This weekend is the Photoexpo, the once a year gathering of photophiles on the East Coast (and many from afar) to see the newest in new: no longer just lenses and cameras, but the preponderance of debut items include photo related software, and amazingly, this year, dozens of companies who specialize in taking your photographs and turning them into photographic books. The high end market ($300 and up for a 40 page 10x13" book) which is concentrated on wedding and "family portrait" markets seem to be the most popular, while there are a number of smaller, less done up versions which let you put a lovely book together for under forty bucks.
All of this probably seems pretty "out there" but I had a little encounter this morning which reminded me just how far things have come. Jordan, when she was still a toddler, had been the object of my lens on an ongoing basis, and I have the pictures to prove it. At least I think I do. But when she was 18 months, in the summer of '87 (yes, twenty years gone), I had the idea to do a project in which she would be the main player. Like all middle aged photographers who become fathers (I think this is a pretty universal reaction.. just ask Peter B Kaplan who actually photographed his kids nearly as much as the Statue of Liberty when they came along in the late 80s) you see your kid not only as a child but as a constant subject. It occurred to me that perhaps I could take this idea a step further. The 80s had seen a number of "Day in the LIfe" photo book projects, and the most fun thing about them was that you got to hang out with other [talented] photographers while prepping for that "one day" shoot. Photographers rarely get the chance to just spend quality hang out time with each other (these rare "photo expo equipment shows" aside) and so participation in the book projects was always with the assumption that some social time would be built in. But even those attractions began to dissapate when the organizers realized that they could save a lot of money just sending each of us to our destination, without the unpleasantness (read: expenditures) of having to host everyone one for a few days before they were sent to their proper assignment. So, while it was a slightly different idea, it seemed to me a natural that we put together a photo-based calendar whose theme would be: Twelve photographers, One subject. I had the subject - a cute 18 month old, and all I needed was the photographers. Astonishingly, almost no one turned me down: there were a few, one being Irving Penn ("... Mr. Penn doesn't participate in 'group' projects..") who had about as good a reason as you could have. But the list of collaborators was impressive: Jay Maisel, Stephen Wilkes, Walter Iooss, Jr., David Leach, Michael O'Neill, Uli Rose, Bill Allard, Joyce Tennesen. Well, you get the idea. In each case I simply said "Please do anything you think reflects your own personal style." And each was different, to be sure.
Where it got interesting was the negotiating with the calendar publisher. After long discussions, the Landmark General company -- then a calendar company publishing in California said they would do it. We'd tried to present the calendar as a photographic oeuvre: that is... how different talented photographers choose to shoot the same subject, each with his or her own personal style, and it would be accompanied with notes about the photographer, and the kind of work they do. It wasn't so much a 'baby' calendar, as exploration of photographic styles. At the last minute, Landmark decided not to do the project, and other than a little four page takeout in Parenting magazine, nothing much became of those pictures.
Long segue, but yesterday, in responding to an invitation from fellow photographer Tim Mantoani, who is based in San Diego, I went to the Soho Polaroid studio where the giant 20x24" camera lives (yes, you have to go TO the camera, it doesn't come to you) to be photographed with one of my photos (the National Stadium - Chile - after the coup d'etat) for a series he is doing on photographers and their work . It 's quite amazing to see a huge, perfect print be born just minutes after the flash goes off. Astonishing really, considering we often have to wait days or weeks for a "lab" print. But it reminded me of having been in that same building in 1987, Jordan in tow, the day she was photographed for the 'calendar' by Joyce Tenneson. Joyce had been photographing jewelry draped on the slender perfect body of a model named Rebecca, and when she finished with the jewelry, we unleashed a naked baby, who quite naturally walked over to that gorgeous body on the seamless, and just stared, as if she kind of realized something familiar, but felt it was out of place. That wonderful shot came back to me as I became, for the first time, a subject of the immense camera (it weighs hundreds of pounds, and rolls around on something which looks like an overgrown grocery cart).
Now, of course, living as we do in the photoshop/iPhoto world of self publishing, we could finally produce a "Little Wonder" calendar, and we just may do it. The world has come a long way. We no longer have to wait for publishers to deign to approve what we want published. You need a little money, but if you think that "freedom of the press belongs to the one who owns the press.." then perhaps we all own a little bit of one. Self publishing, as exhibited at yesterday's photoExpo (see wgbooks.com and blurb.com )with its dozens of book vendors, has given us a new way of publishing, and we'd be silly if we didn't take advantage of it. We're just sayin... David.