Monday, June 12, 2017

Why Sequence?

Computer problems at home result in low posting rates. Also, less to say.

I have a copy of Colberg's book on Photobooks in the mail now, arriving in a couple of days. As a warmup, I am re-reading Keith Smith's book on the same subject and making notes. Mental and otherwise.

In trying to make notes and organize my own thoughts, I fiddled with this and scribbled that and eventually concluded that it all needs to flow from what on earth you are trying to do with your book. Therefore, I want to start out a series of short essays, notes, on sequencing, by thinking through that first step.

What do you want your reader to get out of your book? Keith Smith talks about this idea of a composite picture which is in some sense the totality of your book. If you're making a Japanese folder, the total picture might just be the whole thing unfolded. Since I want to stick here to the western codex (a "normal book" to most of us, a bunch of identically sized rectangular pages bound together on the left edge) this composite is necessarily what is formed in the reader's mind by reading the whole book.

This might be simply an impression of what your best work looks like, if you've made a greatest hits monograph. It might be the actual story, if your book was an illustrated telling of the story of Jesse James. It might be something else. A sense of a place. An understanding of some person, some event, some entity. It might be sense of the sublime, a personal connection with God, or a thorough grasp of how faucets have worked through the ages.

Your aim might simply be to make certain a political, religious, ethical position appear reasonable, normal.

The point of the sequence specifically and book design generally is to bridge this gap from a pile of pictures and text to that total, composite picture.

The first job you have to do is to work out how you want your book to be read.

In most cases the reader is going to start by leafing through it front to back, in a more or less cursory fashion. Let's set such preliminary poking-around aside. What do you want to happen when your reader first sits down to have a serious look at your book? Then, what do you want to happen when your reader returns to your book later, for another moderately serious look?

Do you want the reader to chug through the pages at a fairly steady pace, front to back, and then mull it over?

Perhaps the reader ought to linger on this picture or that one? Slow down through this set, speed up through that?

Should the reader backtrack and re-imagine some pictures when they reach a particular pivotal picture?

Should the reader recall a related picture upon seeing this one, and understand the remembered one differently, in a new way, or a deeper way?

Which pictures give context to which others, which pictures are modified, re-understood, by seeing others?

Even the most basic monograph, the greatest hits book, wants to be read to completion. You want your reader to keep turning the pages. While it's certainly true that if the pictures are good enough, that might keep the pages turning, why not help things along?

1 comment:

  1. An added consideration is who is doing the putting together - I have worked with a publisher who believed that photographers made the worst editors and as a rule got someone else to do the job or did it himself. In my case, I stood firm and got dispensation. I am not saying that someone else could not have made an equally good or perhaps even better sequence with an outsider's view, but the principles behind my choices had grown with the work itself. The sequence was 'authentic', at least.