I asked Don four questions, must have caught him in an expansive mood. The first answer came through and I thought to myself, fuck this is long.

Then I started reading, looking at how I could cut it down to a manageable length. There was nothing to cut, it was all smart and interesting, it all flowed together, nothing was redundant. Same goes for his other three answers, too.

He talks about how he became a photographer, how he does what he does, making photobooks, leather jackets, rolling around in the sand and lots more.

So I suggest you make yourself a coffee, get comfortable (but not too comfortable, if you know what I mean) and read on. . .

Don Weber (right) with Rob Horstra and Ian Willms

Your history is, correct me if I’m wrong, in photojournalism. What made you decide to walk away from that structure and to begin to tell stories in other ways?

(Okay here we go…. sorry a little long but I think background is useful.)

It’s true! My story is rather circuitous, but there was nothing I wanted more than to be a photojournalist as a boy. I would feverishly devour any and all newsmagazines, completely fascinated by the pictures.

I had the “benefit” of growing up in the 80’s, and being able to witness through news media the tumultuous history as communism collapsed, the explosion of Chernobyl, refugees fleeing East Germany in 1988, the Berlin wall of 1989, the execution of the Ceaucescu’s live on TV over Christmas Eve, Boris Yeltsin on top of a tank in 1991, and ultimately the disintegration of our greatest “nemesis” (as politicians and journalists would have us believe). I realized then what a romantic life these photographers must have. Globetrotting, in faraway places I could barely pronounce, these were swashbuckling heroes in leather jackets. I wanted a leather jacket, too. So, I have a very intense interest in photojournalism, it was the only kind of photography that mattered and the only kind of photography I wanted to do.

from the Prologue section of INTERROGATIONS (click on any picture to enlarge)

However, I met a roadblock in my journey to dashing hero, when, in 1991, my high school photography teacher actually said (true quote) “You suck as a photographer. I highly recommend you apply elsewhere than photography school.” And so I listened to him. I ended up at art school, the Ontario College of Art (OCADU now). There, I studied everything, a wide artistic history and experience that suddenly opened another world for me. It was here where I became deeply fascinated by architecture, and upon graduation, I naively got on a plane to The Netherlands and went to ask for a job with Rem Koolhaas. I knocked on the door, gave them my portfolio, and oddly was offered a position. I stayed for a few years, this was 1996. But it was also empty; suddenly I was behind a desk more concerned with office politics than being in the world. As a Canadian boy in Europe, I picked up a camera that I bought from a friend.

Having this camera ignited in me such a desire again, there was an electricity that I felt through my hands when I picked the camera up, it forced me to wander the streets, to look through a viewfinder gave me such freedom of expression and a resignation of that romance. I wanted to be a photojournalist again.

Fast forward a few years, I ended up freelancing as a photojournalist for a number of years in Toronto. Slowly, my client base built up and I was working for all Canadian and foreign publications, I was working across the country and in foreign places. On one of my assignments, I was in Kiev at the height of the Orange Revolution in December, 2004. It was here where the first break from the limitations that photojournalism imposed in terms of telling a story, was discovered. For a few days in a row, I was taking the same photograph: people waving flags, shouting, the ephemera of the protest crowds, politicians on stage. I suddenly realized my photographs were useless, they were just a part of the daily effluvia that all the other photographers were contributing. Why was I there, what was I offering to this incredible story? Not much, except my presence and contribution to the stage managed revolution for media consumption.

During one of my many nights on the main square, a Ukrainian man tapped me on the shoulder and asked what I was doing; it was difficult to answer as I had no idea. He said to me: “If you want to really understand what’s happening in Ukraine, you need to go East.” That was the moment that changed my life, and my photographic outlet. I went with this new friend, Vova, with whom I am still friends. He showed me a completely different view on the world, one of traveling and living with ordinary people who had endured much, and survived everything. I began to see the modern state as a primitive and bloody sacrificial rite of unnamed power. I also understood the personal stake one has in storytelling; photojournalisms objective ideals was a fallacy and I began to see it.

from the Prologue section of INTERROGATIONS

So it was never a conscious choice of walking away, but instead a gradual pulling into the realization that we are beholden to structures of “documentary decorum” that has no relationship to meaningful communication. Who says a picture needs to be told in a certain manner, from where does this logic originate? Why do we kowtow to these standards when we don’t even understand where these strictures were formed? I also became disillusioned with a tightening of media hegemony – an aspect that is never discussed in photojournalism whatsoever. In our current state of affairs, media is consolidated under a few global corporations that are beholden to shareholder value and profit, galleries trade economically off exclusivity; the bottom line is the only line that matters. Photography should be an act of moral resistance in a professional world, rather than the enslavement to a market driven, commercial ideology.

from the Interrogation section of INTERROGATIONS

And so I realized I could cleave myself from industry norms (at least attempt) and find a source of freedom to exist in a manner that is true to the story itself, and not the industry definition of aesthetic decorum. I am not interested in aesthetic superiority. I just want to tell a story that has power and resonance beyond my own myopia.

Okay. I take it that this thinking led you to Interrogations, which I see as being rooted in photojournalism but is really something else, less formulaic, more pointed. How did Interrogations lead to War Sand, which seems to me to be a complete break from the tropes of photojournalism.

Yes, in fact War Sand in a way began as a direct reaction to what was created in Interrogations. Near the end of that project (Interrogations) I began to feel uncomfortable with the complicit ways of photojournalism and documentary, not in terms of the visual but in the terms of the standardized methodology of interaction and even our purpose in creating this kind of work in such a specific way. Interrogations was called that very title for a specific reason, stretching beyond the obvious content of the book, but I began to interrogate my own methods and thoughts on photography, the interrogation of how we consume images and the interrogation of an industry itself. So I was not just indicting a corrupt system of police authority, but also indicting myself in a fragile relationship between photographer, subject and audience. I really hate the word ‘subject,’ the fact that this word is standardized language in the profession is troublesome; it is totally a clear example of the political nature of photojournalism, the complete and utter power imbalance between “us” and “them.” The fact we make these distinctions led me to a place where I never wanted to take another photograph of humans in such a manner again! It was here when I began reading parallels into the economy of images and our role in this economy. Large, corporate media was running rampant over journalism, and the calling siren was “We are changing the world,” when in fact we are just complicit in the infrastructure of capitalism. I cannot reconcile nor understand how we can create so-called socially engaged work when in fact we, as photographers, are just pawns in the capital economy; they need us for cognitive capitalism. Not sure why we need them! Anyway…

I believe in Interrogations and understand my own moral and social commitment to the work, but it certainly led me to reexamine everything I thought I already knew. I was looking to break from a mould of photography created by others. This is also reflected well in Interrogations; I tried to make the images as straightforward as possible, straight, direct, no compositional hijinks. I wanted to be as direct and “less” photographic as possible; so many times when I look at photojournalism and documentary it is more about the prowess of the compositional skill of the photographer and irrelevant to the story being told. 

So these are all the tumultuous things happening in my head. At the same time, I love photography, I love the simple act of exploring an idea and seeing where it goes. Rarely do I really know what I do, I set out and over the course of time, the idea unfolds, we dig inside, the instinct takes precedence and we are just moving forward on taste, smell, touch, sound, etc. It becomes a tactile, material pursuit that leads to intellectual inquiry.

War Sand is an example of this naivety in a way, where I just wanted to attempt to make something without a camera, without surrounding myself in a political gesture, of freeing myself from the economy of photography and exist outside that sphere. To seek other ways to find a way forward. My very first trip I did not in fact even bring a camera; it was totally liberating. I walked the D-Day beaches up and down, just gathering sand samples not even sure what would happen. But on my last day, I was packing my stuff up in the rental car, when I just saw a beautiful image, something that struck me as a ‘photograph.’ So I took out my iPhone and made a snap. Suddenly, I remembered what I liked, I thought of Gary Winogrand who said, “Sometimes I just take pictures to see what they’ll look like.” And that’s what I like to do, too. Just take a picture, how is it transformed once the light transforms itself, what happens with my act of seeing and the transformations of that space in front of me? It also became fascinating as the image I just made did not reconcile with the images I had anticipated of what Normandy would like. This, in turn, led me to research old WWII images of the locations and also see the transformations of history as imposed by time; geologic, cultural, social.

October 4, 2013, 6:24pm. 17ºC, 88% RELH, Wind WSW 11 Knots. VIS: Poor, Overcast Clouds, Thunderstorms. From the series War Sand.

From there on out, it was just a deluge, something had broke inside of me, where I could combine the gesture of Interrogations – which is really about creating work that subsists as a triangle of author, viewer and participant – and the thrill of curiosity. What happens if I do this? What happens if I do that? It doesn’t matter – I can always choose to discard it, or use it, later on. What matters is just becoming a part of the thing I want to say. I also felt liberated because I worked from no commissions, in fact I told very few people in the early stages. I never asked for an editorial assignment, nor did I want one. I made no attempts to gather shows, or anything. I won a few grants, but the expenses were low and allowed me to carve my own niche – on my time, in my voice, in my manner. I was not beholden to anyone and therefore true freedom arose; I could do what I want because I chose to step outside the confines of the dominant industry.

Tell me about the reasons you decided to self publish War Sand. Plus, I’d like to know a little about your bookmaking process.

Actually, Johan Hallberg Campbell and Eamon MacMahon and I have started a little venture called Polygon, it’s about trying to find ways around dominant modes of creation and distribution in photography, to seek an alternative way. We are trying to make things that we just want to make with as few stakeholders as possible. It ultimately is about freedom. We chose Polygon because a polygon is a multi faceted shape, it can twist and bend and deform, conform or just generally determine many ways to be. Modern photobook publishing today is ridiculous in how publishers are asking photographers for tens of thousands of dollars – how is this sustainable? What happens is we begin to trade off ego and vanity and a desire to publish. Publishers have a legitimacy of credibility, but beyond that I do not understand why they exist, especially if the business model is based upon asking the content provider for the money to create the thing you are supposed to do! I would love to hear a case study of photobook publishing at Harvard University Business School – they would laugh us all right out there. So, what we attempt to do is create a system where yes, we actually strive for profit, in turn creating another opportunity to make something, and again, and again, and again. Yes, it is part of a capitalist economy, but it is also created in a financially feasible way where the next project is beget by the previous. It is nerve-wracking and anxious time to do this, but we also feel that they only way forward as artists, creators, thinkers, photographers is to step outside the given structure and begin to form our own.

Omaha Beach, Charlie- October 20, 2014, 10:15am. 15ºC, 87% RELH, Wind W, 8 nots. VIS: Good, Overcast Clouds

Can you elucidate your process, the nuts and bolts, of putting together War Sand?

War Sand is a great agglomeration and compendium of my total working methodology, I think. It was a great fusion of the organic, intuitive approach mashed with just a fierce curiosity of the war. I am constantly reflecting back on my process, seeking out other “things” – in terms of research, reading, watching movies, whatever, everything that is usually  tangential to the project I am working on, but not necessarily dictated to by “facts” and “knowledge.” What I mean by this is, I like to consume all kinds of information, somehow it gets distilled in my head and I go from there. What I love about photography, and why I loved working on War Sand, was because it was just me and the elements. I would get wet, the salt breeze, the sand, the sea, light, clouds, sun, rain, everything. Crawling over sand dunes, driving up and down the coastal roads, probably hundreds of kilometres walked, I was becoming fused to the landscape. And when this fusion happens, an almost spiritual communion with the land occurs – we have conversations. What can I be, the land asks me. I am able to file multiple things in my brain and then bring it together through connecting dots and making relationships.

I also begin to think in “book” format – I can “see” the product without it leading to a final, definitive, form. I think it is dangerous to think of end results, instead a process should empower you to make decisions. That being said, I pretend I am flipping through a book – it gives me a sense of rhythm, timing, pace, etc., and I can then make connections with the pictures. For example, when I first started with the microscope images, I imagined how they’d look in a book, and realized here that the work needs to unfold slowly, that a “narrative” can be controlled and elucidated through that act of flipping. There are also certain brainstorms and brainwaves that occur, which usually happen whether right at that moment of photographing, or within a quick period after I am back. I always put the photographs away, and try not to look at them to quickly, I want to forget about them and be surprised. So that usually happens within a few months; while I am looking at the photos I can see patterns begin to emerge, to get a sense of what is working and what needs adaptation. Then, it is time for another trip, and the process repeats itself, with a slow refinement. Eventually, I know exactly what I am looking for, I can see the clarity of the images and it allows me to easily make images. In this case, I had been reading some work by Susan Schuppli, with this quote: “In forensic imagination, every encounter is capable of being retraced.” that was such a powerful encapsulation of what I was thinking but wasn’t able to express, and here it was in a distilled, clear quote that brought so much vividness to the photographs. That is why the images in War Sand look the way they do, I had this instinctual understanding that it was about the layers of history accumulating and transforming over time, that our sensibility of being a human is our relentless march forward, and Susan expressed this for me.

I also find that the more you go deeper and open up your sources of discovery, strange discoveries can be made. It’s also about trusting yourself, to allow yourself to figure something out, and not worry if it is valid or not. I have so much scrapped material, but I think when it works, you discover great little details. For example, I was working with an idea about dioramas when I stumbled upon a photograph of Hitler looking at a scale model; through this image I realized that model making and dioramas were an integral part – and still are – of war and conflict and how wars are waged. So I was able to connect my idea with the dioramas to a point in history that, although esoteric, still has a relationship back to history and back to WWII.

. . . iron shrapnel that was a bubble at some time in its brief existence as a very hot artifact. . .

Another stage when I am working is I love to share my work with a few select people, and one of those is my great friend and closest artistic collaborator Larry Frolick (who sadly passed away from cancer this summer; I miss him terribly as he was so bold, so visionary, so carefree in his thoughts). It is important to have someone like the in your life, to inspire you, to tell you you are an idiot, whatever, as long as there is a truth being shared, you are able to reach into your own artistic consciousness and allow it to surface, any crazy idea. The other person whom I trust implicitly is Teun van der Heijden, who designed Interrogations. But he is more than just a designer, he is a shaper of ideas, able to clearly discover a form for the massive work that I have. I like to write him emails and get his thoughts – I knew when I was ready that he would also be ready to tackle this beast. We started the process about two years ago, and he has been steadfastly developing the book alongside me. This is the first time, however where I didn’t have a dummy at all to share, just all these “piles” of information that I wanted him to see, and sort of begin to figure it out from there. There was so much material that I felt overwhelmed in the dummy phase, and I wasn’t ready to be consumed by a “book,” I just needed Teun to go away and see what was there and begin to shape it. I knew what all the parts were, I just had no idea what the shape was. Eventually, and actually quite quickly, we discovered a form. At this point it wasn’t about adding new work and new ideas, but refining what I had and filling the empty holes. By this stage, it was more about consolidating conceptual ideas, refining the images and then digging into the details. 

There are I guess two phases, the great accumulation of work, then the refinement of that. I am not one to sit at my desk and seek a way forward in terms of the idea, it is usually fragments, bits and pieces, scraps, floating in my head. I then go out and shoot – what does it look like, what will I see? What happened when it transfers from a view to a material reality? What happens when images start exiting beside each other? I love this phase of work, it is a constant battle between the processing of thought and the “mechanization” of those thoughts into concrete shape. White collar vs blue collar, pondering vs action, etc.

Anyway – back to the book… I had a structure in mind (due to many conversations with friends, etc.). I knew that it was about time and scale, and that it needed to be structured from macro to micro and the last half of the book it essentially explodes into a miscellany of narrative; film, stories, science, folktales, etc. Most people assumed it would be the opposite way, that we start within the grain of sand and explode out, but I imagined in my head as if I was flying, similar to 2001, when Dave goes through to infinity, we zoom through this world and slowly we focus in on the specific shape, there it is – its a grain of sand, that’s it, that’s all we are in the end. 

I assign myself “slogans” or “pitches,” effective questions which sit in my consciousness and offer me a way to measure clarity. For example, D-Day, from myth to micron; D-Day – told through a grain of sand; a granulated history; the transformations of history through narrative. When you have this knowledge, it is so clear and simple and straightforward that you do not get lost or muddied by concept and technique, but rather focus on the purity of the idea.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 

WAR SAND will be launched in November. It is now available for preorderDon’s website.

1/ In preparation for this Don sent me a PDF of the book: War Sand. I was struck by the complexity (and, in a way, the simplicity) of the thing. The images from War Sand displayed here just scratch the surface (no pun intended) of that book; its ingenuity, depth, beauty and breadth take the breath away.

2/ These days, besides continuing to photograph, Don is teaching at the Royal Academy of Art (KABK) in The Hague, The Netherlands in the BA photography department, where he is developing a new Masters program called Photography & Society. He has just finished his book, War Sand. He is also working on a smaller project, Monumental Propaganda, about the remaining monuments in Ukraine after their program of ‘de-communization.’ Don lives in Amsterdam.
Thank you for your time


fetish: 1.1 An excessive and irrational devotion or commitment to a particular thing. (Oxford English Dictionary)

Big article in The Guardian about how photography has become the “hottest new investment choice”. Duckrabbit responds with a review of Jim Motram‘s book Small Town Inertia, a blog post much more measured than the one you are reading now. (In fact, you should probably just spend your precious time reading that, rather than this.)

But I will continue whether there are readers here or not, which is kind of the crux of what I’m about to talk about . . .

I realized a long time ago that no one buys my photos. Well, that’s not entirely true. I occasionally sell one or two to some individual and, more often, to institutions. But I’ve known for a long time that there’s no real future for me (fiscally speaking) in the good-old sell-prints-as-art scheme. And I’m fine with that, it leaves me free to pursue other ways of thinking about why I take photos, what they need to look like, how they are assembled and distributed, and their use and usefulness.

Now you might be a photographer who’s sensibility, interests, aesthetic and skill set makes your work desirable to folks who need a photo or two to flesh out their walls. Maybe gallery representation and selling prints is part of your income flow. And maybe your photos are more than mere decorations. Great. I’ve got no problem with that. But please, if your photographs really are mostly decorative don’t attach some after-the-fact rationale that attributes a socially conscious subtext to them. Have the balls or the ovaries to own what you do.

But, me, I’ve never wanted my photographs to be precious, never thought of a photograph I’ve made (or, as I prefer, taken) as “a piece”, unless you consider piece to mean one small thing that goes with other things to make a more complex whole. I’ve never tried to be an artist, I just want to experience, learn and communicate.

Yes, yes, I know I’m speaking totally categorically here. I know that there are nuances and complications to everything. I know that not everyone wants what I want. I know that what I see as some decorative bobble might move someone else to tears. I know that, as Simon Norfolk says, “beauty can be a tactic”. But I hope you get my point: that markets drive, in subtle and often unconscious ways, content.


Naomi is energetic, to say the least. A gallivanting Canadian, she travels all over, lives in her car a lot of the time and is constantly accompanied by her sidekick, Maggie the dog. She seeks out and photographs, for lack of a better word, characters.

With her latest project, EUSA, you could see the people she photographs as eccentrics, or as folks creating some kind of dream. But the photos also show how caricature can (and does) become an idealized version of a reality that doesn’t really exist. Or does it? Aren’t all our realities manufactured?

Read on as Naomi talks about how she finds projects and subjects, what she does once she’s got them in her sights and what she does for fun . . .

How do you choose your projects? What makes you decide to spend your time and capital on this, rather than that?

To date I typically find one project while working on another. Like when I was shooting my first project Haddon Hall, I used to go to a nude beach and would hear everyone around me talking about these parties that I was never invited to. I discovered that they were talking about swingers parties and when I was invited to go as a “key” so a single, male friend of mine could go I said sure, why not, because I’ll do anything once (the invitation was to come with no strings attached as I am a photographer and he figured I’d be into seeing it). So that led to my project America Swings. Then when shooting the last swingers project for the book I was in the mountains of Georgia and had time to kill so went to a little tourist town called Helen that was all done up in Bavarian. I did some research to see what other places in the US looked European, then looked into American themed places in Europe and voila, EUSA was born.

Tulip Festival, Orange City, Iowa, U.S., from: EUSA 

How do I decide what to spend my time and money on though? I guess I need to feel like I’m gaining something out of the experience, learning something about other people and myself. I usually shoot things that are far far away which is silly as I accrue all sorts of travel expenses when I should shoot something in my own backyard. But guess that’s the wanderlust in me. 

The next few projects I’m working on are a huge departure from my current work habit. I’m leaving the documentary style behind and attempting a more performance art approach. I find it more and more difficult to make interesting photos these days as more and more people are glued to their phones 24/7.

Tell me a little more about EUSA.

It’s a series of photographs, mostly portraiture, that I took over the course of 8 years, but not consistently. Most of these events happened during the summer months and usually many things happened over the same weekend so had to pick which side of the pond to be on when. And after I shot a bunch of places in 2010 I put all the shot film in my freezer until 2013 when a friend who worked in a lab was quitting their job and told me to give them the film so they could process it for free for me! That was a tremendous boost. And when I finally saw the images 3 years later I was like, “Whoa, I like what I’ve got, damn I better finish this project finally!” and got cracking again. 

PonyparkCity, Collendoorn, Netherlands, from: EUSA

But what is EUSA? In a nutshell it’s American themed places in Europe and European themed places in America. It’s my take on how globalization has ruined cultures creating a homogenized universal culture. Did I intend this when I first started shooting the project, no. But the more “the same” I’ve seen us become the more I realize that this is the true underlying current to the work. We are all becoming drones shlocking the wares of global companies like Apple, Adidas, Levis, McDonald’s, Coca Cola, the list goes on and on. That our cultures have become “Disneyfied” if you will…the to be German is to stuff yourself with brats while wearing a lederhosen T-shirt or if you’re American you are either a cowboy, Confederate soldier or Native American…and don’t get me started on Europeans dressing up as Indians.

How do you approach your subjects, how long do you spend with them and how much do they contribute (in the sense of collaborating) to the process? 

Each project is different for me. For example when I photographed Haddon Hall I moved into the hotel itself living there for 2 months and then relocating to Miami and lived there while working on the project. It was very important for me to be ever present and really gain the trust of my subjects. I wouldn’t even necessarily take my camera out, just hang out on the veranda and shoot the breeze as we watched the world go by. Or taking them to doctors appointments or helping with grocery shopping. All this is part of the process. Gaining people’s trust helps grant you permission to photograph in those off moments. But these people also became my surrogate grandparents as I grew up not having any other than my paternal grandmother who died a few years earlier, and for many of them I was like a grandchild. This was a time in my life when I had the luxury of time and had saved up some money to be able to work on this project but that’s not always the case.

Wurst Fest, New Braunfels, Texas, U.S., from: EUSA

When I photographed for EUSA or even the America Swings work I didn’t really get to spend much time with people in the sense that these were events. With the swingers there was the added pressure of needing to connect quickly since everyone there is there with an end goal in mind, and that’s not to get their photo taken if you catch my drift.

Typically I work slow. I always drum up a conversation, try to connect on a certain level and create an interaction with my subject. I want them to be a participant in their portrait, to not only be directed but to be present which I hope comes through at the end. During Trump’s first 100 days I drove around the country meeting people and photographing them in order to get a sense of how Trump was elected president. I talked to many people, not always photographing them. I think that’s important to say, that this photography thing is a process and a tool to connect with people that doesn’t always need to culminate in a photograph. Photography is experiential, the fact that there is a photograph at the end which you can share with others is just a byproduct. 

What do you do for fun?

I go to bed most nights at 9 so that eliminates most social activities. I get up early, hike the dogs, make a smoothie (got to get in those greens!) and then get to work. I don’t remember the last time I’ve taken an actual holiday. But I guess I’m having the most fun and feeling the most “at home” when I’m in my car on a road trip. Sleeping in a Walmart parking lot, figuring out where to go next while Maggie is asleep next to me, this is the greatest source of joy for me.

Here’s a link to Naomi’s Kickstarter where you can buy her book. Here’s a link to Naomi’s website.

Thank you for your time


As usual, I had written three items for this week’s drool. You know, trying to keep the blog magazine-y. Problem was it all got kind of long and involved.

So in the spirit of adapting to circumstances, and being fluid and giving certain posts the space they need, the following episode of drool. contains exactly one item (plus a bunch of links).

What follows is a conversation with Colin Pantall, in which he talks about blogging, photobook making and Kickstarter. He’s measured, mostly sane, curious, smart. Read on . . .

From: All Quiet on the Home Front, by Colin Pantall

Colin is a writer, photographer, curator and lecturer based in Bath, England. I’ve never met Colin but our paths have crossed many a time. One time, back in 2010, we were both included in a thing WIRED did on their favorite photobloggers. But like so much public social media intercourse that didn’t mean very much.

What really meant something was, when I was in the depths of USER, Colin and I had some truck in, I think, the comment section of his blog. There was a certain amount of back-and-forth and I recognized his smarts right away and figured I could use them (his smarts).

Over the years, from time to time, when I have needed help and a sympathetic brain to lean on, he’s been one of the people I go to. His input is always well-considered and his effect on more than one of my projects has been subtle yet profound.

One of those weird social media anomalies . . . a stranger who is actually a friend.

Page spread: All Quiet on the Home Front, by Colin Pantall

TF/ First thing I want to ask you, Colin (because I’m still wondering why I resurrected my blog) is, in this day and age, why do you blog?

CP/ I still blog because I can use the blog for whatever I like and the blog can evolve into whatever I want it to be, most times by accident. 

Sometimes it’s hard work when it gets bogged down in something. That’s why I’ve relented on the book reviews. I simply had too big a pile of them and it got to be a labour rather than something enjoyable. 

It’s fun when you start writing and you get into a flow. It doesn’t happen often but it happens and that’s what really keeps me going. That’s when the writing has an energy that people respond to. 

I’m promoting a book at the moment so it’s useful for that. I talked about All Quiet on the Home Front for the first time at the weekend – on quite a simplistic level. I think that’s necessary at times, but it’s frustrating because there are complexities in All Quiet that I’d like to go into; about the history of landscape, dress, body, the history of family. The blog gives me a chance to go into that and explore my ideas in this weird semi-formal way that doesn’t have to make too much sense. 

I like that it doesn’t have to make too much sense. You can be emotional or abusive or contradictory on a blog. You can have a personality. And maybe that’s why I like having a blog, because in places at least it does have a personality and an opinion, and personality and opinion are good things to have as you know from drool., Tony.

Page spread: All Quiet on the Home Front, by Colin Pantall

TF/ Seems to me you use your blog like some people use photography . . . as a way to work things out, to discover what they might be thinking, to address complexities.

You mention your book, All Quiet on the Home Front. I want to know how (or if) your title relates to the war novel All Quiet on the Western Front, by Erich Maria Remarque (though most people would probably be more familiar with the movie based upon the book).

CP/ The title is a flip. The wider edit of All Quiet on the Home Front was a vision of domesticity in the UK and Canada in particular – my wife is Canadian so we visit a lot. Not a lot happens in this domesticity on the surface but actually quite a lot happens. 

I had all these fantastic images and a title but it didn’t fit. Then while I was going through the images, Katherine said, “can’t you see. This is the story of how you developed your relationship with Isabel through the landscape.” And it was. And the landscapes would change as Isabel grew up and she could see how much I identified with those landscapes. Brown’s Folly was my favourite and I felt a certain pain and loss when we stopped going there. So the idea of the landscapes being me came about because I did have that identification with the landscape in a very strong way. And there was a loss as Isabel grew up, a loss that is typical of the changes in relationship that happen as a child grows up and beyond their parents. And then she began identifying with the landscapes herself. That was quite beautiful, a sign that she had become herself. 

It’s these small dramas that make up domestic life. Hence All Quiet on the Home Front – not a lot happens on the surface, but just beneath the surface there’s a lot going on. There’s a latent energy there all the time, just as there was on the Western Front. 

Page spread: All Quiet on the Home Front, by Colin Pantall

TF/ When did you know this work would be a book? Was it planned all along, or did you one day wake up and think, “this is a book”?

It wasn’t planned all along but I always have books in the back of mind. As part of my MA in Documentary Photography I made the Sofa Portraits which showed Isabel watching TV. They are a thing in themselves, the prints are amazing.

I carried on photographing in and around our home in Bath, and at some point as she got older, I photographed more of the surrounding family. I have this really rich body of work showing Isabel, family, friends, our allotment. It’s very local and pitted with multiple meanings. 

But it never quite crystallized as a book until I saw what Alejandro Acin of ICVL did with Amak Mahmoodian‘s book, Shenasnameh. I have worked with Alex on other ICVL events and we co-curated the last Photobook Bristol so I know him well. But Shenasnameh was really special. I worked on the text of the book and saw it evolve from a powerful but simple set of images into something that went above and beyond the page. 

The process of making the book was also beautiful and really collaborative. Alex and Amak are wonderful people and the way they worked together towards this common end was a delight, a true collaborative experience. So I suggested making a book and Alex said I thought you were doing that with so-and-so and I said no why don’t you do it and we started working on it about a year ago. 

And it has been a truly collaborative experience which is a joy to behold. And now it’s nearing the end and I’m a train-wreck of nervous energy.

TF/ I know that feeling. The thing about doing a book is that it brings everything into sharper focus, forces you to make very difficult decisions vis-a-vis your commitment to whatever it is you want to say. And it’s permanent. These are all things that are in short supply in the social media world.

You didn’t do crowdfunding for your book, you just did it and made it available for pre-sale and, in November, for actual sale. Tell me a little about your thinking on that.

CP/  Why not Kickstarter? I don’t know. Making a book is nerve-racking enough, but doing a Kickstarter even more so. It becomes too much of a race and even more of a promotional nightmare because you have to sell, sell, sell. 

I’m selling enough as it is with pre-orders and it’s going well enough, but if it was a 30 day Kickstarter with 20 days to go I’d be absolutely wetting my pants. I look with some envy at people who fund their Kickstarters within a few days (yes I mean you! And you! And you!).

Sometimes it’s because they have a brilliant book. Their popularity and well-connectedness kicks in as well. And of course if you’re good at selling, that really helps. But the worst thing is sometimes it’s simply because they are extremely wealthy and have enough extremely wealthy friends to fund it. This makes me angry because I’m wondering why they don’t just use their trust funds to fund it themselves. 

Then you get people who should get funded, who do everything fantastically and get promotion, but somehow it doesn’t just happen and they’re stuck without the extra cash to pay for the book. They’re not rich and they don’t have the wealthy friends. And it’s so sad and dispiriting, because ultimately people are mistaking wealth for talent. It fucks me off big time. 

Page spread: All Quiet on the Home Front, by Colin Pantall

I’m also not that confident I’d hit my target. I’m well-connected, and I’ve used that in various ways with people who I know like the work, but I’m not good at selling. I don’t like selling even though every blog, instagram and facebook post at the moment is about All Quiet now. And Alex is not good at selling. We’re better at selling than Amak Mahmoodian who made Shenasnameh. She ended up giving away half the books to people because they were “so lovely” – that’s how I got my copy. I think in the end Alex had to put a sign round her neck saying ‘Don’t take any books from this woman, they’re not hers to give away’ so he could claw back some of the huge amounts of money they’d spent on printing the book. 

I do have confidence the book will sell though, because it touches on so many aspects of people’s lives. People respond to it and they personalise what they see and talk about it all the time, but it’s odd because they talk about it outside the context of the photobook. That is both a curse and a blessing. It’s really fascinating how the photobook world works in that sense, in particular the more esoteric corner of the photobook world I’m perched in.

So we need £4,500 to get the books to the printer, which will be fine. And then we need another £4,500 to  get it back from the printers. I’m just finishing Magnum China and they should pay me in time to cover that if we don’t have enough. Fuck, I wish I was rich! Then I could just get my rich buddies to pay for it on Kickstarter and wouldn’t have to even think about it!

TF/ Thank you very much Colin. Why don’t I post some images from All Quiet on the Home Front . . .

(Buy the book here. Colin’s website. Colin’s blog.)

Thank you for your time



Sometimes I’m overwhelmed by the senselessness and meaninglessness of it all. But then I wonder, how can I be overwhelmed if there is no sense and no meaning? If that’s the case shouldn’t I really just feel nothing, not care?

But the way it seems to work if you’re Human, especially a Human with an existentialist bent, is you have to make your own meaning. And that’s hard work. Much easier to go along to get along, to accept whatever you’re handed.

I see this dichotomy, too, in photography. Some photographers work and struggle to create and shift meaning, others just seem to accept the world at face value.

And that, accepting this nuanced and multifaceted world at face value, leaves me underwhelmed.



Born and raised in Poland, Blazej moved to Scotland where he lived for 11 years (2005-16). There he studied photography at Stevenson College in Edinburgh. After graduation he moved to Aberdeen, and, over 4 years, shot (amongst other work) The Grey City. Last year he moved to Ottawa and sent me an email after he found my website. Now Blazej and I get together from time to time and compare notes. I asked him why he takes photographs . . .

One day I just decided that I would become a photographer, without having a clue what that really means or what kind of photographer I wanted to be.  At the beginning I used family’s old soviet Kiev and Zenith cameras without even knowing that I can change the lens on the cameras. That was in 1999.

I love all aspects of making photographs so saying that I am doing this for fun wouldn’t be far from true however there were and are many other reasons for photographing. The urge to discover, understand and document is the most important drive to me right now.

I love to be out there at weirdest times at night, to contemplate, unwind, dream, respond to the place. I want to feel local anywhere I live and photography enormously helps with that.

I am making images for myself, the choice and the way I am approaching my subjects reflect who I am,  but I also hope that other people now and in the future would relate to my work in one way or another. I am finding photography to be an important medium which helps us to look at ourselves from a variety of different perspectives and it is healthy to not be limited to one perspective.

Our multi layered world is constantly changing and I see photography as a valuable tool which could be used to grasp this “liquid modernity” we live in.

Images from The Grey City (click on images to enlarge).

Then I asked him to compare Aberdeen and Ottawa . . .

When I first arrived in Ottawa I was struck by the abundance of colours, which was notable after living in the rather monochromatic Aberdeen. However I remember that when we met you told me that I “moved from one grey city to another” which I found surprising at that time. When walking around some areas of Ottawa during bleak autumn and winter days I understood what you meant. I love the mighty winter here though. I think it’s fantastic!

I  like how nature blends into the urban environment of both cities which benefit from having two rivers flowing through them and which were extensively used by local industries.

Ottawa has a fine green belt and scenery and in Aberdeen a few minutes walk would take me to the North Sea seaside and dunes. I am missing the Grampian Mountains surrounding Aberdeen but the scale of the snow heaps during the winter makes up for that.

You can see how modernism shaped and unfortunately also scarred Ottawa and Aberdeen, there are good and not so good examples of modernist thinking in these two cities.

The level of homelessness, drug addiction and mental health problems in Ottawa is scary. Aberdeen wasn’t an idyll neither but the level of human misery I observed around some areas of Rideau Street is striking.

I can hear bagpipes in both cities and I can drink amazing local IPA’s in both but I definitely prefer the prices of single malts in Scotland.

Images from Ottawa . . .



If you’re a photographer you’ve seen ’em. Online photo contests that offer exposure and, sometimes, actual rewards. Often they feature some “name” jurist or panel of industry movers-and-shakers. It’s easy to enter. Just fill out the form, send ’em the money and some jpegs and you’re in the running. It’s kinda like buying a lottery ticket, for the price of admission you get to hope and dream.

The claim is that your work will be exposed to someone or some group of people who might do your career a big favour by looking at and/or selecting your photos. Those images will then get thrown up on their website or, maybe, if you are the grand prize winner!, in an actual gallery or print publication. And you get to jump for joy and add the words “Award Winning Photographer” to your bio.

I’m sure some of these contests are legit. And I know it costs money to run these things. I’m also sure that many of them are organized and arranged for the purveyor’s enrichment. After all no one ever went broke preying on the hopes and dreams of desperate people.

And then there are a handful that seem to put industry support over profit-motive. Here are three that I know about and think are pretty damn legit: The New York Times LENS Portfolio RevueConscientious Portfolio Review and PhotoLucida Critical Mass. The first two are free, Critical Mass is quite expensive but has a strong history, deep roster and broad reach. I’m sure there are others that are equally well run and worthwhile but, like I said, these are the ones I’m familiar with.

For me, the best bet for career enhancement is not broadcasting, but narrowcasting. Spend time doing good, authentic, organized work, find 5 or 6 or 7 people/institutions/publications that might support that work and spend your time and money actively pursuing them. Make it personal.

Of course, in the end its your money and your time, you can spend it however you want.


I welcome your comments. No vitriol please, but contrary opinions and insights are welcome.

Thank you for your time.