Monday, June 19, 2017

More on Sequencing

I'm probably going to keep writing about sequencing, which is odd, because I am increasingly thinking that most people who think about it at all overthink it. We treat it like composition "If only" we think "I could get the right sequence, then my work would suddenly be amazeballs." In reality, if you have good content I am pretty sure any sensible sequence is fine. If you have awful content, no sequence will save it.

Colberg's book drags on at length, but is largely concerned with how to get from one picture to the next. Notably, he advocates the "print 'em all out and agonize over it forever" approach, which has the following very interesting consequence:

You can't do repeats. You've only got one print of everything

And once you see that, you see immediately that this approach makes a lot of stuff hard. There's no clear way to visualize collages, or repeats-with-changes (what if I want to foreshadow with an ultra-low contrast version of a picture?)

I think, to be honest, that you need to spend time with the pictures, but more time away from the pictures, imagining things.

Right now, I am thinking about pacing a lot. Keith Smith points out that boring/repetitive material picks up the pace. 10 blank pages in a row would get flipping quickly. 10 identical pictures, much the same. 10 similar pictures with obvious differences, much the same. 10 similar pictures with extremely subtle but important differences -- the exact opposite effect (assuming the reader notices).

Imagine a picture A, with some subtle variations. Maybe A1, A2, A3 are all just successively tighter crops of the same photo while B is a completely different picture. Imagine this series of pages, denoting a blank page with a lowercase b:

A b A1 b b A2 b b b A3 b b b b B

I visualize the pace picking up, faster and faster, even perhaps a little frustration, and then suddenly B appears and the flipping stops. STOP. What possibilities are there in the reader's conception of the relationship between A and B? And how on earth would you imagine this if you were fixated on sorting and re-sorting a pile of physical prints?

What is A1, A2, and A3 were not just tighter crops, but also printed smaller? Or larger? Perhaps B exhibits a radical size change as you flip wildly past A3 and the 4 blank pages after that, as well.

What if B was a repeat of the first picture in the book?

Keith Smith's book is basically 200 pages of this sort of thing. If your mind isn't bigger by the time you're done with it, you are a blockhead.


  1. Printing all pictures out and sticking them to a wall has one big advantage: You can see them all at once. While this is not a useful "Use Case" for a book, it allows you to identify subtle common threads which pull the pictures together. Or, in contrast, you are able to identify pictures which don't quite work with the others, since they will stick out.

    But I agree that this is not really sequencing. For sequencing, I find a PDF editor quite helpful: For each picture, I create a single page PDF document with the picture on it (I use Libre Office for this since it can export PDF). The PDF editor allows to combine these single pages into a new PDF document in arbitrary sequence. Most PDF readers allow for display of two pages simultaneously, so this mimicks the flow in a book.

    Probably Blurb's BookWright can do the same, but unfortunately I'm too stupid to use it.

    Best, Thomas

    1. Yeah, I'm certainly not opposed to printing them all out. It's probably a really good idea! I can't do it due to little kids, dogs, and space constraints, but I see its virtues.

      If you treat it as the Only Way you kind of build in some arbitrary limits, though. Ideally, I dare say, it would be part of the way, and then you create new pictures as the needs to the sequence open up.

      I use blurb's online book design tool as a sketchpad.

      It's awesome because I can access my "book dummies" from anywhere, using any device. It's Cloud For Dummies!

  2. My wife can sequence a bunch of photos for a book or show brilliantly in about five to ten minutes. It takes me five weeks, and then it is likely to be still pretty crappy. Right now I am using Bookwright to lay out a book, and it is working pretty well for me since I don't have to bang around with my printer or find space to spread out the prints.
    I do find the Bookwright software to be pretty clunky and wish I were better at InDesign. Before working on this layout I did quite a few artist's books that I printed and bound myself. I was extremely happy with the results, but they require a degree of concentration and space and organization that somehow I am not able to quite muster this time around.
    What I am taking away from this is that I believe sequencing, editing, and assembling requires some pretty unique skills that will very from person to person and also, as in my case, from month to month. I certainly would like to be sure footed, consistent, and highly skilled at these tasks. However, I also feel strongly that the way I am doing any particular book is actually enhanced by my feelings about the subject, and approaches I am taking at the time, and gives the finished book a degree of authenticity that would be lacking if I outsourced the whole process, or strictly followed some prescribed formula as to how one should do this.

    1. What are you doing in that five weeks? It takes me weeks and weeks as well, but *mostly* I am throwing some stuff down, and then wandering off for a week, and then tinkering some more. I might spend a handful of hours actually consciously working on it.

      But I've usually started with some ruminations of how one might approach this thing, some ideas I want to try out. Then there's obviously a great deal of subconscious marination. So, I can't honestly tell you how much actual time I am expending.

    2. BookSmart is far better than BookWright -- download it while you still can! It's a good tool for making book dummies and playing around with sequencing.


    3. Hi Mike, I have BookSmart and used it for years, just thought I'd 'go with the flow.' :)

  3. I agree with Chris about 'authentic' sequences, but I wonder, given the nature of my stuff, (er, 'fine art'), if they mean anything to the reader. I've never had a comment like 'why did/didn't you put these two photos together?'. Even so, I also spend weeks worrying about how to convert the multidimensional problem of ordering into a linear solution. At least in galleries, the hanging sequence can be revised simply by moving one's feet and one's gaze, which action also allows taking in more than one photo at a time. For a book to allow such relative freedom, some ingenuity would be required - loose numbered sheets and a large dining-room table? Arrangements like a paint sampler fan deck? (This latter solution has been proposed for a book of mine.)

    Oh, and I do all my sorting and agonising digitally in dear old Expression Media 2.

  4. Hey Ericke, ya for my hand-made books I have been working on 'just' making a slipcase that can hold a little framed 4x6 photo, and then add a portfolio of prints, or some of my tri-folds, depending on my mood, need, etc.