Inside this issue
A Boscage of Birch
Kickstarting A Photobook Project
Just under a year ago, I started hatching a plan for a photography project which would not only be different from my previous work but would provide a genuine challenge. A project where completion was not guaranteed. For me, my photography had become predictable. If I headed to the beach or ventured into a forest I kind of already knew what I was going to get. That had to change.
I thought long and hard about how I should construct the boundaries of the project. This is of paramount importance to me as my creativity flourishes when possibilities are constrained. I decided I wanted to stick to a single camera and prime lens. The idea behind this was to enable me to maintain a constant relationship with my subject (which was still to be decided at this point) in a way which a zoom lens would not. The next constraint I felt particularly important was to have a clearly defined start, middle and end as all of my previous projects where open ended. It was my hope that working in this way would provide a concise narrative.
This project also had to adhere to some general rules which have formed over the years and have very much become a conscious part of my photography;
- One must really get to know a location well before being able to make successful images there.
- One does not have to travel far or find spectacular locations to find and make good images. Photographs can be found in the most mundane of locations right on your doorstep, particularly locations one has taken for granted due to their proximity.
- A photograph is often stronger when it has some level of anonymity attached. I have obviously, through this body of text and the video, given the location away. However not one photograph reveals the location. All the images for this project could have in fact been taken in an almost anywhere where birches grow.
I started searching for a suitable prime lens. I was after a longer lens compared to my normal working range, again to challenge me. Lenses like the Canon 85mm f/1.2 was out of my range. I hunted around and came across the Samyang 85mm. It is an unbelievably cheap manual focus lens with some issues to reflect its price. I thought it was not for me and then thought what if I was to get the lens and try and turn some of its weaknesses (softness around edge etc.) into strengths. At f1/4 it had a large aperture and I resolved myself to get the lens and use it wide open. Again, something I had barely done before in my landscape photography.
Now all I had to do was find a subject matter for this project! I received the lens and married it up to my trusty Canon 5D2 and went out experimenting. I had them down the beach, along rivers, in fields and even used them in urban environments. I was not particularly wowed by the results. In the forest however I started to yield photographs which excited me. But I did not want my project to be another tree/forest project.
I had gained confidence with the 85mm-f/1.4 combo when I decided to take a shortcut one day when heading down to the marshy woods which was the location of my “The Quiet Place” project. The shortcut took me through a small stand of juvenile silver and downy birches which had grown out of a clearing from a small commercial pine forest. All around the stand of trees was junk from fly tipping and the whole place was littered with leftover cut tree stumps, boughs and branches. One could easily describe the collection of trees as inhabiting an ugly place, an uninspiring place.
This was it! This was the subject/location I was after. A place with no obvious beauty or merit. No photogenic viewpoints or specimen trees. It was just a warren of spindly birch trees surrounded by giant fir trees.
After a few experimental shots (autumn 2012) the rest of the project fell into place. I would make photographs of these trees. All the shots would be colour and in square format. The photographs would be of and about the trees themselves and not the environment they inhabit.
Back at home I just had to figure out how to add that structure I craved, the rigid storyline which would have a narrative and definite end. It was then I realised this project had to be presented as a photo-book. And then I thought I would come up with my own story which would force me to go out and have to make a photograph to satisfy the narrative, as opposed to going out and making photos to put them in a book at a later date.
I decided the book would simply be a calendar year of the boscage of birch. The photographs would take you on a journey; from the dormancy and stillness of the trees before spring, into the budding of trees and the explosion of green, then through to late spring as each tree’s leaves grow and mature and the climate warms. Now summer is here, vivid greens provide an impenetrable barrier as if to hide the boscage’s secrets. Amongst the boughs become dark and shadowy places as the sunlight is kept at bay. As summer ends the trees start to wane and we head to autumn. Autumn arrives and there is a spectacular change. Bronzed and golden leaves fall all around like confetti as the stand of trees become see-through again. Cold weather sets in and steals the last few leaves off the trees. Winter is here and the boscage becomes light and airy again, the spindly architectural quality of the trees finally allowed to be seen. Chill and ice grip the trees as days shorten and nights lengthen. Snow blankets the area creating impossibly pristine woodland glistening with crystals of ice. Then the thaw comes. The hues of the trees are drab, greens and browns dominate. Spring is around the corner. . .
This was the rough storyboard which I then elaborated on for each photograph. I ended up with 12 or 13 images I needed to make for each season (chapter).
Summer is now in full swing and I have all the images for the winter and spring chapters and half of the images for the summer and autumn chapters. I would say 75-80% of the photography is now complete.
As anyone who has looked into it knows, self-publishing a photo-book can be an expensive thing to do with little return. For me, making money on the project was not a motivating factor. The driving force was to see this project from conception to completion. Having a physical book in my hand was really important.
The book was always going to be a short run small scale affair so I opted for a digital print perfect bound book. Even though this proved to be the most cost effective way to get my book printed, the upfront costs were too inhibitive and I sought other ways to fund the project.
A good friend of mine told me about crowdfunding websites a year or two ago and I always thought it a novel and unique way to get projects funded. After doing my research I opted for Kickstarter. I had no idea how time consuming getting a project prepared ready to launch would be, including making a video (turns out I am not a natural in front of the camera, it took 2 hours to get the 2 minute interview right!!!). My project was approved 2 weeks later.
The project was launched on June 23rd and runs for 30 days. As I write this I have secured 40% funding in the first 7 days which has completely bowled me over. The support from people I do know, as well as people I do not, has been overwhelming and has been a humbling experience.
Even though 80% of projects that raised 20% of their goal were successfully funded on Kickstarter I am acutely aware that nearly 1000 projects in the publishing section have failed having garnered around 40% funding. Because of this I am trying not go get carried away at this early stage and remain hopeful that my project is interesting enough to gain full funding.
I also have a series of updates planned. The first update was to volunteer to clean the boscage of birch myself throughout the life of the project, whether successfully funded or not. The second update was to announce that all backers will have their name printed in the book as a thank you for their support. Other updates to follow soon.
If I am successfully funded my aim is to have the book finished and ready for sale by the end of November 2013. If funding is not successful I may opt to release it an ebook, but may just wait until I can get the book published at a later date as my dream is to have it in physical print.