Tuesday, 3 June 2008

SoFoBoMo: a view on the rest

After picking a few stand-out books earlier, I then made it a mission to read each and every submission at sofobomo.org. That's a lot of photo books. This is a broad critique of the rest. At time of writing there were 57 posted books. there may be a few stragglers but unlikely.

Some caveats and notices to start:

  • Don't take any criticism too personally, especially if I use yours as an example.
  • I recognise the fact that these are not all polished publications.
  • I'm most interested in the ideas and execution thereof, not inherent design qualities of the books. These are personal views, I'm no professional critic.
  • If you want to let rip at mine, feel free.
I will say that overall I found the quality of photography to be high: technically and compositionally sound. Plus the selections put together hang together well in virtually every case (I'd struggle to think of an example off-hand). It seems to me that deciding to complete a SoFoBoMo project indicates a fairly high degree of comfort with ones own photography.

On the back of these efforts I spent some time browsing the blurb bookstore to see what else was out there and I see some parallels. A lot of POD work is pretty generic stuff - a lot of what I would call documentary landscape: views of a particular area or trip. Nothing wrong with that but they do start to seem the same after a while. A strong story or different style of presentation is needed to make such and effort worthwhile to the reader. Plenty of examples here.
Having said that, for SoFoBoMo I think this makes a pretty good subject: familiar subjects so that one can concentrate on the book bits.

I posted on pdfs for the web because I saw quite a few books that were difficult to download or read on screen but very small changes would have fixed it all, IMO.

Personally I liked the abstract approach. A bit more interesting and caused me to stop a think more. Julie O'Donnell I've mentioned but Steve Dodd's & Esther Emma Jongste's are also a good examples. That's largely a personal preference thing. I really liked the idea behind Matt Alof's but missed the captions. The cations he had on his blog really told the story, that the pictures alone don't.

A few mixed black and white and colour. It doesn't really work, especially if it's just a few B&W dispersed through the book. Glen Kaltenbrun's "Tree Portraits" is an example - the black and white images didn't add anything for me. Stick to the strong colour or go all B&W.
There are lots of ways to do monochrome: Colin Jago's subtle tones approach, the classic full tones of John Chabalko (go see his for some excellent classic black and white work) or the colour toned work of Kjell Harald Andersen. I'm not sure Eric DeBill really caught it by using B&W for spring, which is a time or colour for me.
At first I didn't think too much of Martin Frech's "Uferzonen" until I read about his unusual equipment. Re-reading, it makes a lot more sense, stylistically. I just wish I understood the German better.

What was i trying to do? With "Kristiansund", it was about getting enough shots in that I could at least produce something. Working in B&W film with a fixed focal length made style control easy. For "A place to call Home" I wanted to try a couple of aspects of design and presentation. The diptychs was a new departure for me and fitted the theme I'd though of. I then was interested in presenting the book in recognisable sections, hence the colour stripes. It was as much an exercise in design as photography for me. Does it work? You be the judge.


  1. Martin, I'd been wondering if the book worked without the captions. It's hard to know since most of the people who have seen the book, also saw the photos on the blog with their captions. I'll probably reinstate the captions in the POD version. At the very least, I'll include them at the end.

  2. Martin- I enjoyed the symmetry and geometric shapes your buildings projected in "A place to call Home". And thanks for your kind comments regarding "I Can Count!"



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