Thursday, April 25, 2019

So You Want to Make a Zine?

Well, you probably don't want to make a zine, but let's pretend, because I made one and have some pictures.

For our purposes here, the zine in question is going to be a stapled-on-the-spine object, about 20ish pages long, mostly black and white unless you really want to start spending some money. I designed such a thing.

I had a handful of photos that I'd made, that I liked ok and considered to be tentatively freighted with meaning. Meaning which, alas, I could not myself discover. And so, I made up a little magazine with the pictures recto and an inviting space verso and some preamble text inviting the holder of this printed object to write in it, draw in it, carve it up, or otherwise seek some meaning. Inscribed also is a generous license, the substance of which is: if you have a PDF, you are allowed to print it; if you have a printed copy which you have modified in any way, you may obtain digital copies of the pictures from me and use them any way you like.

The thing is called REACT because I hope that the reader will.

The pictures I did in the way I always do, in GIMP, but you may use whatever your normal photographic tools are, if any. Let us consider the pictures themselves a solved problem.

I did the design and layout in Google's Docs tool, which is terrible, but there you have it. It does not understand left/right pages, all pages are equal to Docs. Usually I use OpenOffice or Blurb's toolchain. InDesign, I dare say, would be quite a bit better than either of those, and stratospherically better than Google's atrocity.

If you make left and right margins equal, this defines the inner margins. Then you can physically trim your book to define the outer margins. Alternatively, you may be able to use Docs with two columns on a landscape page, and thereby "lay out" a spread at a time, rather than a page at a time.

Let us assume, though, that you are using a fairly normal editing tool, and struggling through the limitations of same. Don't forget to insert a page or two of front matter (a half-title page, a dedication, a colophon, a masthead, whatever suits your fancy, but do put something in). Try to give the pages a little structure. Don't use many fonts, and keep them simple.

At some point here you will have a PDF file, I dare say, filled with pictures, some design elements, and perhaps some text. At least a little.

The problem you will now encounter is how to get this PDF into "booklet order" printed two-up (two pages to the page). I assume here that you do not wish to print quarto fashion, or any of the more exotic folded forms. We're printing folio fashion here, each printed sheet intended to be folded once. Your first sheet of paper will need to have the first and last pages printed two-up on one side, and then the second page and second-to-last page two-up on the other side. Folded in half, this will make the outermost layer of your zine. And so on.

Here is the first content sheet of REACT. The title page is the first page, and the colophon page (on the other side of the sheet) is second. The blank page you see first is actually the last page of the book, and the picture of the toy cowboy is second to last. Visualize folding this thing, and then inserting other folded pages into it, as if you were a filing clerk.

I know of 4 solutions here.

The first is to lay your book out in the right order in the first place, which is crazy, and fairly hard.

The second is to calculate the right ordering for the pages, and put these page numbers into the Print dialog of a suitably capable printer interface. My Windows laptop flips out if I try to print pages out of order, but your equipment may differ. For a 20 pages zine you put in something like: 20,1,2,19,18,3,4,17,16,5,6,15,14,7,8,13,12,9,10,11 and request that the printer print this out double-sided, flip-on-short-side, two-up. This will produce 5 sheets of paper.

The third and easiest, I think, is a tool called BookletCreator which consumes a PDF file, and produces a re-ordered PDF file. It can also handle multiple quires, and I think it can handle quarto style and so on. This stuff is not rocket science, but nobody seems to have bothered to simply write a good tool that just does it, other than this one.

Fourth, the Adobe tools know how to do this too, in the print/output dialogs you select Booklet and, um, follow along I guess. I have not used this.

I use BookletCreator, and because I use the somewhat limited free version, I jump through extra hoops, but it works fine.

So now you have a PDF file with a bunch of stuff that can simply be printed two-sided, flip-on-short-side, and hopefully the pages will simply fold and nest into a zine.

Print them out. Print one copy out on cheap paper, and assemble it, before you go ahead and print out 100 copies on expensive paper. After you have assembled it, write PROOF on it somewhere obvious, so it does not create confusion later. Keep it around for reference.

Now you have 1 or more copies of this thing printed out. Perhaps you printed covers separately (maybe the cover is color, on different paper, or whatever). Maybe you have some color sheets, and some black and white sheets.

If you plan any hand work, now is a good time to do it. My zine, being a Rogue Photo product, has a red spine which I simply drew on to the cover pages with a Red Micron #05 pen.

Sort them out and stack them up, unfolded. Check to make sure that all is in-order and that the pages will lie correctly once the thing is folded and stapled. Check that all pages are right side up.

Now you're going to need either a saddle stapler or an extension stapler. Either way, figure out where the spine (the fold) will occur. If you're saddle-stapling, fold first then staple. With an extension stapler, you staple first, then fold. I have an extension stapler, because my wife loves me very much indeed.

Staple at the spine, making sure to keep the zine's pages absolutely square to the stapler (a saddle stapler makes this easier - if your fold is square to the pages, the staples will go in square to the pages). Do the middle staple first. Don't bang on the stapler, press firmly. With authority, but not gusto. Staple as well as you can, but don't go crazy. If something isn't placed just so or perfectly square, it's gonna work out OK anyways.

Now fold, I press a crease in with my thumb at each staple, to set the line of the spine's crease, and then run my thumb along to press an initial crease in.

Once stapled and initially folded, a bone folder can be used to sharpen up the spine. I use a scrap of waste paper to protect the zine, because a bone folder tends to polish the paper.

At this point if you happen to own a book press, or a binder's hammer, you might want to deploy it. A sheet of paper, even sleek, modern, paper benefits from pressure and time to find itself against a new sheet of paper. I stack things up, and place a weight atop the stack. Usually a couple of good heavy books. Then I leave this stack overnight. This will make the crease of the spine even more definite, and will help the pages find one another and lie together more pleasantly.

Last, trim. Most likely the three edges of the zine which are not the spine are a little ragged. One pages is a trifle higher than the next, and the pages in the middle stick out a bit at the front relative to the cover. Plus, there might be a little damage around the edges, and maybe your design didn't quite make it out to the edges of the page in the first place. Printers are very unwilling to put ink at the very edge of the page, after all.

For all these reasons, you want to trim top, bottom, and front of the zine. I use a steel ruler, an xacto knife, and a cutting mat. You might choose a good quality guillotine or other cutter capable of cleanly shearing 20-30 sheets of paper at once.

I did the printing at my local Kinko's because it's just a short walk away. They have a 32 pound paper that's very white, targeted at high quality color printing (not photographs, just charts and things, but it also renders photos rather well). They'll sell it for 20 cents a sheet (yikes!) or $16 for 500 sheets, so I did the latter, and used 120 sheets for this project. They have some very good quality Canon machines out front where you can do your own thing at your own pace, which I did.

REACT is 20 pages content, which comes out to 5 sheets of paper printed double-sided, and then a cover printed single-sided. That's 6 sheets of paper (call it 4c a sheet and pay for the staples out of the excess) and 11 sides of black and white printing at 14c a side, for a total of $USD 1.78 a copy. That is somewhat cheaper, I think, than I can get from blurb which would want something in the area of $USD 3.00 for this category of product.

Throw in color and my cost climbs. A lot. Blurb wins hands down for color, because their price remains much the same.

And there you have it. Now I am going to drop these things in random coffee shops around town, because that's what I do.

For information on the content, see this companion post on the Rogue Photo publishing blog!

Friday, April 19, 2019

The Difficulty with Straight Photography

When someone paints Aphrodite, they probably get themselves a model and have her strip down, and then the paint a picture of her, and then they lard the painting up with all sorts of clues, a bunch of symbolic objects so that the educated will know that the girl in the picture is Aphrodite. The point here is that the picture is a picture of Aphrodite. The model was just a reference to be sure the painter didn't have to keep muttering "face, boobs, navel, THEN knees" to himself over and over.

Photography trying the same game has trouble because there's the model right there in the picture. It's harder to get around her to Aphrodite. Pictorialists had a bunch of ideas (a bunch of different ideas, notably, it's not just "make it all blurry") to help out with this, but in the end the Art Establishment decreed that none of these ideas really worked, and that photography really had to get back to admitting that the model is, after all, the model, and there she is.

And so we have straight photography which is, like it or not, the dominant form of photography today. Certainly there are people painting all over their photos and making collages and whatnot, but they're constantly being glared at by everyone else. If you want to be recognized, unambiguously, as a photographer without any caveats or asterisks you pretty much need to be shooting fairly straight. And that really just means that the picture is first and foremost about what was in front of the lens.

The model is present.

Virtually all photography done today just stops there. Large swathes of serious photographers have no ambition beyond rendering a pleasing account of what is in front of the lens. Billions of phone owners just snap their friends, their cars, their lunches for no reason but to show these items to other people, the purest form of representation maybe.

I am on the record as a snob, as a seeker of something more. Not to denigrate the straight representations of things, I like those too. But I believe that more is possible, and that more is what interests me.

So, what is the more? I will use, rather loosely, the word allegory. In a painting of Aphrodite, we see a kind of an allegory for the goddess of myth. The painting isn't her, but the idea of her is mashed into it someplace. When Weston rattles on about "seeing plus" what he means is that his green pepper is somehow more than a green pepper. When Cartier-Bresson goes on about the "decisive moment" he means that moment when the scene in front of him is not merely a bunch of kids playing in the street, but becomes something more.

Straight photography, being as it were "subject forward" is a bit strapped when it comes to what this notional allegory is an allegory of. Now comes perhaps the dumbest-sounding thing I have ever said, in a lifetime of saying dumb shit:

The photographer's job, therefore, is to find the moment, the point of view, in which the stuff in front of the lens manifests itself as, in some sense, an allegory of itself.

Straight photography doesn't really permit allegories of anything else because if you do that you're basically just a dirty pictorialist. At the same time Art demands an allegory, so there you are kind of boxed into a corner. You're stuck with the thing as an allegory of itself.

I think this is really what all the theorist-photographers of the 20th century were banging on about. There's a bunch of ways to say it, to approach it, and a bunch of different results. Is it allegory for my emotional response to the mountain, or is it an allegory for my Impression of the mountain? Maybe it's an allegory for the mountain-ness of the mountain! Maybe it's an allegory for the valley/pass/river/forest implied by the mountain.

Anyways, poncy as it sounds, I think it's a useful handle (for me, anyways) to grab hold of when I'm trying to make something out of something.

You can use it too!

Tulip as an allegory for Tulip.
Also, apparently I cannot stop taking
this fucking picture.

The allegory of the lineman

Thursday, April 18, 2019

The History of the Digital Transition

Mike over on ToP recently wrote what amounts to a kind of request for a History of the Digital Transition by which he means, roughly, a history of the last 20 years of photography during which photography changed over from analog film to digital sensors, more or less abruptly and completely.

I do not intend to write that history, here or anywhere else. I do intend to discuss some of the problems inherent in such a project.

Histories of Photography tend to be built around two intertwined strands. The first is technical: the tools, chemistry, and methods of photography and the evolution of them. The second thread is a variation on the Great Man approach to historiography, in which central figures are identified, biographied, and their influences traced.

The Great Man approach to history generally casts the Great Men as exceptional, and causal. The conceit is that without Napoleon, the relevant portions of European Political History would have been radically different. The opposing viewpoints assert that without Napoleon, more or less the same things would have occurred under the leadership of another man, or other men, because of social and political reasons. While one might argue about Napoleon, the situation in photography is far clearer.

Fixing the image cast in the camera obscura was a project western Europe was embarked on in the early 1800s. Without Talbot or Daguerre, almost no change. Someone else would have invented similar methods. Perhaps there would only have been one, using sheepskin, rather than two, one using paper and the other silver-plated metal sheets. Without Robinson, someone else would have risen up to thunder Ruskin's philosophies at the burgeoning photographic world. Without Emerson, someone else would have fired back from the redoubts of Impressionism. Without Stieglitz, well, ok, Stieglitz. Probably someone or several someone's would have arisen, likely in New York, to champion American Photography. And so on.

It is exquisitely clear that the technical evolution of photography was more or less inevitable, and that Great Men would crop up out of the social context to perform the specific roles that they performed.

This is not to suggest that Talbot and Daguerre and Emerson and Steichen were not influential. They assuredly were. What they were not is particularly causal. These roles had to be played, would inevitably have been played, and history quite properly records those roles, the relations between those roles, and the ways the roles influenced the progression, the history, of photography. And, while we're in there, we might as well assign the names. But make no mistake, Robinson's influence was the influence not really of Robinson, but of whomever it was that was assigned the job of translating Ruskin for photographers.

Fast forward to perhaps the 1970s, if you will. Ansel Adams is still rattling around the USA writing books, and working out his assigned role of promote straight photography, U.S.A. division and making quite a bit of money in the process. It is somewhere in here that the wheels begin to fall off the intertwined technique/great man approach to history. Technique rolls onwards, a few minor twiddles followed by the digital camera, but there are no Great Men nor even pretty ok people to carry your narrative.

Who, in the last 50 years, has really been leading the charge, telling us how we ought to photograph, what we ought to photograph, and why? Nobody? Or is it that there are too many?

Since the beginning, most photographers have been in some sense self-taught. One might learn a technique here, gather an idea there. A few went to schools, but many schools simply provided opportunities for students to teach themselves more efficiently. Few schools seem to have made any serious effort to transmit a philosophy or an aesthetic, to transmit anything of the sort art historians are in the business of documenting.

Replacing the kind of hands-on osmotic teaching that we find in schools of painting or the piano, we find instead authoritative voices thundering away in periodicals and books. Emerson's influence was not by way of teaching students, but by way of publishing opinions and ideas more or less widely read. Adams wrote any number of books on How and Why To Take Photos, which have been woefully influential, and remain so to a degree even today.

What seems to have happened in the end is a sort of fragmenting of these voices. Today we have literally thousands of people styling themselves as experts, each with some sort of following, each promoting some mixture of useful information (technical and/or aesthetic) and absolute nonsense (ditto.)

Coupled to this fragmentation of authority, we have a curious effect of technology.

In the olden days, each technology, each basket of materials and methods, produced specific looks and had specific working properties. As often as not we find Great Men expounding some particular selection of materials and methods as best suited to whatever they were selling. Adams promotes glossy silvery based paper, and a suite of chemistry, because it best suits his Precisionist tastes. Emerson promotes platinum paper and some methods, because they best suit his Impressionist theories.

In the digital era, all of these things are pressed into post-processing, and are available simultaneously through the application of suitable sliders or, worse, "presets" which you can purchase in bundles of 6,000 or 27,000 or 800 for a few dollars. The photographer, rather than selecting a collection of materials and techniques to laborious purchase and master, to accomplish one suite of looks, one kind of photography, now has access to all of them at once.

You can, as it were, switch in an instant from gum bichromate Pictorialism to glossy silver Precisionism to Cibachrome Egglestonism in the blink of an eye. There is no need to commit, you don't have to pick someone to follow. It's a mere click or two away to some other Youtube channel with 10 Fast Tricks for whatever it is that you glommed on to this morning.

We have always, really, had these ideas more or less floating around society in the minds of the masses, bashing in to one another and evolving. Ruskin's ideas about painting were there, they were going to be deployed into this new discipline of photography. From the historian's point of view, though, Robinson conveniently arose to personify, to embody, this abstraction. He can be biographied, he helpfully provided a selection of handy quotations and pictures that you can decorate that portion of the history book with, and so on.

In these modern times, and especially in the last 20 years, we have no such embodiment. The ideas are still out there, after a fashion, but they have no convenient personification.

Currently, for instance, we have a fad in portraiture for heavily processed skin, and oversharpened eyes. Many techniques exist for "skin work" one of which is "frequency separation" which has a particularly ugly look. It brings up the texture of the skin, but deletes imperfections, leaving an endless sea of glowing perfectly rendered pores, each the size of a bus. Add to this the creepy punched up eyes, and you have an archetypal look which has been quite popular of late.

Would you put this thing into your history of photography, 2016-2019? I don't know. Maybe. But if you did, how would you record it? It was not originated by any one person, it is a collection of techniques, some of which probably originated in the bowels of Adobe, some of which are probably misunderstandings of someone else's technique for doing something else. Is it commercially important? Not really. Is it a historically important style? I don't know, maybe? Certainly millions of words have been written about it, and hours of video tutorials exist on this basket of methods. It is surely more thoroughly documented than Emerson's Impressionistic methods of photography.

How do you write the contemporary history of color science? There are dozens of books, dozens of real authorities and thousands of false ones. There are, again, millions of words of misinformation and millions more words of information. There are theories and ideas. But I cannot detect any organizing principle which can be used to chop this mess down to size. You could simply review the facts of color science, I suppose, but that hardly seems a history.

In some ways I feel that we may be witnessing an end of history here, not in Fukuyama's sense but simply in the sense that the whole thing has gotten so shattered that no organizing structure is possible.

The death of the Great Man is probably a good thing, that was always bollocks, but I don't see anything else popping up to take his place.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

This Too Shall Pass

So, as most of us know, Notre-Dame de Paris had a fire which gutted the building pretty thoroughly. Actually, quite a lot of stuff was not burned up (apparently both organs are basically OK, and so on). Apparently you can drop a couple hundred tons of burning wood and lead onto that delicate vaulted ceiling and it doesn't collapse, mad props to the masons.

Predictably, there is global hand-wringing, and everyone suddenly remembers that the cathedral is the most important building in the world, and it is so sad. Humanity lionizes the recently departed, for some reason. I dare say a lot of the loudest moaners would have nodded sagely last week if you had shown them a photo of the cathedral captioned The Louvre.

We also, in these modern times, seem to be obsessed with preservation, especially of anything which smacks of Art. Buildings in the USA that are 100 years old are, to the amusement of everywhere else, added to Historic Registers and woe betide the owner, because now you can't change anything about the damned thing. You have to leave the single-glazed windows alone, and, yes, continue to heat it with increasingly difficult to obtain whale oil. Ansel Adams spawned a couple generations of photographers who obsessively wash their prints and negatives so as to ensure they will be in perfect condition when their heirs throw them into the inevitable dumpster.

The Wall Street Journal magazine recently had a fairly interesting article on the efforts the Vatican expends to maintain the Sistine Chapel in "like-new" condition. It is a constant, expensive, effort. They preserve where possible, and remake when necessary. Eventually, if this keeps up, the whole thing will have been remanufactured, brand-new as it were, but identical with the original.

Why did Ansel wash his prints so carefully? Why do we preserve these monuments in amber? Part of it is simply money. Adams wanted people to pay him large sums of money for those prints, and therefore built into his pitch that the damned thing was anyways long-lasting. Nobody wants to visit the New Sistine Chapel, they want to see the original. They want to visit the same Sistine Chapel that Doris-next-door was going on and on about.

Notre-Dame de Paris was, evidently, begun in 1160, which according to the popular press makes it 859 years old. This despite the fact that it was, maybe, a hole in the ground at the time. It was nominally completed in 1260, making it more like 759 years old (which is still very impressive). Since then it has undergone regular cycles of decrepitude due to neglect and war, followed by revitalization, all overlaid on a constant drumbeat of maintenance and modification. The most recent revitalization, spearheaded by Victor Hugo, seems to have launched the building squarely into the modern blob of amber, wherein it has resided more or less unchanged until April 15, 2019.

This place is not the Heart of France, it is not The Soul of the Earth, it is a building. It is a very well made pile of very carefully shaped rocks. Some day, it will be entirely gone. Some day, it will be forgotten. The three people injured in the fire? I begrudge Fate her bite at that apple, damn her eyes. The building? Not so much, this is simply the start of a new cycle of renewal, a new imagining of the building.

Art and indeed all the works of man are not eternal. They are made, they may have one or many lives, they pass on. If they did not, the earth would rapidly fill up with Art, so, in the end this is a good idea. Your photos do not have to last forever. Is a mayfly less wondrous and beautiful for lasting one day, rather like a photograph posted to instagram? I don't think so. If you made one picture which gave one person a single moment of sheer delight, would that not be more worthwhile than any pile of rocks in the middle of Paris? Notre-Dame's value, if any, was surely in the delight it gave to this person, or that person. Had it collapsed into rubble, well, there are other delights. We could say, perhaps, that the cathedral had done her work, yoeman's work in giving to the people joy, delight, a window into the sublime, and now she can, at last, rest.

It appears, though, that our lady of Paris will not go on to whatever peace it is that buildings find, she will be revived again, to serve another round of, well, of something. Probably it will involve many tourists and very few Parisians.

I hope they do something interesting with it. Would a glass spire be a bit too much? The gothic stonework already looks surprisingly like brutalist architecture, if you squint a bit. Maybe a bit of brushed aluminium and glass is just the thing. Of course, all Paris will hate it for a generation, but they never went to Notre Dame anyways.

We do not suffer by proxy as something wonderful is ruined. We are instead privileged to be present at the rebirth of something wonderful into something new. At any rate, we may hope for the Phoenix.

Monday, April 15, 2019

The Global Art Market

Artists don't get paid. That is, generally speaking, artists don't get paid. Everyone else might make a buck, but not the artist. The gallery owner, the gallery director, the receptionist, the guy who paints the walls, the intern who hangs the stuff, the framer, the glazier, and so on. They all get paid. Maybe not the intern. The artist gets paid last, if at all.

This seems wildly unfair, and it surely is, but maybe not in the most obvious of ways. There's an annual report on the Art Market put out by Art Basel and UBS, and I spent some time with it. Interestingly, it breaks things down in ways that make detailed analysis of who's getting paid what pretty much impossible, although they clearly have the data. It's a report about trends and percentages and whatnot, mainly of interest to the people who already know who's getting paid (them) and who isn't (as few other people as possible). But, you can make some guesses.

The global art market is about $68 billion a year, which sounds like a great deal of money, right?

Well, it is, and it isn't. As nearly as I can tell roughly half of that money goes back to collectors who are selling pieces of art, at auction or in the secondary market through art dealers of various stripes. The other half goes to "the art industry" broadly construed, and includes commissions to auction houses, dealers, galleries, and it includes money paid to artists for their work. Call it $30 billion dollars, plus or minus $10 billion.

$30 billion also sounds like a lot, but it is and it isn't. You can afford 1,000,000 people an annual expense of $30,000 which includes their pay packets, benefits if any, the cost of keeping the lights on in the buildings, the cost of shipping art all over tarnation, the wine and cheese at the openings, at the art fairs, and all that stuff. Figure in the expenses, and imagine that you're paying people a living wage instead of whatever is left over of $30,000 after expenses, and you're employing maybe half a million people.

Which seems like a lot, right? But there's a hell of a lot of galleries out there. The Art Market report contains an estimate of 2.7 million people employed in the gallery and dealer industry, in almost 300,000 businesses. This means that there is something like $10,000 per employee on the table. If we're generous, maybe $15,000, pessimistic, maybe $5000.

Now, a certain amount of the money gets laundered through the system in a couple of passes. Someone might take home a little pay from one gallery, and pass that money on to pay a fee at another gallery, who in turn pays that money onwards to the receptionist. Economically, that dollar might count as 3-4 dollars, but would only show up as $1 in the Art Basel report (since I am considering only money coming in from the outside, not money moving around inside).

Another feature of the Art Basel report makes it clear that the money coming in is wildly tilted. The top ten percent of everything (galleries, auction houses, artists) take a lot more than 10 percent of the money. Now, again, we should wave our hands at the idea that money flows around inside the system -- a major artist taking in millions, in general, will spend a lot of those millions "inside" the industry. The artist probably has a factory with a bunch of assistants, each of whom are likely to be aspiring artists themselves, and so on.

No matter how you slice it, though, there simply isn't a lot of money on the table for an industry of this size.

At the end of the day, the receptionist is not going to answer the phone is he is unpaid, but the painter will paint whether you pay her or not. The stick has a very prominent short end, and it's obvious who's going to get it. And they do.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

On Observation

... an artist's observation is not just a question of of his using his eyes, it is the result of his honesty, of his fighting with himself to understand what he sees.

-- John Berger, 1964.