FORM, FUCTION. FUNCTION, FORM

I’m pretty sure Paul, who is designing After the Fact, is going to send me the first final PDF today.

But it’s not like seeing this first final PDF will shed a whole new light on the thing. After all, the design of After the Fact is very minimal, pared down. So what I’ll be seeing today will be nuance and refinement, not revolution.

You see, the layout, the way the photos are displayed on the pages, the spreads and the turns has already been figured out and dummied-up, shown to all sorts of people and reconfigured and revised again and again. That conclusion was reached weeks ago. The design Paul is attaching to the book is in the type treatment. And there’s not much type to treat.

Anyway . . . for the last few weeks I’ve been questioning those layout and look-and-feel decisions. You see, there is no fancy binding here, no crazy layout, no fold-out pages or complicated architecture to the book, no clamshell case or slipcover. No, the layout and design are simple and straightforward.

There seems to be a trend these days in the photobook world to gussy your book up, to add some deluxe and/or complicated scheme. Sometimes that works really well, the complications do enhance to book. On the other hand, sometimes the flair constructed into photobooks seems superfluous. Not to mention that with some of them it looks like you’d need, like, four hands and a big table to lay the thing on just in order to look at it.

So where (and when) should form outrank function? Should you add complication just because you can? What’s the difference between being trendy and having style? Does the design trickery add to the books’ thesis, or subtract from it?

All these thoughts and questions are rattling through my brain as I get set to finalize After the Fact and put it on the press. And after all that agonizing, wondering if its form is too plain, I’ve arrived at the conclusion that what this work needs and wants is simplicity. The content of the photos, their look and feel, the order they are in and the story they tell should do the heavy lifting.

You can order a copy of After the Fact here.

DISCREPANCY

When I look at my Instagram feed I’m struck by the weird (at least to me) discrepancy that is shown there. On the one hand there are photos of my garden and of me communing with the backyard chipmunks.

There are also photos from After the Fact, the book I’m in the final stages of producing. A book about, maybe, the rise of fascism, and the changing political and physical climates. Large events that  we are living through and, if you are conscious, trying to make sense of.

But I think many of us are stuck on the horns of that dilemma. We wonder how to live our lives in an era of lowered expectations and rising outrage, how to reconcile beauty with cruelty and greed. And I think a lot of us deal with it by becoming obsessed with both ends of that spectrum. We are obsessed with living perfect, photogenic lives and we are obsessed with the fucked up state of our world. That is the continuum we are stuck on, the continuum we bumble through. Our lives.

Of course, if you take the long view, what’s happening these days is actually the norm. The years between, say, 1950 and 2000 were actually an anomaly. In that era we had a rising middle class and politicians and captains of industry who at least gave lip service to serving their constituents and workers.

But that was just a bubble, a weird confluence of events that gave First World citizens hope and rising expectations. Before and after that bubble, though, our civilization was a lot tougher, a lot rougher. That was the norm.

Problem is, we (most of you reading this) came up in that bubble of more or less peace and prosperity. We think that that’s the way things are and should be.

Think again . . . or dream on.

PERMANENT

Coming to a conclusion, it seems to me, is one of the most difficult things in photography. To know when you’re done shooting, and to edit and sequence the images you have, to arrive at your point can be nerve-wracking.

Of course, if you put your edit online you can change your mind in a day or two, or in two months, no biggie . . . you just make the changes. With a photobook, on the other hand, once its printed there’s no going back,  it’s all locked down, permanent.

And that certainly sharpens your mind.

Now that enough money has been raised to turn After the Fact into a book I find myself in this place . . . finalizing my conclusion. Up to now it has just been a dummy. Image order, print quality, and a million design details were always in the back of my mind. Now I must move them forward, fret, second, third and fourth guess.

The zen dudes will tell you: “First thought, best thought”. In photography that most often, but not always, applies when you are there on the ground shooting. The edit/sequence process, though, requires a second and a third and a fourth and a hundredth thought. Shifting one image will cause a cascade of further changes, will skew meaning and flow, will alter the course of what’s come before and of what will follow.

So I’m having a hard, hard look at the “final” dummy of After the Fact (which I’m quite happy with) and intend to explore some nuances.

For instance, I remember when I was sequencing I was torn between these two images:

The top one is the one that’s in the dummy. The bottom one, I thought, too closely resembled an image which appears 3 or 4 pages later. But, seeing as there are repetitions and echos throughout the book, I’m now having a rethink.

Just like I’m having a final rethink about the whole thing. I’m nervous and excited and can hardly wait.

If you missed out on the Kickstarter you can still order the book here.