your audience is, and write for them and them alone. The second biggest mistake photographers make on social media is not posting their entire content to just one audience. Use the “Insights” tab at the top of your Facebook fan page to gain an insight as to the demographic of your current audience. To do this, select “Insights” and then navigate to the “People” tab on the left-hand side bar. Here you can find useful information about the age, gender, and locality of your audience. For example, on my own wedding photography page, I know that my audience is 92% female aged between 22-34 with the majority living in the Northeast of England.
Over the years, I’ve grown to know my audience; for instance, because of my pricing bracket I find a lot of my followers will react to posts about fine dining, country getaway breaks, or romantic holiday destinations. They are also interested in fashion and designer brands, and I can always guarantee likes and shares if I post content about pets or newborn portraiture. In contrast, commercial photography would likely be of no interest to my audience whatsoever, so why would I post it?
Should you wish to showcase your commercial or fine art photography, LinkedIn is the ideal forum to do so. If you don’t already have a LinkedIn profile, now is the time to create one. The more niche you can make your profile and the more targeted your audience, the greater the results you’ll achieve.
I personally work with hundreds of different clients from many industries around the world, helping them turn their marketing around and grow a large and profitable following of clients via social media. However, on LinkedIn I market my marketing and mentoring services to photographers alone. In fact, because I choose to ignore everyone else and niche my profile and content solely to marketing photography, the results have been nothing short of amazing. Each month I receive hundreds of messages from photographers who are keen to turn their business around and want to learn about my services.
To really work your magic on LinkedIn, you must be totally niche as mentioned previously. This could be great if, say, you are a wedding photographer, but you also offer commercial photography service. Keep your wedding photography on your Facebook page and build your LinkedIn profile around your commercial photography only. But you can go even deeper than that.
LinkedIn works much better when you can target a market directly. For example, if you’ve a passion for cars or a good portfolio of work based around motor dealerships, then consider photography for the motor trade and base your entire profile around this niche, and become the “go-to person” for this kind of photography. Post only content and images based around the motor industry; classic cars, motorsports, enthusiast rallies and such, and connect with as many people as you can in this market. This could be dealerships, manufacturers, race teams and sponsors. Just make sure you connect with the decision-makers, such as the MDs, managers, and business owners. You can also target enthusiasts, private collectors, and owner clubs and groups on LinkedIn as well.
To be a real success with social media, your first step is to consistently post interesting and informative content that your audience will love, always go niche and write for your audience alone and no one else. Once you’ve built up a following, analyse your audience to allow you to further refine the content you choose to share. Be sure to post daily, and only ever post one sales post for every seven to ten info posts. Build trust before trying to sell to your audience, and encourage your followers to leave five-star reviews every time they use your services.
Jeff Brown is a professional photographer and marketing consultant living in the UK. For more than 15 years, he has helped others by combining his knowledge and experience into an information-packed Skype Success Mentoring and Marketing Masterclass for photographers who are serious about turning their hobby into a success story. For more information and to learn how Jeff can help you develop a winning marketing strategy, email at email@example.com. And for more ideas, check his LinkedIn profile at www.linkedin.com/in/jeffbrownphotographymarketing.
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