Volume 2014, Issue 11

 

—Art (and books) from the feed—
Meet three of Blurb's favorite
Instagram book authors

 

We were curious about how photographers (and other kinds of creative types) use Instagram to see the world, as well as how that vision gets turned into books. So we turned to three people who made wonderful books from their feeds with Blurb to get insight into how this app can turn into art—and then into a book. Here we're speaking with Frank Jensen, a Massachusetts-based professional photographer, Justin Kerr, the founder of Black Sheep Postal Service, a handmade, handwritten postcard service, and Davril, a fashion and fine art photographer who lives (and works) in New York City. We think they're a great range of voices about photography, art, Instagram, and book-making—and we also think their books are absolutely amazing.

Family cookbook

First, what's your photography background?

Frank: Photography has been an interest of mine since my late teens, when I received a Kodak C110 film camera, which I used mostly for travel and landscape photos. In college, I found my first 35mm camera, an Olympus OM-1, which allowed me to expand the range of my photography to more closely examine forms, shapes, and colors.

After being somewhat dormant due to a career in high tech, my passion for photography was rekindled when one of our dogs started competing in agility and the first prosumer DSLRs became available; the combination enabled me to start capturing this action sport and hone my photography skills in general. The action photography became a part-time business, which opened many doors into other areas of photography, such as commercial, event, and fine art photography. The latter started mostly as landscape photography, where I continue to explore new means of expressing my vision of the landscapes around me; in addition, over the past two to three years, abstract photography has become a sizable part of my portfolio and surreal work is beginning to take a foothold as well.

Justin: Ha! The best I can think of is that I took photography for one semester in high school senior year—I think I got a B grade—but I do remember having a huge crush on one of the girls in the class and wishing I had the guts to try and kiss her in the darkroom, but alas, that never happened.

Davril: I discovered photography in my teenage years when I moved to the US. I didn't speak English at the time and I found that it was a great way to express myself and communicate a message to others without having to actually speak the language. Like music, photography is a medium that has the ability to be a universal communication channel. I then realized I wanted to become a professional photographer. I went to a Photography school in Southern California to study the craft. In 1997 I moved to NYC to work in the fashion world, all the while still shooting fine art projects and street life photography. I was privileged to work and study alongside the most sought-after fashion and celebrity photographers in New York, such as Richard Avedon, Arthur Elgort, and Mark Seliger, just to name a few. In 2010, I started shooting fashion on my own and have been doing so since. I enjoy balancing my fashion work (which I shoot under a different name) with my fine art career. So, in short, I've been taking pictures for slightly over 25 years and feel like I've just entered my prime. I am just getting started.

 

"Books are great because they are completely autonomous and can universally be shared in the most simple, beautiful, and efficient way...by hand, with human contact. That's why I choose to make books."

What made you decide to make a printed book?

Frank: The idea of putting together a printed book of some aspect of my photographic portfolio has been in my mind for quite a while, as I view it as a means for putting together a more coherent look into my work for people. A printed book also allows me to control the order in which people see my images and thus create a progression of content and ideas. As I approached the completion of my 365-day project for 2013 and people started asking me what would be next, the thought came to me that selections from this project would be a great way to sum it up and give people a way to enjoy the images longer than the fleeting moments that they spent in the social media.

Justin: Growing up, my dad used to tell me that "you" could write an incredible book—but you'd never find a publisher, so don't waste your time. Well, when I discovered Blurb, that excuse was removed so I had no choice but to take advantage of the medium. In fact, I've published over 11 books with Blurb over the past few years.

Davril: That's very easy, it's the ultimate end result of any photo projects I do. Whether I hang prints on a wall or project pictures on a computer or TV screen, I find that making a book—however big or small—is not only the closure to a project but also the start of that very project. As the book is put together, it becomes finally ready to be shared with the rest of the world. The book is the tactile gift that represents the vision of the creator in its entirety. Just like a musician would put out a whole album, it's a vision, a message, and hopefully it speaks to the viewer or listener.

I find in this electronic age that books have become more precious and special. Book-making takes time—and so does viewing them. I love the fact that my children have the ability to open one of my books and discover what moves me and how I view the world on paper. Books don't require recharging, wifi communications, or expensive tablets to view their content. Books are great because they are completely autonomous and can universally be shared in the most simple, beautiful, and efficient way...by hand, with human contact. That's why I choose to make books.

How did you plan your book—did you pick a theme?

Frank: The theme for my book came fairly naturally from the 365 Instagram project; the challenge lay in selecting those images that I felt would be of more enduring interest to not only me, but also possible purchasers of the book. I knew that I wanted to keep the size of the book to about 60 pages, which presents a great price point on Blurb. That meant that I needed to choose about 55 images from the original 365.

Getting down to 130 or so images based on their photographic merit was not too bad, but the reduction to 55 was nigh impossible, as there were a lot of great images that couldn't make the cut. The approach I took for this last stage was to include all images and start organizing them in pairs that will work together on opposing pages; this allowed me to instill a sense of balance between images.

Justin: Well, in the case of these Instagram books there was no planning. In fact I just sat down pulled up the Instagram platform on Blurb and put the book together in a few hours. My favorite part is submitting the book and then counting the days until it will arrive on my doorstep—I love that feeling of anticipation.

Davril: I absolutely plan my book projects. I think it's essential to have a theme or subjects with which to create and to draw content from. It's the hardest part of the book-making process, "What is my message?" "What do I want to say?" "What do I want to share?" Without a theme I think photo books can quickly lose direction. In my case, my "Image-in:..." Instagram book series project is purely theme-based in its core. It's about just that: Nature on the west coast. It's the first of many to follow, in fact I am almost finished with the second one, which is a collection of cityscapes in Black & White in NYC and it will be published on Blurb in a few weeks. It's a very exciting photo project for me as it marries perfectly the electronic and paper publishing industry.

Which book-making tool did you use to put together your book?

Frank: As I use Adobe® Photoshop® Lightroom® for any project where I have to go through a large set of images—it was the natural tool for this process. Combining Lightroom's rating system with its book layout capability made it a good choice. The Blurb book layout feature and automated upload made the process a breeze.

Justin: I just clicked on the "Make an instagram book" button.

Davril: I simply used Blurb's Bookify. It's a very simple and friendly way to create a book with amazing results. It takes a lot of the headaches of creating a book together and can help novices with the difficult and sometimes daunting tasks of pairing images together. I would absolutely recommend it to anyone—even kids.

 

"The icing on the cake, thanks to Blurb, was the ability to bring closure to each theme by creating an actual book I could hold in my hands, collect, and share with everyone. I now love Instagram—as long as it's combined with Blurb."

What do you think makes a great photo?

Frank: For me, a great photo is one that engages the viewer and causes a reaction of some kind; the reaction can be varied, as any photo may be viewed in multiple ways be many people, but the importance is that there is a reaction. Composition, lighting, and subject matter are just some of the components that come together in evoking such reaction and making the connection with the viewer. It is the photographer's job to understand how to manage all the components, such that effective communication occurs with the viewer, which elevates the photo above the level of a snapshot.

Justin: People!

Davril: Just like a great dish, a great (art) photo is composed of many ingredients. There are so many variables that go in to creating a great picture that it's hard to communicate it in words as there are no manuals or rules to follow to make a photo great. That, in itself, is the entire beauty of the photo creating process. Freedom to explore, experience, break the rules, and create is part of that process. Personally, I think a great photo should have intent and content. For me it should evoke an emotional response.

Also, It should be accessible to a wide range of viewers and therefore should have different layers (like peeling an onion), from pure aesthetics and composition to maybe deeper meanings, hidden symbolism, or theme which might pull an emotion that gives resonance and life to the picture as the viewers respond. Hate it or love it, a great picture requires an opinion. In the words of Andy Warhol about creating art: "Don't think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it's good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they are deciding, make even more art." Similarly, I like to say about (art) pictures "It's not just food for the soul. Like dietary fiber, it's also good for your heart."

 

Tell us a little about how you use Instagram.

Frank: More and more, Instagram has become a part of my daily photography projects, even though I am not a big fan of just taking snapshots. As I look to do a little bit extra with my images, I find Instagram a pleasurable challenge and enjoy square composition and the fun of applying an appropriate filter. Being a bit of a control freak, I do not take the photo direct in Instagram; rather I take the photo in the Camera app (mostly in HDR mode and always square) and then select my favorite capture to process in Instagram.

Justin: I started my own company called Black Sheep Postal Service. Prior to joining Instagram I had never been on any social media website, but I liked the simplicity of it all and the visual nature lent itself to my BSPS project, which involved hand-screen printing postcards. That's how I started, but, at this point, living in London now, I use it more to document the places I've been and the things I've done— knowing all along that I'll pull it all together into another Blurb Instagram book so that people can flip through it on my coffee table when they are bored listening to me talk. I love flopping on the couch on a lazy Saturday afternoon and flipping through the books and laughing at one memory or another.

Davril: As a professional photographer, I have had a roller-coaster relationship with Instagram. At first, I didn't like the concept because I felt that it was narrowing the creative process to a few "pretty color treatments" or filters and soon enough everybody's pictures all started to look alike. I was taking this app too seriously and didn't think it was the appropriate channel to feature art. Also the users (my friends and I included) were documenting every exotic location we were at, every dish we were eating, with a constant barrage of selfies and reference pictures and that became boring very rapidly. I realized Instagram was a very powerful publishing tool (worldwide free publishing) but didn't know how to channel it to my artistic needs and without giving away all my rights to Instagram.

Black Sheep Postal Service

And then it hit me like a ton of bricks. I had recently made a photo book of images from India with Blurb and had remembered that they were offering a really cute publishing book format for Instagram images. So Instead of documenting and publishing fairly meaningless pictures of my lunches and dinners, I would concentrate on shooting images on a particular theme—just like I would with a book—and actually design the book via Blurb to create the closure I was looking for my project. From then on The "Image-in" (which is a play on the word "Imagine" meaning "to form an image of") Instagram-themed book project was born. Being able to use Instagram to create a sort of "Live-Art" or "Artwork in Progress" and having Instagram users witness (from anywhere in the world) the creation of the books, as the images are being published electronically, was a very powerful channel to feature a new way to create and share content. The icing on the cake, thanks to Blurb, was the ability to bring closure to each theme by creating an actual book I could hold in my hands, collect, and share with everyone. I now love Instagram—as long as it's combined with Blurb.


Do you think instagram makes you a better photographer?

Frank: I think that anything in the photographic process that causes a photographer to have to think about creating the image in a new way is beneficial for on-going growth. Instagram fits into that mold, as do numerous other processes. As long as photographers experiment and examine their work critically, they will improve; my goal is to keep learning.

Davril: Practice, practice, practice, regardless of the format used. In the end, it all depends how one uses the Instagram app. I just view it as a tool to publish themed images instantly and electronically. It can be used with different intentions, and therefore different outcomes, in terms of the quality of the photography—and that's fine too. I control the quality of the content I publish on Instagram for a purpose, so I find that it makes me a better photographer.

 

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