A reader of ours David Keenan is self publishing his book. Here's a QA session to learn more about him & his book, and a few tips for those who want to start their own book and do street photography.
David, please tell us a bit about yourself
I am a 60 year-old former software geek turned photographer. I've lived most of my life in Austin, Texas but just moved last fall to NYC to be closer to the center of the photographic universe.
I obtained a college degree in computer science back in the 1970s under firm parental direction, went on to have a three decade career as a software developer and small business man. During the vast majority of that time, the thought of ever becoming a serious photographer never entered my mind.
I consider myself to be a classic street photographer. I still enjoying using film but I have no bias toward digital cameras as I own and use several. My recent focus has been on preparing for and launching a Kickstarter campaign to fund the publication of my first book of photography entitled FAIR WITNESS: Street Photography for the 21st Century.
What inspired you to become a photographer?
As I look back, I cannot identify any specific moment or person that I lead directly to me being interested in photography. However, as a teenager my grandfather was a serious amateur photographer who had a perfect darkroom and a wonderful Leica rangerfinder camera kit that he let me use from time to time. I can definitely trace back my current love for Leica cameras to my grandfather.
There was also a high school friend who was always one step ahead of me when it came to thinks like photography, audio electronics, and computers. It was in this friend's darkroom where I first saw a print he had made come up in the developing tray. It was magical. I definitely followed this friend into photography in the same way I did with electronics and computers.
Therefore, I would not use the word “inspired” when talking about becoming interested in photography — it just felt like the natural thing to do.
What does it mean to you?
Photography for me has become synonymous with freedom for me. Having a camera with me all of the time is akin to having a passport to so many experiences, places, and people that I missed out on for the first several decades of my life. Since my return to photography about 10 years ago, I have traveled much more often and have met some many more interesting people that I ever did when I was a software developer.
Through photography I am able to express myself in more accessible ways than I was ever able to do before. Perhaps only another software engineer can appreciate it when I say that there is beauty and accomplishment in creating a piece of software but I think everyone would agree that it is all but invisible to the naked eye. Photography is an openly visual medium. It's open to interpretation, of course, but the artistic expression is all right there for everyone to see.
For decades, I'd rarely felt it was safe or appropriate, as strange as this may sound, to express my feelings in general and of what I thought was beautiful in particular. Photography now gives me this safety and freedom.
Tell us about your fair witness book, how did it come about?
FAIR WITNESS has been in the works for roughly three years. It would never have happened at all if it wasn't for my friend and mentor Eli Reed who told me at one point that the time had come for me to create a book.
Eli is a 30-year member of Magnum Photos, a college photojournalism professor, and someone you listen to when he takes an interest in your photography. He advised me for several months on how the book might look. The cover photograph was Eli's pick — when we were going through work prints and he came across this one, he said, “Here's your cover!” Our discussions led directly to the title FAIR WITNESS which was inspired by the great science fiction novel Stranger In A Strange Land by Robert Heinlein.
There would be still two more years that followed as I created various book dummies and shopped them around to every photo book publisher I could find. I had a couple of hot leads that eventually went away until I hooked up Damiani Editore in Italy who will print the book — pending the success of the Kickstarter campaign to come up with the funds they require.
For a variety of reasons, I have never considered self-publishing FAIR WITNESS. The self-publishing route is a wonderful option in many cases but I just don't think it is for a book of street photography such as mine, I strongly feel that FAIR WITNESS need the imprint of a well established publisher on its spine and needs the world-wide distribution that Damiani can provide to be successful.
How did you make your selection of images? & How did you sequence your images?
This was one of the hardest things I've ever attempted. It all began with a box of about 200 work prints that I thought represented my best street photographs. I shared this box with countless people whom I trusted and respected. Of course, Eli and I were in this box a lot. I had two editing sessions with the great Elliott Erwitt, as well, who had become a fan of FAIR WITNESS.
To be honest, I was hoping that one of these people I showed the prints to would wave some kind of magic wand and the perfect selection and sequence of photographs would appear before me. For a long time, I didn't trust myself to do it. I'd never done a book before and I was consulting with many people that I greatly respected and admired so I (secretly) hoped that they'd show me that way.
This went on for a long time. Then, a couple of summers ago, I took a photo book workshop taught by David Alan Harvey during the LOOK3 Festival of the Photograph in Charlottesville, VA. Again I was looking to be lead by the hand to a dynamic book layout.
During this workshop, David invited a man named Dan Milnor to speak to the class. Dan's title is Photographer-at-Large for Blurb and he had personally created dozens of books by that time. As much as I owe Eli Reed for the push to initially think of my photography in book format, I owe Dan Milnor for the realization that FAIR WITNESS is my book, that the photographs are mine, and that I definitely know what will make the best possible book. Needless to say, Dan changed my photographic life that day.
Dan's was really little more than a one hour pep talk about book creation and ownership but I left that day with the confidence to make the final selection of 83 photographs at first, now that number is 70, and create a meaningful sequence.
It came together very quickly at this point. I grouped pictures using various visual clues and created little chapters of pictures with sometimes the barest thread of theme. It was easy. I suddenly had the self-confidence to believe that no one knew my pictures as well as I did, and no one could arrange them in a more meaningful sequence than I could. Thank you, Dan.
Now, I will not change anything. It works for me and hopefully it will work for the viewers too.
So for those who want to create their own book, find photographers whom you trust to help you edit & sequence. In any case, find common visual similarities and themes. Any tips for street photographers who like your work?
Always carry your camera. Subscribe to the one camera, one lens for a year idea. Find and slowly absorb books by photographers you admire. Make sure that you’re not one of those bozos who walk around with the lens hood mounted backwards. Avoid telephoto lenses. Last but not least, when you must use a digital camera, TURN OFF the chimping LCD screen and forget it is there. The Delete button in not your friend. Review your pictures at the end of the day – not when you might miss the next picture.
Any closing comments?
I would like to thank all of the people who encouraged and believed in my photography to get FAIR WITNESS to this point. I like to thank Inspired Eye for providing this platform for photographers to talk about their projects and photography and to ask for support for their Kickstarter campaign, It remains true, that as of this writing, actual publication of FAIR WITNESS is still tenuous pending the success of the campaign.
I really appreciate Damiani believing in the book but I also understand their business model that requires the author/photographer to defer their risk by paying an advance fee. Publishing has changed so much in the past few years and publishers of art books in particular cannot stay in business by continually taking chances on publishing the work of lesser known (or unknown) artists.
So given the question to publish or not to publish, Damiani (and many other publishers) now expect both financial and leg-work support from the artist in order to get a book out. It not all bad — with the advent of crowdsourcing ventures like Kickstarter, artists now has a way to work hard in advance of publication to raise the necessary funds.
Hopefully, in the case of FAIR WITNESS, sufficient leg-work and brainpower has been applied in the name of success. I'm excited to be working with Damiani and I have high hopes for a successful Kickstarter campaign. It will be a wonderful book and an important addition to the lexicon of street photography.
I have a pre production copy of FAIR WITNESS, and it is a very nice photobook with many very clever juxtapositions. Some of them are funny, and others are deeper in nature but all great to see. Those into street photography should think about kickstarting the book and get their own copy:
[userpro template=card user=ausdlk]