I often find myself confident about how to present the work of others, but riddled by doubt when it comes to projects that I have done myself.
This post looks at my efforts to publish my project “Lost Rivers” in 2015, the challenges I faced and how I tried to overcome them. Though I’ve learnt so much about publishing over the last few years, I still find it impossibly hard to publish my own work. It’s always easier to work with someone else than to work with yourself.
I moved to Asia from London in 2013. The destination was Taipei, the capital of Taiwan. Taipei, like Taiwan, seems to be obsessed with one thing: economic advancement. Consequently, this obsession is reflected in the urban makeup of the city, especially in the city’s relationship with the natural landscape in which it is situated.
Cities have long been established around rivers. Rivers offer easy trading routes and a place to fish and source food. As cities have modernised and moved away from dependency on rivers, they have instead embraced the river as a recreational area. In Taiwan, I found that rivers were treated as obstacles to further growth. At best they were ignored, at worst they were covered or built over. I set out to document the role of the cities’ rivers and how they were affected by the man-made environment.
From the very beginning I knew how I wanted this project to look as a publication As with all my books I wanted it to be intimate, so I chose to print at 13x18, using a luxurious paper that so far I’ve only been able to find in Taiwan for printing. I was inspired by the paperback books of Taiwan and so chose to make it a softback book.
I deliberated for a long time over how to design the cover. There are only 30 images in the book, and thus I felt that to use one image as a cover image to represent the project just didn’t feel right. As a typology I didn’t feel that one image represented the concept any more than others. I felt that an illustration could provide an idea to the viewer as to the contents, without revealing too much. The feedback has been mixed, some people love it and other don’t, but I feel it was still the right decision.
I designed the book around the idea of letting the photography do the talking. There is one image per spread, with the verso page white. I went through various sequencing formations until I found one that I was pleased with. My aim was for each page to be it’s own story, related to the other pages, but able to stand alone too.
In hindsight, I wished I had reached out to others for their opinion before going to print. I’ve learnt the hard way that getting feedback is a critical step for any project and not something to be intimidated by. That’s why I spent a lot of time showing people the images from my new project (Tales from Beneath the Arches - coming 2017) and discussing with them the strong and weak points. It was really interesting to see how people reacted to the project differently or interpreted it in their own ways.
In the year since it’s been available I have learnt a few things. At book fairs I often find a lot of people interested in the book once they understand the theme behind the project. Once that has become clear they see the photos anew. But, that also tells me that the concept is not completely clear to the viewer just by picking up the book. It is easy for the viewer to think of it ‘just’ of images of a river, somewhere. I think photos are an amazing way to illustrate wider stories and themes, but they don’t always do justice to stories on their own.