I did get to spend about five hours yesterday working on picture selections for our first book. (Despite being distracted. We're having some family drama.)
I'm always surprised by how easy it is to imagine editing photographs, and how different it is to actually do it. This has been consistently surprising, if such a thing is possible. To edit you have to actually do it, and to do it you need to actually look at photographs, let your visual intelligence take over.
I should back up and explain that I'm editing pictures for a book we plan to publish next Spring. One first book, as an experiment—an experiment to see how things go. Hopefully more after that, but for now, this one. I made a call for work, and got more than 2,000 suggestions from readers.
My intention has been to simply put all of the "possibles" into a "bin," if you will, for winnowing later. It hasn't gone like that. What happens is that when I put a "possible" into the document and look at it and it just doesn't fit, I know pretty quickly that it doesn't belong and then there's no more need to leave it in. So a lot of pictures have gone into the bin and then come right back out again, hours or days later. The ones that stay are the must-haves, the ones I feel rock-solid about. And once you get a certain critical mass of those, then you've got a core that dictates what else goes and what doesn't go. It becomes a simpler matter: does this go with what you already have? Does it belong with the others?
The "rejects," of course, are rejects just for this project. Accordingly, some of the pictures I really like but won't be using are suggesting other projects to me! For example, this wonderful shot by Sergio Bartelsman:
That's a great shot, and in the right company it could really sing. It doesn't "fit" in this first book, but it got my mind churning about future projects where it might fit. "Anonymity," a book of unrecognizable/recognizable people? This photograph would never do for identification purposes, but I'll bet this fellow's friends would know it's him in an instant. A book about negative space, where something in each photograph is a shape of featureless or near-featureless black? The possibilities pile up. These are just examples, and this is just one picture—a number of other pictures are likewise suggesting their own possibilities. I don't want to give up too many ideas.
Another interesting thing is happening, something I'm very familiar with and always enjoy—some photographs that didn't grab me at first are showing "legs"—staying power—while others I liked at first aren't lasting. The way I've always edited my own work (when I'm working, which isn't often any more) is to take the best shots from a recent batch of shooting and put them all up on the wall. Then I just look at them for a few days. What happens is almost like a form of magic or alchemy. I'll start out with ten or twenty shots I feel are all approximately equivalent in quality. Then, after two or three days, I'll have a handful I like and a handful I don't. Then when five or six days have passed, there will be two or three shots that I just love (well, if I'm lucky there will be), and the rest I just don't need to see any more.
It's like they sort themselves. Some of my initial selects for the book have traveled the same arc.
I did make a rookie mistake that I take full responsibility for. I should never have given the words "quiet color" as a cue. When you make a call for pictures, naturally people want to give you what they think you want. I just got loads of pictures that in some way illustrated the concept of quietude—pictures of emptiness and desolation, unpeopled landscapes and featureless seascapes, minimalism, lots of pastels and washed-out color, lonely scenes, out-of-the-way details. That wasn't exactly what I was looking for, but then, I didn't make that very clear, did I? My bad, mine alone. All I was really after were pictures that use unexaggerated color...easy on the sliders, maybe I should have said.
It's just very difficult to find the right way to give a call for work with an enabling cue rather than a limiting one. Take a look at this page to get an idea of the kind of pictures that people think illustrate the word "quiet." Nothing wrong with any of it, except that a little goes kind of a long way for me.
I can promise that our next book—assuming the first one goes okay and there is a second one—will have a very robust cue, one that will be enabling but not limiting. (In fact, I can give you that cue right now, if you want to be thinking six or nine months into the future. It's this: birds. Do not send me anything now—really, don't—but I thought you might want to set it it percolating.)
Back to Quiet Color. We're aiming for 32 or 36 pictures—the book designer will tell me exactly how many we have room for when he does his first concepts, and he hasn't started on that yet. So far I have made about half of the final selections, and about two-thirds of those come from TOP readers one way or another. But I'm in the process of going through all the submissions again, and I'm about a third of the way through that.
My mood is good, though. What overrides everything else is that it's good to look at pictures—always perks me up.
Good day to you, too.
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