Artists and academics do not have to be reminded just how important it is to constantly re-evaluate and refine their skills. Whether you are a young artist or junior academic coming up for tenure review or are seasoned and experienced, there is always pressure to demonstrate to your colleagues your artistic and intellectual growth.

There are many ways that this can be achieved. However, many of them are dependent upon exterior forces. Gallery owners and publishers have schedules and agendas which may or may not mesh with your timetable or particular artistic concerns. However, there is something you can always do: publish your work in the form of an artist’s book.

Unique Aspects of the Book

Unlike exhibitions or other correlates of professional success, most of which are based on accounts of the event rather than presentations of the work itself, books contain all that needs to be seen and understood. More than any other medium a book does not involve such myriad issues as travel, work storage and indeed the politics associated with exhibitions and commercial publishing. For the artist, rather than the panic and rush frequently associated with exhibitions, self-created books instead sit quietly on a table, clear evidence of your effort, thoughtfulness and determination.

The Book and Personal Growth

The book is an ideal medium by which to explain your work not only to others, but also to yourself. By deciding to create a book you are saying that it is time to take a position on your work and say what you mean. A benefit that accrues is that incremental advances are often replaced by gigantic leaps in understanding, because the book insists on a start, a development of ideas and a conclusion. And, as often as not, the book will clarify the path of future growth as much as it helps to make sense of your past.

Current Possibilities

These days one can assemble and design a most beautiful book at home and either produce it there or send the files out to be printed in quantities ranging from a single copy to an edition of any size, depending on budget and need. However, the ability to create such books requires many skills – including being able to look at one’s work with fresh eyes and edit it in such a way as to create a coherent and satisfying statement.

Skill Development

For the past nine years I have conducted bookmaking workshops in various parts of the United States and Europe in which these necessary skills are addressed and refined. Often workshop participants are very talented and experienced photographers/professors who bring with them interesting (and complex) material. The difficulty is that this very complexity sometimes makes a week-long workshop seem a very short period of time, especially when there are others in the class competing for instructor time.

Individual Workshops

In view of these ideas and observations I plan to initiate a series of workshops consisting of a week of concentrated individual guidance. It will then be possible to emerge from the week with a finished product, ready to be printed at home or sent to a commercial printer. Of course exceptionally large or complex projects may not fit within a one-week workshop. I will be happy to advise about feasibility in advance. Should you wish, in concert with a digital printing business located here in Rochester, within another week, one or multiple copies can be made. To simply state the case – in two weeks you can have a book in your hands.


Rates for these individual workshops are the same as workshop rates posted in the section of this website entitled “Lectures and Workshops.” Individual rates can also be negotiated for especially complex (or especially simple) projects.

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Instructors wishing to develop curriculum incorporating book production may benefit by reading the following article.

Binding Students Together
Using books as a Teaching Strategy to Enhance the Development of Student Work.

This paper was originally published in Exposure, The journal of the
Society for Photographic Education. (Volume 32.2, 1999)


This paper is based on my experiences in Australia and more recently in the USA guiding students through the making of a book. Students learned image sequencing, basic layout skills, the relationship of image to text and many of the conventions of publishing. Collateral benefits included appreciating the value of co-operative behavior, a respect for deadlines, the need for organization, consideration for others and personal responsibility.

Very quickly students appreciate the benefits of acquiring this range of professional skills. Additionally they appreciate the advantage of being able to cite a publication on their resume at graduation. Making a book also benefits to the instructor. It is a source of great satisfaction to be able to look through these books as they accumulate over the years. One has a record of virtually all the students one has come in contact with and re-reading these books brings back many memories of the students and their work. Additionally the books serve as excellent exemplars of previous imaging concerns and levels of effort and are an excellent way of motivating the current cohort to match and exceed the standards of the past. Standards that are, at least from the student's perspective, set not by some opaque process devised by the faculty, but by their peers, who presumably possessed similar abilities and aspirations.

The Nature of Such a Book

This paper discusses the production of a book that is a group effort, representing a compilation of work, both visual and written, by all of the students in a particular class. This is not to suggest that a book comprised exclusively of images with no accompanying text is either impossible or undesirable. However, this activity serves a more useful educational function if the students are encouraged to express themselves in words as well as in images. This practice in critical and analytical thinking greatly enhances the usual feedback processes that occur in class. Additionally it supports the issues that they may be addressing in other theory and history courses run concurrently with their studio practice classes. To address both visual and written modes of thinking in a coherent and inter-related manner, helps students to articulate their own personal and imaging concerns as well as appreciate those of their classmates.

In the simplest terms this means that such a book contains the following elements. Depending on resources each student has a page of text and either one or three pages of images. The general principle is that each student must have an even number of pages. This is necessary to ensure that each contributor will consistently start on either the right or left hand page. It is good practice to ensure that each contributor has the same amount of space. Additionally it is good practice to maintain a policy of total inclusion rather than edit any particular student or group of students out of the book. Such a policy encourages everyone to do their best.

To appreciate the scope of this exercise assume a group size of twenty students. If each student has 2 pages, the length of the book is 40 pages. When to this you add the colophon, introduction, list of contributors, acknowledgments etc., you very quickly get up to 48 or more pages. If you allocate 4 pages to each student the book grows to 80 pages plus the additions described above. It is necessary to decide on the number of pages fairly early on in the project as it has considerable consequences an both the level of effort required and also on the cost of the project. From personal experience, although I have tried 2, 4 and a mixture of numbers of pages, I have come to the conclusion that 2 is sufficient to produce an interesting book and keep the project manageable and affordable.

The Nature of the Images in the Book

One of the most challenging aspects of such a project is to select the student work in such a way as to reflect a coherent perspective. It is important to not be too literal when it comes to the editing of the work. It may be that the students have been working on projects that have thematic consistencies and as such the nature of the content may evolve naturally out of this. However, it is equally valid to allow the work of the students to suggest other methods and modes of image to image relationships. Quite often a particular group of students will almost osmotically settle on particular thematic and formal strategies that occur at a tangent to the assignments and or projects you have been overtly engaged in. Discovering these new connections and themes, or even groups of themes, can inject the process with vitality and a sense of discovery.

Such a process exemplifies ideas on sequencing proposed by folk such as Minor White and Nathan Lyons. In essence their thesis is that images gain meaning and resonance when placed in juxtaposition with each other and in an order. In the simplest terms this means that each student brings in his or her work and, in consultation with the instructor and fellow students, makes a preliminary edit of about two or three images. The images are then laid out sequentially in an open space, and the result is viewed as a whole. At this point further editing refinement becomes possible.

This moment is a wonderful opportunity for feedback on work and as such presents a great educational opportunity. Often students who have until now exhibited little inclination or ability to express their creative concerns with any coherence, can often see with great clarity in this situation how the meaning of their work can be affected by the context in which it is viewed.

Nature of the Written Component of the Book

The nature and history of the book form as a transmitter of written knowledge, facilitates and encourages the inclusion of text to accompany the images. Text can take many forms but once a particular form has been chosen, it should ideally be the same for each contributor. Following are some of the forms available although all of these choices require some skill and sensitivity in implementation. These include selecting an appropriate poem or creative piece of writing from an admired (and relevant) author, writing a poem or creative piece to accompany the work, writing an artist's statement that articulates the personal and/or critical issues involved in the creation and/or viewing of the work or finally, and perhaps most effectively, asking students to write about each other's work. Although students are often reluctant to discuss their work I have found that pairing students so that each may write about the other's work is a particularly effective way to encourage debate and discussion, not only in the book making context, but also during the remainder of their time in the course.

This process is considerably facilitated if the process of articulating the concerns of the work is discussed in class in the first instance. This process need not be labored. Usually one good session is sufficient to get the process underway. After class, over the next week or so the paired students usually sit down with each other and discuss their work further as they begin to write their essays. Such a process can often produce quite remarkable insights and surprising fluency of expression.

Assembling and Printing the Book

The academic who might wish to employ this strategy will need to appraise what resources are available within their working environment. The kind of questions one must ask include;Is there a school printery? Does the printery have an offset press or instead a high speed copier? Are color reproductions feasible? What kind of binding is available. Is there a limit to the sheet size that can be reproduced? Is the quality acceptable for the nature of the work?

As the students are printing their work and writing their essays, the instructor must create a preliminary dummy. This will define the size of the finished book and leave room for the title page, the colophon, acknowledgments, introduction and the list of contributors. To make this task easier ask the students for a good quality photocopy of the work they intend to reproduce. These images can be cut out and pasted into the maquette in the appropriate sequence. It is only necessary to handwrite the students name on the opposite page to the image at this stage and indicate where the text will go.

The actual assembly of the book also depends on the resources available. The biggest factor to consider is the extent to which digital technology will be employed in the makeup of the book. These days the best quality (at least for small run books of this nature) is obtained by preparing the document in a page layout program and printing directly from disc. However this is only feasible if the institution you work at has a machine similar to a Xerox Docutek, or you have the resources to have the work printed on such a machine at a bureau such as Kinko's. It is worth obtaining a quote for such a service if you produce your book digitally as this form of reproduction is becoming increasingly affordable.

In practical terms you have to make a series of choices which balance your aims with the ability to get the job done. For instance you can send the work typeset with the images marked up to size to the printer and ask them to make plates from this raw material. Or, if you have a reprographic camera in your department you can go so far as to screen the images so the artwork is ready to make plates. I have employed all of the above methods in the past but now with QuarkXPress or InDesign, or even some of the more sophisticated word processing programs one can produce a master copy of the book that will be capable of being reproduced on a high speed photocopier with minimal expense and with surprisingly good quality. This method most usually meets with support from the institution as usually the machines to facilitate such an approach are on hand.

In this hybrid digital approach, usually the instructor gets the job of creating the document, importing the images and designing the page layout. This task is made easier if the students can supply their work on a floppy disc. The disc should contain one image file and the text of their essay. If the students can do this it is a relatively easy task to import this raw material into its correct place. One then has only to print out on the best quality coated matt paper (Glossy paper does not photocopy well.) a master copy of the document with all images and text in the correct position. It has been my experience that such a document often reproduces with great beauty. It seems that images corrected for digital printout are ideally positioned on the tonal scale for the reproductive capacity of most if not all photocopiers. A well corrected gray scale (Photoshop) image invariably reproduces better than a photographic image even using all photocopying controls to attempt to reproduce a continuous photographic tonal scale. Finally, layout the document so each two page spread (appropriately paginated depending on binding) is on a single sheet and then ask the print shop to copy from single sided to double sided.

Other Considerations

This activity is gains its greatest benefits from the full and complete participation of the students. I have found it most effective to form student subcommittees who look after such important tasks as ensuring all the written essays and the images are handed in on time. This strategy also promote personal responsibility within the class and is a microcosm of professional practice in the outside world.

Finally a note on when to conduct such a course. To create such a book requires that each student participate in an activity that requires a relatively high skill level and a reasonable level of maturity. This is often too much to expect of ntroductory students who are still learning the basics and it is arguably equally inappropriate to ask of senior students, who by their final year should be creatively independent if not downright selfish. Consequently either the second or third year of the program is the ideal time to attempt such an initiative.


This paper is written from the perspective of an academic who enjoys making books. As such I find the process fulfilling in its own right. However, in making these books with students I have become convinced of the very real pedagogical benefits that occur as a byproduct of the process. Students become more critical both of their own work and the work of their peers, more able to articulate these perceptions and more organized and responsible in a general sense. Occasionally, and rewardingly, they express their perception of the worth of the task in their own words.

By way of example and conclusion I quote below the introduction to the book Hidden Things written by one of its contributors, Jorge Gonzales;


It can be quite a haunting experience to search below the surface for the hidden thing that lurks in some of the less conspicuous corners of the mind.

In this book the search expands into a kind of collective unconscious, attempting to pick up with photographic images the guiding thread where conscious thought becomes obsolete. Dozens of individuals in a quest for that all too ephemeral split second when the receding lights and merging shadows coincide to form the right pattern that will reveal the features of the creature.

The process entails a metamorphosis of sorts. While almost everyone took to the task with some degree of concern and uncertainty, there remained, at least. the deceivingly reassuring conviction that the result could, for some unfathomable reason, remain private and anonymous. Although some students may have preferred it that way, the final outcome would have been lacking in the exorcising property of self disclosure, however painful it might be, and the enriching quality of shared experiences. As it happened, the developments took on a life of their own, and from personal, private and esoteric experiences, each individual found an empathetic echo in a shared and communal event, during which, layer after layer of accumulated self deception was removed in order to reach deeper and wider. It is a unique opportunity to enjoy working within the diverse nature of such a large group of people and not likely to be repeated since the group is bound to disband into the community in a not too distant future. The mere thought of it emphasizes the transient and serendipitous nature of the process although the work on one's self is never ending.

It may not be all that obvious, particularly to the passive observer, but it will be recognizable to those who look within. It will probably induce the same magic feelings as the recognition of things familiar which have remained in the back of our minds like an old kindergarten friend whose memory has never left us. It is not likely to be a surprise in content, rather, it is more likely to have the quality of a much sought after, but unexpected meeting.

Whatever the mechanics of the encounter, once revealed, we are more likely to find, with a mixture of shock, fear and ecstasy, that in the realm of the subconscious, boundaries collapse, only to leave us face to face with the lurking thing, in whose features we may see ourselves reflected, like a mirror of the soul.

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