Sketches came about because of the simplest of questions: What is my artwork? That is to say, what is the most fundamental form of my work. When I was casually asked this question at a social gathering, my initial thought was images and ideas — interestingly, not photography — in particular, not prints. As I thought more about this over the following weeks, what then, I mused, is the best medium for images and ideas? If I answer prints — as I have for some 40 years — then book publications, PDFs, etc. are a supplemental format. Certainly this is how Adams, Weston, and all of their generation felt.
But are prints hung on the wall the best medium for images and ideas? What if I answer publications rather than prints? My head began to spin. Years of training protested — Art goes in the gallery or the museum! Yes, I thought, except when it lives in the concert hall, or the theater, or the novel, or the stage, or in people's homes, or when recorded for television, movies, or recorded music. So, maybe only a very limited type of art lives in the gallery or the museum. I started considering seriously a new form for my photography and text, my images and ideas.
Inspired by the classic book Sketches by Boz (an early pen name of Charles Dickens, one of my favorite authors), I learned that every story need not be a tale with beginning, middle, and end — nor a morality play with a "message." Just looking and seeing the world for the fascinating thing that it is can be enough. Photography was built for just such a purpose. Combined with words, a photograph can be a sketch of life just as Dickens did with his words and the accompanying drawings by Cruikshank. Why not adapt Dickens' great idea for our modern tools?
In reviewing my photographic archives, I realized that I have thousands of small observations, moments, encounters, and experiences that are scattered throughout my photographic archive, just waiting for an ideal medium. Some are moments of wonderful light, some are portraits of interesting people, some breathtaking landscapes that inspired thought, some are simple small encounters that I hope are worth sharing. Eclectic in nature, varied in style and content, long and short, a few images or a dozen, lengthy text or just a sentence or two, I have been working in this format for decades, unaware that I was.
At long last brought to consciousness, the remaining question was one of finishing media. Because different audiences have different needs, I'm creating Sketches in two parallel media.
I love prints! I love the hand-held experience of viewing prints up close, the intimacy that comes from touching the paper. Well, is it possible to create an art form that is part book and part photographic print?
For years, my answer to this question has been as the folio — a new format I pioneered and shared with thousands of photographers though my workshops, podcasts, and through LensWork. I love the folio format, but it isn't a great match for every project. I needed something else, particularly where the order of pages is critical, e.g. when there is longer-form text involved.
Enter the hand-sewn chapbook. Derived from the "chapmen" of early England, chapbooks were originally small, pamphlet-like publications with religious tracts, political commentary, or even educational essays. In more modern times, the chapbook concept has been adopted by the art community as — typically — small, handmade book of poetry, calligraphy, or occasionally a short story. Artist-made chapbooks are a celebration of paper and handcraft. Chapbooks are the perfect vehicle for images and text to combine in an artifact that preserves the beauty of a photographic print with the design elements of layout and text. They can be a few pages in length to a dozen or more.
Chapbooks are an ideal format and medium for photographs, particularly now that we photographers can produce our work on printed pages using pigment-on-paper printers. They are part book, part original print, part layout and text, part handcraft. What a wonderful way for Sketches to manifest in tactile materials! I print on Moab Entrada Natural White 190, a two-sided paper, using Epson K3 inks on my Epson 4880 printers. Each chapbook is numbered and signed by me.
The chapbooks are great, but I know that not everyone values the printed page as much as others do. In today's fast-paced technological world, the world-wide delivery of digital content is too important to ignore. As an artist, I've watched the iPad and other tablets quickly becoming a mainstay vehicle for viewing photography, books, and all kinds of ePublications. We know this because we publish LensWork Extended and have seen it grow from a curiosity to a world-wide phenomenon.
With this in mind, Sketches are being published as free, downloadable PDFs which allow me to present the content of the chapbook edition to a worldwide audience as well as to an audience for whom purchasing a physical product is not possible. Because these are digial publications, I'm not bound by the restrictions of physical pages. With some titles, I'll add additional images or even audio or video content.
The ePublication PDF editions of Sketches allow anyone in the world access, all for free and all in the spirit of sharing. They can also be viewed on any computer using the Adobe Reader or other PDF viewer application.
Most importantly, they are designed for iPad and Android tablets using any standard PDF reader. (We recommend GoodReader for the iPad, and either the Kindle Reader or Mantano Reader for Android tablets.)
So much of "art-marketing" is based on hyperbole — and even downright hidden agendas and subterfuge. I've always traveled a different path — both with my personal work, and with LensWork. I've always felt it was better to be up front, candid, do the highest quality work I can, and let the chips fall where they may. Here are my thoughts about this new Sketches project.
With all this in mind, I'm offering the Sketches in two media, designed for two different audiences.
The price for my chapbooks is $35 each, but are as little as $23 if you buy 4 or more at a time. Why $35? Cost of paper and ink plus the cost of labor and time for my assistant and myself to do the production work. What other handmade, original artwork can you buy for about the same price as a nice meal in a restaurant, a commercially published art book, a movie date, or half a concert ticket? Essentially, I guess it just seems like a fair price. (If you think this is too much I can only imagine your reactions to the prices in photo galleries!) Besides, just buy in multiples and you'll never pay $35.) And if you think $35 is too little, then I can assume you will be collecting them with regularity. :-)