Creating Homemade Photography Books

There’s no doubt the popularity of the photograph in printed form has surged in recent years. As someone who’s been doing their own printing for a good 15 years or so, this has been lovely to see. I never cease to get a thrill when I wait and watch as a new print rolls off the printer – admittedly this excitement is tempered by a little anxiety, but it’s what I’d call positive anxiety!
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May 20
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Whilst producing a single print is incredibly gratifying, creating a series of prints is even more rewarding. Curating a set of images for print can be a challenging task but, once mastered, it gives a real sense of achievement. However, we need to find a home for our prints – having gone to all this trouble, leaving them in a box somewhere seems a terrible waste. An exhibition is one option, albeit quite an expensive one. Creating a book, however, is relatively inexpensive, particularly if you are happy to take the hands-on approach and make your own.

Back in 2015 I went on a weekend course with John Blakemore – learning how to make glue bound books and, most important of all, how to go about choosing and sequencing your images. Learning this from one of our greatest photographers was a privilege.

Whilst having the tools, materials and knowledge of how to create a book is of course a prerequisite, it’s equally important to select and sequence the images you include in your photo book. This may mean leaving out some of your favourite images – if they don’t fall in line with the overall theme, or are visually inconsistent, then you really cannot include them. A tightly curated set of photographs are typically more powerful than that one single image, so it’s always good to keep this in mind.

There are countless different styles of books you can make, but, although I enjoy the aesthetic of the stitching in something like a Japanese stab bound book, I find myself returning time and time again to the glue-bound concertina format. They are relatively simple to make on one level, although the potential for disaster is perhaps rather high, given the ability of glue to find its way onto every available surface!

My reason for enjoying this format so much is that it offers so many options for the viewer in how they interact with the photographs within. You can open up the whole book to see the entire set of images, or you can choose to enjoy them in short bursts – taking your time to peruse a sequence of two or three images, dwell on a pertinent quote, or even spend time just enjoying one solitary page. There are many different ways to engage with the content within.

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With all my springtime workshops cancelled, and very few deadlines to meet, I’ve found myself with a little more time on my hands than I’d have expected this last month or so. Initially, I felt overwhelmed by this enforced change, with no desire or ability to be creative. Slowly, however, the desire to create has returned.

This started with a bunch of tulips bought just before lockdown. I started to photograph them with a handmade book in mind. It’s worth pointing out that it is far easier to create a tight set of images when you set out with this aim from the start. This coincided with my great friend and colleague, Alex Hare, home schooling his daughter and helping her make a series of photographs, combining them into a hand-made book.

Once you start again, it’s hard to stop and we’ve now started running online book-making workshops for photographers. It’s not quite Greece – which is where we were meant to be for our spring workshop – but it’s thoroughly enjoyable and incredibly rewarding! Not everyone has time on their hands – but if you do, and if you love photography, then you might find making a hand-made photo book offers a bit of welcome relief during an incredibly difficult time.

My tulips, incidentally, are still going strong, albeit in very shrivelled form! They are the subject of a new, Japanese stab bound book which is underway. I suspect I’ll end up making them into a concertina book thereafter, because I always go back to this form. Regardless, I feel so lucky to have this opportunity to enjoy this creative outlet when so many are truly overwhelmed by the circumstances brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic. For those tempted to give it a try, it can offer a whole new way to enjoy your photography whilst confined to being at home.

Lizzie Shepherd - Photographer and LPOTY Judge

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