Every now and then I am able to badger someone in to sending me something.
The fact that someone has gone to to the trouble of assembling not one photograph but a collection of them, possibly with some supporting material, has printed them out in some form, and assembled them in to some sort of volume, says something. The fact that they are subsequently willing then to send a copy of this thing on to me also says something. It speaks to commitment, it says I think there is something here that is worthwhile. If you are willing to go as far as to actually physically send me something, this affects me, I have to confess, deeply.
When someone commits that hard, I will look at their objects with generous eyes. I will strive, with all my heart, to see what they see in it, to see what they're trying to say. Work that is wildly opposed on one axis or another to things I believe, I will look at, struggle with, and try to find in it that which they find good. And, generally, I think I will. They and I are not that much different, after all.
The personal book, the saddle-stapled book in an edition of 10, the blurb book, the hand-bound thing is completely different from the commercially published book. If you got a deal with MACK or Dewi Lewis, well, more power to you. You probably ponied up a shitload of money, but you probably did it because dreams of exposure, of a career launched, were dancing in your head (you asked for references, right? No? Oh...) When you saddle staple up 10 copies of something, no such dreams dance in your head. You know that this is not the step that launches you into the seat currently held by Alec Soth. God knows why you're doing it, but dreams of Sothness cannot reasonably figure. Probably, love, faith, belief in the material do figure.
Henry Beckmeyer recently sent me three things. Two saddle-stapled, one appears to be a print-on-demand product. I love them.
I in no way intend to damn these things, or Beckmeyer, with faint praise, although I will speak honestly about them. Let this stand: I love these things, they delight me. I would save them in a fire, after the family and the dog, naturally, but before much else.
I am surprised by my delight in these books, because in many ways they represent the opposite of what I aspire to. Every picture in these objects is a good picture -- not good in the sense that it reaches my soul and makes me a better man, though. They are graphically strong, appealing, slices of humanity, that most interesting of subjects. I do not particularly grow or expand as a human being, reading these books. I smile, and flip from page to page with pleasure, with delight.
Beckmeyer has selected these photos, I think, from his archive. This, again, is something that is simply beyond me. I cannot abide sifting my archive. Unlike, I think, most photographers I simply don't care about pictures I took last year, unless they're part of some project I am (probably desperately, after a year) trying to wrap up. Beckmeyer has sequenced them appealingly, creating spread after spread of wittily related photographs.
What really gets me here is that, had I been asked, I would surely have counseled against doing these books. "Lightweight, fluffy, anyone can do that" I might have said. And I might have been right. But still, the world would be worse off for not having these things, I am glad that nobody asked me, that nobody listened to me, and that now I possess these wonderful things.
What is it that makes these books great? It's not that they're particularly unique or special in this great big world of ours. They're much nicer than a lot of things, but certainly many photographers could make similar things, and I am sure that some of them do.
What makes them special, to me, is that a fellow who I (now) know slightly made them. Henry Beckmeyer is not some rando making a nice book of appealing pictures, he's this guy that sent them to me. He shot these pictures, he sifted through his files and made selections, made matches, built spreads, did a simple but elegant design, and made some books. And then he sent them to me. If I had no personal connection to Henry, if he didn't read my blog, never sent me email, and had sent these books to someone else, they would mean nothing to me. I would not be delighted by them.
I'm not sure what this means.
Sally Mann reaches across that vast, that infinite, divide, that separates two people who do not know one another even slightly, to touch me. That is one thing. Henry reaches across the much smaller divide that separates two people who know one another slightly, and touches me. That is another thing.
Beyond that is one thing and that is another thing I cannot expand further. But I'm going to think about it.