I've finally – finally! – got down to the work of collating the photographs of the Hockley Viaduct, St. Catherine's Hill and the surrounding area. As you can imagine, there is a lot of work to choose from but, as always, once you start looking for the genuine A-listers (plus their companions of choice), eliminate the impostors, and put the reserve candidates on hold, things narrow down quite quickly. It is very like shortlisting applicants for a job, with the pleasant difference that there can be fifty or so successful outcomes. Come to think of it, the interviewer's mantra ("Can they do the job? Will they do the job? Will they fit in?") is very appropriate.
During this process of evaluative scrutiny connections and threads also start to emerge, which are what will hold the book together, thematically. I say "book", but I think I mean "books". For reasons I needn't go into, I decided to limit myself to forty-eight pages. If nothing else, this is the sort of constraint within which creativity thrives. As soon as you know you can't do something, you immediately start thinking of ways of getting round that self-imposed limitation, the cooking starts, and the thin soup eventually gets reduced to a tasty gravy. You hope. In this case, it quickly became clear that to include all six main themes – the viaduct, the hill, the water-meadows, the M3 motorway, the river Itchen, and Twyford Down – in just forty-eight pages would result in a hopelessly congested and compressed sequence, with no room for it to develop or have any breathing space. After some thought, I realised I clearly needed to make two books, one for the viaduct, the M3, and the Itchen – a sort of "passing through" volume – and one for the hill, the meadows and the down – the "permanent residents" volume. Yes, I know, it's a double album...
I've started with the "viaduct" volume. I'm still very much in the early stages, and anything might change, not least the title, but here are a few page spreads I think are already working quite well.
One constant practical challenge is mixing and matching photographs with different properties, not least their aspect ratio and resolution, as a result of having gone through two micro 4/3rds cameras (Panasonic GF1 and G3) and two APS-C cameras (Fuji X-100 and XE-1) in the five-year period of this "project", if we can dignify such dilatory picture-making with that description. The second spread is a good example. I could crop the "fatter" image, of course, and perhaps I will, but it would mean losing some of the accidental markings that make the pairing work, so I probably won't. But maybe there's a possible "fat/thin" rhythm I could exploit to good effect? What was I saying about creative constraints?
This is "plain vanilla" book design, of course, with single images centred on blank white pages. When I first became interested in self-made books, I indulged in all the fancy stuff that serves to flatter one's idea of oneself as "challenging" the stuffy old conventions of book design. Jumbled images, ostentatious typography, concertina folds, pop-ups, translucent pages with text that overlaid the images, coloured pages, torn pages, loose pages... In the end, the photographs were serving as mere decoration within these self-indulgent exercises in factitious "originality".
An eminent photographer, seeing one of these efforts, said to me, "Mike, you need to decide whether you are a photographer or a book artist; I don't think you can be both..." I thought he was wrong at the time, but gradually came to realise how much I was trivialising my own work by treating it as just another design element in the artist's book brew. I then saw the eternal wisdom of the traditional photo-book which pushes the photographs to the fore, and then modestly gets out of the way, in the same way that clear black type on white paper is unsurpassed and unsurpassable as a way of presenting text. Although to realise the truth of this you may have had to have tried to read the "underground" press in its pink-on-purple heyday.