May 21, 2021  •  Leave a Comment

GO BY TRAIN                                                       GO BY TRAIN : FINAL VERSION

This week I would like to try to convince dear reader that you are in fact an artist, despite all your efforts to dismiss any notion that you have some talent as a photographer and that someone, somewhere, might find an enjoyable few minutes confronting your art. Now, don't get me wrong - I am not encouraging you to quit your day job, or to even dream that you might actually make money, much less a living, marketing your photographs. That is a subject for another day, after your successful opera career, or your retirement from major league baseball. What I am encouraging you to believe is that your photographs deserve a better fate than the web, and that there is a way of showing off your talents that requires far less of an investment in time than actually making images, and far less money than you spent acquiring your camera equipment, even if you only use a phone.

Most professional photographers would encourage you to print your work, myself included. There is nothing like seeing a well printed image attractively displayed on your wall, and I try to convince most customers in my booth that the image they just showed me on their phone, with some editing, would look great in their house, despite my mission to put one of my images there instead. Working at cross-purposes, you say - well that's why I am a better artist than a businessman.

                                    STUMPTOWN EVENINGS : FINAL VERSION

I am not advocating that you go out and spend a thousand dollars on a fancy photo printer, which is in fact a pretty silly purchase unless you are going to be printing enough that you will in fact have to sell or give away most of the prints because you won't be able to fit them in your house. But if you have several images that you are proud of, find a professional lab and "pay the man" as my wife would say. Your dining room wall will thank you.

                                   AFTER THE RAIN :FINAL VERSION

What I want to recommend as a cheaper and more satisfying alternative for showing off your work is for you to put together your own self-published photo book. These three photos were included in my first book, MY PORTLAND,  which I produced three years ago. If I exaggerate a lot, it took maybe one hundred hours to conceive, write, edit, and produce this 90 page volume. I assure you that your book, unless you really want to be an author, will take far less time to produce. More importantly, you will be just as proud as I was. If you go to your library or bookstore, you will find that most photography books, even the "famous" ones, contain very little writing beyond an introduction and some captions - after all they are books of photographs which are supposed to speak for themselves. In fact, most photographers are hard put to come up with a caption, much less writing that might expand on an image, so do not overthink your task. Assemble a couple of dozen images, put them in some kind of order, and use one of the layout themes provided by the publishing house, and lo and behold, a week later you will have a book in your hands so that you can discover the wonderful world of typos - remember, the less writing the fewer typos. All this will cost you less than $25, I assure you. After another round of editing, you can give away some copies to your friends - you are now a published author, and nobody has to know that their copy is one of the only 3 or 5 or 10 that exist in the world.

                                    iNTO THE WOODS : FINAL VERSION

The important thing of course is to make sure you are having fun. No one is awaiting your tome, you have no deadline, and you can stop for that day any time you want to. In fact I recommend that you do everything in your power to actually trick yourself into making your book, no matter what your topic or theme or project that you start with. After enough assembly and energy, you will discover that you actually have more than enough for your book, and that the hard part, editing your work, is all that is left. It's useful if you find a few photo books that you admire to use as models for your work - steal like an artist -  and use their strategies, layouts, and form as starting point.


I found inspiration in the work of Freeman Patterson, whose has written several books that followed a set pattern unusual in photo books - an image. followed by a short paragraph or two that illuminated that image while hopefully contributing to a central argument. I could do that! You already know that I am at no loss for words, and after kidding myself that I was just writing long captions, what's the big deal, well there was over a hundred pages at two or three photos a session, tops. I had written a book without ever actually having to entertain the frightening thought of "writing a book."

                                    IRA'S FOUNTAIN : FINAL VERSION

A couple of years later, full of the knowledge that if anything , being an author was even less lucrative than being an artist, the Pandemic gave me an excuse to create my second book. The last three images come from that volume. In assembling the first book I had quickly realized that one way of cutting stuff out was to eliminate all but a few of my black and white photos of Portland, so in many ways my second volume, PORTLAND : NOIR ET BLANC, literally wrote itself. I again concentrated on telling anecdotes about Portland, with some additional thoughts about why I thought monochrome was a better strategy for these selected images. I allowed myself a little more freedom in my layout, and found something to do for a couple of hours a day for six weeks in the first half of Covid.

                                     BEN'S WINDOW : FINAL VERSION

I want to encourage you to come up with any excuse you want for your photo book - you do not need any grand project or theme that will shake up the world - it could just be a collection from one trip, or one grandchild, or just the best from last year, or even just your "Greatest Hits" - who cares? Really!? They could all be flowers, or trees, or just blue - and who is to say that your artistic vision is wrong? It's your book, after all, and if they don't like it, let's see them write one!

                                    VENEZIA SUNSET : FINAL VERSION

I have published my books using the BLURB platform, which I would recommend for their printing standards. There are a number of other print-on-demand companies which have allowed this kind of small, essentially micro publishing, to exist. Of course you are paying more than you would at a vanity publisher, but you only print a very few at a time, eliminating the need to invest thousands of dollars for at least hundreds of books that would sit in your study. Remember, it is a fool's errand to think that you will really sell your book - If you sell 2,000 copies of a photo book, you will be on the photo book best seller list most years. When I put out my first book, I enlisted the aid of a bored cashier at Powell's to tell me how well a recently published photo book of Portland, a photographer's twentieth published book, was doing. I had already used it to decide how much to price my book, which I thought was far superior, thank you very much. When I discovered that pre-pandemic, his book had sold only sixty copies at Downtown Powell's, I realized that once again I had failed to discover the magic bullet to fame and fortune. Think about it - a famous photographer puts out a photo book of Portland photographs, and in six months can only sell sixty copies at a world famous store that attracts every visitor to Portland! Add to this the insider's knowledge that if I actually convinced Powell's to put my book  on the shelves, I would actually lose a dollar for each one I sold, and you can see why you are not doing this to make money, just to provide incontrovertible evidence that your photographic efforts have some worth.

                                   YOU ARE HERE : FINAL VERSION

On dealing with BLURB, I have a few suggestions. The printing is great, you can use their layouts with only a modicum of frustration, and they offer a variety of sizes and formats. Your book starts with 20 pages, and the pricing depends on the size, paper, covers, etc. The books are all too expensive, especially at just a few copies, so I recommend using their "magazine" format, which is 8 1/2 x 11 inches, and which they created because they knew their books were too expensive. Go for the more expensive paper, because the standard paper is actually exactly the same as the New Yorker's, and you will realize that you can see through to the next page. The magazine with the deluxe paper is virtually the same as the soft-covered 8 x 10 inch book, at a lower price. The other strategy is to never, never by a BLURB book without waiting for the sale, which will happen at least once a month after you visit the website. In my continuing struggle to understand capitalism, I do not understand why people won't wait a few weeks to get 25-40% of on their book or magazine order, or why a company would continually discount their full price, but you've been informed. You also get discounts for larger orders, but never as much as the sale unless you order more than 100 copies. Since you do get 40% off on books, and only 25% off on magazines, there probably is some math that could encourage you to order a hard-cover for Mom.

The latest book I've just published, A IS FOR ARCHITECTURE, breaks the mold of my first two books.These are a few of the photos included in this book. I decided to write an ABC book for my grandson Isaac, who is 3 1/2 and loves his letters. After some research into the world of ABC books at Powell's (who knew?) I set out to use a collection of some of my architectural images from around the world to illustrate architectural terms. Again, the biggest problem I had was editing, and what started out as a projected 52 page book (2 pages a letter) blossomed into more than 100 pages before my wife got a hold of it and cut it down to 76 pages. I found that I was labeled a war criminal for violating the "rule" that the term must start with that page's letter, and even though I loosened my usually anal layout style, my biggest problem was realizing that the same image could go with several different letters, depending on which term I put to the image.                                    FISH PARKING : FINAL VERSION

I kept myself interested by adapting the Sesame Street principal that I would try to provide some commentary for parents beside the simple captions illustrating that i knew which words started with which letter. I also was inspired by Ambrose Pierce's THE DEVIL'S DICTIONARY to inject some thoughts for parents with footnotes which could be ignored by children or censored by adult readers. Thus the long captions of my previous books were replaced by snarky footnotes, and the book again wrote itself.

So now I am beginning to produce another book of photographs, this time of Oregon subjects, mostly produced on the annual Easter Break road trips that I would take with my son Benjamin. I will have to buy a scanner, since most of these images are pre-digital, but I am looking forward to tricking my self into writing another book. As usual, my lack of technological competence in converting the Blurb files into something I can use in this blog has not allowed me to show portions of these books here today, but I assure you they exist.  They are available for purchase on the Blurb site in their bookstore under my name, Richard Neal Lishner. Or you can write me at [email protected] and I would be glad to sell you a copy of one of my books, all available at $30.00 + shipping, which is usually 3 dollars or so. And remember, you can do this too, no doubt about it - it's not my photo album, it's my BOOK! I AM AN ARTIST!