It is an onerous task to review the work of a fellow photographer and when it is Praful Patel of the Piramal Gallery the task becomes more acute. However Prafulbhai as he is affectionately known may have inadvertently provided an answer with his cover collage of cows, holy and otherwise.

 

Here goes:

 

The first impression when thumbing through this modest book is that it is non pretentious which is high praise in a world of wannabes and plastic reality. It is actually quite a simple book and is one man’s journey through photography, from glassplate to digital is its subtitle. Though digital might be a little misleading. Prafulbhai has seen a lot almost encapsulating and condensing Indian history from Independence till today. Some of the images have impact for sheer documentary value.

The opening page with flag raising man can beg the question who is raising whom. The layout of the two photographs on this page is amusing however the layout throughout the book is crowded where more is more. Pictures bleed one into the other making a nightmare visually, if you are looking for a calm-snuggle-into-your-favourite-wicker-chair-bourbon-evening, to recount a Journey, forget it. There is an onslaught of black without relief not one pin head of white  space where the retina can tarry and recharge its rods and cones. You feel you are in Bhuleshwar during mahashivratri each image with pointy elbows is jostling and competing for space and attention, all sans serif text is in reverse white. You could be in a disco. Somehow you get the feeling that this is far away from what Prafulbhai actually intended.

 

On the subject of bleed, everysingle (sic) image haemorrhages but on page 56 and 57 there is synergy in the transfusion, Marine Drive becomes the Gateway, form and function and content merge serendipitously. The double spread effortlessly takes you from eye level to aerial in one fell swoop, where the total is greater than the sum of its components. This seamlessness tries hard on other pages too with varying degrees of luck. Page 172 and 173 makes a statement on ‘concrete jungle’.

 

 

There are several photographs that should have been edited out, a case in point is photo of Parul on page 68 and all the images of Mitter Bedi notwithstanding the dedication to him on the opening pages. Personal is one thing public domain is another. It is practically impossible for photographers to themselves become their own picture editors. Every photo is precious through the viewfinder, each one loaded with ‘the moment’. It is imperative to bring in an objective pair of scissors.

 

Photo on page 119, Village girl student near a board with barakhadi  is perhaps the most beautiful in the book. The look on the girl’s face as she peers into the preceding page is a fabulous comment on where women are going. This is a strong and gripping image if diluted by layout.

 

Where there is so much fear about the book publishing business having lost out to TV and periodicals and being threatened by the Internet Prafulbhai congratulations on Just Doing It.

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The Dream Collector

October 26, 2012

A long time ago in 1979 I got really lucky. In those years you were more likely to get serendipitous when browsing the book stands near Flora Fountain. There were some genuine beauties you could buy easily on a collegian’s pocket money, that is if you saved up instead of the wada pavs and movies. I was obsessed with books and still am but it gets harder each year with the devaluation of the rupee and printing costs and things going through the roof. Also work is getting slicker and more finished, wonderful print values and superlative form but don’t you get the feeling that ‘content’ is sorely lacking. Everything looks like a mass make over. So Arthur Tress comes across even today as enriched uranium.

 

His early book called The Dream Collector is a documentary, social commentary and artistic rendition of the subliminal, the unconscious, the REM and the John Fowles of the visual world.

 

 

The most wonderful part about Tress and all subsequent work that he has produced is his effortlessness. The Dream Collector is all about children enacting their fantasies, making real the virtual, making surreal the obscure.

 

Tress goes (because ‘went’ is so past tense and ‘done’) about recording on a tape machine, children’s dreams, believing that dreams are telling us about ourselves, that they are an indicator of what we are concealing, putting aside, not dealing with, in other words dreams are playing out for us a script for action to be taken, the past, present and future becoming one homogenous continuum.

 

Arthur Tress ‘renders several dominant themes in his photographs, the child’s expression of fear combined with intuitive curiosity his hands reaching, exploring shape and texture; and the emergence from darkness and light’.  He gets on amazingly well with children which may account for the ease with which they can relate to him. He has a child like quality that they intuitively understand as genuine.

 

The foreword talks about the easy conversational, non threatening style that Arthur Tress has that children trust, that he takes them seriously must throw them off. He is never disparaging or dismissive or patronising. He shows them respect and in return they give him a dream for his collection. He then plays the dream back for them and initiates an enactment in a setting and backdrop that will lend itself to the mood and the sentiment. Then he waits patiently for that flash of inspiration when the child does something spontaneous and beguiling and then he knows he’s collected the rare species in a jam jar.

 

The photographs are rich in photographic skill and temperament.  The images are disturbing in large part due to the illusion becoming tonal and bromide.  Like Fowles it is unnerving to see dreams like butterflies in a display case impaled on a pin. The ambience is largely desolate and lonely.  There are monsters looming out of children’s heads. He employs the diptych in many frame, the top half revealing one reality, the lower half another. If one becomes introspective which is what the book is ultimately seeking, you begin to see yourself as a child might see you, it can be ugly and cause you to stop, think and feel. Each image is a surprise as dreams are generally. Each dream is visually explicit and in black and white. The dreams connect literary to the audio which is connected to the smell to the texture and the sensation, the emotion and the intellect. What dreams are saying are seldom the obvious.

 

Tress is a versatile photographer a couple of his other books are available with homoerotic overtones and generally the macabre. His exhibition called Fantastic Voyage ran at the Piramal gallery for photography in 1995 and was a treat to behold, there was humour and exquisitely crafted prints. Tress is not as well known as he should be. But look out for his work which is loaded always with surprise and adventure.

Midnight’s grandchildren.

October 20, 2012

Naveen Jindal has a lot to teach us. And a lot of us one billion and counting have him to thank, that you can fly your national flag with honour and dignity is not a birthright as you might have thought at least until a year ago. It was in 2004 that the Supreme Court vindicated Naveen Jindal’s long battle with the Union of India to his and your rights. This link (http://www.rediff.com/news/2001/jun/13spec.htm) will inspire you as much as the Tiranga did Jindal and fill you with joyous hope that an individual with a magnificent obsession can make a government pennant truly into a national flag.

 

The exhibition Tiranga on currently till Sept 30th at the Piramal gallery might be summed up by a visitor’s comment, ‘good effort’ is generally an enthusiastic put down that tries to sound positive and patronising when one is less than inspired. For the most part the images are cliché despite having some of the more famous photographers participating. Contrasting is the invite which is stunningly graphic.

There are flags being sold in the streets, hoisted over Parliament, painted on the back of trucks and cabbies, saffron white and green vapour trails at fly pasts, the most obvious interpretations, more documentary than interpretive, the only subtle image is by Udyan Sarkar where there is a reflection of the tricolour in a woman’s eye. Ajeeb Komahi is the only one who has tried to make some sort of interpretation albeit amateurish with children holding a bicycle wheel against an orange and white laundry line with foliage foreground.

 

The exhibition however is an important journalistic exercise in recording the use of a national icon. Rajeev Sethi’s quote is by far the most insightful and personal amidst all the patriotic brouhaha. He sees no disrespect in the use of the flag everywhere, for the images of gods are omnipresent why not the flag, he sees the use/abuse and disuse of icons as indicators of cultures. ‘For me’ he says, ‘ the change of icons is not a concern – but the level of faith’. This should come as solace to a fashion designer who recently was upbraided for her politically incorrect use of the tricolour on the ramp.

 

Prashant Panjiar has some images of Jawans raising the flag after a battle but that will forever be compared with the iconic Joe Rosenthal classic at Iwo Jima. The point would be to create images that burn into our own collective unconscious. He has a wonderful image that treads that territory of Mother Teresa’s coffin being covered in the Indian flag and in the foreground are heads of state, Hillary Clinton and Sonia Gandhi, bringing some irony to the issue of nationality by adoption.

 

There are many images of people making flags but the one that might be most prophetic is by Bhomik Shah with disfranchised street children selling flags at the intersection.

 

Ram Rahman might add a visual verse to the famous Sting ballad by being an Indian in New York, his images in black and white of the Indian flag being traded by an American in a flea market and the surrealistic sight of seeing an Indian nationalistic procession in Madison change the context and makes one look inwards to check our own tolerances of how we might reciprocate.

 

If the exhibition provokes us to ask the question ‘who is an Indian’ especially in the context of seeing saffron and green flags flying separately it would have succeeded. White is the presence of all colours.

Indeterminate

October 20, 2012

The space between the progressive and regressive, the modern and the ancient are the subjects of Bharat Sikka’s debutant fine art photography show on at the C&L gallery in Colaba. This is an interesting counterpoint to his otherwise well known fashion, commercial photography. There is no doubt that Sikka has a fine eye and technique, his images  here are shot in urban areas where there is large scale development but as most know in this country there is very little finish, conduits, and debris, unpainted new structures and piles of rubble left un cleared all sit around some how becoming the rhinoceros  in the visual ointment.

 

The images are almost without any colour and they are not monochromatic, they come from an unsaturated, smoggy, archipelago that could be a gulag. These are mostly urban landscapes of stadia, power plant sites, fly-overs and movie studios. There are two images that are particularly interesting, most for where the camera has been positioned. There is some precision to the symmetry where parallel lines meet at a vanishing point, forming a triangulation that is beguiling. The other image is shot from the outskirts of a power plant grid, a patch of red earth looks suspiciously, beautifully out of  place. This is not about a decisive moment but a decisive place that is remarkably familiar. There are people but most are unrecognisable, there is life, but just barely, leaving only the vestiges of a lit bulb or an errant street light. A skeletal tree drops onto a playground that seems joyless. 

 

Bharat Sikkas images have been part of a widely travelled show, many of his images are familiar. While one has waited expectantly for a show that would have taken indian photography to another level, a young observer’s comment sort of summarises the exhibition well, underwhelming. Andreas Gursky , Stephen Shore,  Hiroshi Sugimoto and other conceptual fine art photographers like Gregory Crewdson have done this sort of work some time ago. Many indian photographers are exploring this unglamorous urban space but that is telling in its own way.

Is The Space in Between Love and Hate, Indifference?

Other Ways of Seeing

September 18, 2012

Why are we identical and why are we so different?

The Genome project has given us incontrovertible proof today that genetically we are all identical and that we have a common ancestor and that all our ancestors smoked ganja on the plains of africa.

This puts paid to the notion of caste, of pure breed, Aryan, Brahmin etc

Have you ever wondered why homo sapiens is just a single species, while two tropical birds of the same size, living in the same tree, more or less feeding on the same worms, cant intermarry.

Teilhard de Chardin in The Phenomenon of Man and in Le Milieu Divin seems to indicate that ‘migration’ is the single most important feature that has kept homo sapiens a single species. That puts paid to all notions of ‘mool nivasi’ we are all migrants and drawing artificial chalk lines only limits the possibilities.

However when that single species put down roots and started to own immovable property, caste, creed, race, economic station and other forces started to claim its own right to uniqueness, mythologies, ‘identity’, ‘culture’ and psyche. Culture is an amorphous term that seems to define our aesthetic. Is our culture different from the Japanese or Alaskans, despite our common 23 pairs of chromosomes?

Or when a country gets geographically isolated (Madagascar – Australia) fauna and flora take on its own genetic twists. Are we global citizens because we can BBm each other, Skype or even travel frequently?

Does the suicide of farmers in our own state really affect us? Does Tiananmen or  Tahrir Square really touch our global lives. Do the travails of tribals in Chattisgargh dislodge our air-conditioned lives on pneumatic tyres?

. The notion of what is pure – Needs questioning. Nothing is, we are all a fantastic goop of a rich mix.

Yet some of us are blond and blue eyed, others have mongoloid features and many of us look distinct. This singularity and plurality is central to understanding the way we see, and negotiate our worlds.

Does the prithvi, vayu, tej and akash (elements) not influence the way we negotiate the world? Does the desert and the jungle, Siberia and the Thar not influence the way we dress (fashion).

Should it not influence the way we ‘see’?

. We trust our ears, our sense of smell and our hearing.

music can give you involuntary goosebumps more often than any painting or photographs. The spoken word, a book, theatre, cinema at its best can do the same.

. And yet, still photographs more than any other form of communication, have made cataclysmic changes to state policy. The Nick Yut photo of the Mylai massacre is attributed as one such photo that changed American policy over the Vietnam war.

. People buy art with their ears.

. what is the proof that light exists?   

our eyes

. We do not trust our eyes.

In the nature of light (light fantastic BBC) a mere 3000 years ago, our ancestors  thought that we saw because particles were emitted by our eyes much like a beam from a beacon, or a flash light.

We are determined pretty much by light/heat, dark skin, fair skin, the angle of light (latitude) and its intensity ipso facto governs our aesthetic. Europe is 50 shades of grey, mommy porn not withstanding. Exit Schiphol airport and you see a mass of people wearing black and grey. Their fashion and aesthetic has a hard time with colour. Their understanding of colour is very different from ours. They will tell you academically what does not ‘work’ in terms of primary and secondary colours, stripes and checks. They will condemn you to ‘wrap around lighting’.

Enter India or Africa and there seems to be an ‘overload’ of colour, smell and taste. Everything in these parts seems ‘hyper real’, exotic, vivid or even vulgar to a foreigner. To us who live here bhel puri and pav bhajji has the pungency that is what it is. A life of boiled potato or cabbage will only indicate that you are an invalid in India.

. The trouble is that all the great established institutions are in the west, the universities, the publishing houses, magazines, festivals, fairs and Biennales  and to a great extent the galleries, the critics and the ‘market’. The other trouble is that magazines like Vogue and all the others that set up in India are brands, cookie cutters that force feed an ‘aesthetic’ to fit that ‘brand’ profile. That makes us see a certain ‘Vogue’ way and if fashion is the leader then obviously Vogue is not fashion but about the business of fashion. Marketting people have forced content producers, writers and photographers to see only certain stories and not others that they cant sell. Tail wagging the dog scenario.

. The other aspect of seeing is that we have categories in India which we have locked into water tight compartments. Fine art photography looks down on commercial photography that looks down on editorial photography, that looks down of photojournalism that looks down on wedding photography that looks down on portraiture. And all this looking down has only economy and day rates as a yardstick. Avedon, Lachapelle and Penn move effortlessness from one to the other. Its going to be a very long while before an advertising photographer can show in an art gallery in india. Hans Neleman fights the good fight in the west. But who of us is championing the cause in India. It affects the way we see because we then wear our fine art hats, or our commercial hats and never the twain shall meet. Its nonsensically artificial.

. Unless we have home grown institutions we are not going to be able to make an impact.

In India we should be extremely sensitive to colour as just about everything including colour is coded. Haldi and Kumkum are not mere yellow and vermillion, Jaswand and gendu are not merely Hibicus and Marigold, they have semiology built it, a peacock and a tiger are not merely birds and animals but are vahans of gods and godesses. Nuts and fruits, trees and seasons, including drums, are coded, a certain drum is played only at a certain festival etc.

From this perspective the only indian fashion designer who explores india in a global way is Manish Arora, it is no surprise that Pacco Rabanne grabbed him as the next IT thing.

My desire is that as photographers we do for photography what Manish Arora does for fashion. Its quirky, its international, its surprising, its fun, its wonderful, its fashion, its joyous as it can be dark and its inspiration comes from an aesthetic that we from this part of the world can clearly identify with.

. What is the fundamental difference between : Camera and a Gun (Bresson/Barthes/Sontag), and between  Photography and Photorealism?

We forget that LIGHT itself has been making gestures on our planetary system from the time the sun was around, from the beginning of time itself much before we arrived and learnt how to make a camera obscura, let alone film and CMOS. So photo-graphy – light gestures, has been around forever. Its light that goes into the camera that makes the significant difference from a gun that emits a bullet with report, there is also the question of ‘intention’, the camera can be a gun when it is used to violate, the gun is built to violate, its intention is in its design. It is astounding that Barthes and Sontag got away with it, its shows how heavy duty NY Times intellectuals can intimidate. It’s also obvious that Barthes and Sontag could not make a photograph between them to save their skins. Its the outside looking in which sometimes fill their  observations with mendacity.

. Black and white photography has an etymology, a history and a practical quotient. It also became an instrument of abstraction in the west.

National Geographic put a moratorium on b/w photography not without good reason. The real world is in colour, 4D (space/time).

But from an indian/asian and I daresay with some caution, African point of view, where colour has syntax, metaphor, mythology and semiology built in, would a photojournalistic photo , that commits to representing the truth not be telling an untruth in b/w. Would it not be fraudulent in this case, making an ‘aesthetic, artistic’ statement for the photographer rather than the subject.

For me the most poignant photos are when the photographer disappears.

. when was the ‘star’ born?

There were great actors since the time theatre and troubadour performances were held. But there were no ‘stars’  till the camera got invented and was mobile enough to make the subject ‘larger than life’. The camera suddenly affected the way we saw and communicated.

. placement of the lens?

The microscope and telescope – both make the invisible – visible, the telescope reversed makes distant objects more distant.

Where do you place your mind’s eye, the camera lens? What is the arena of contact and engagement? Depending on how far  you zoom in or pull back, the perspectives, both visual and psychological change.

The wonderful closing shot in Men In Black has a continuous  camera zoom out from the hideous, monstrous alien creature that Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith shoot down, CGI notwithstanding to seeing a blue planet in orbit to finally a dot of no significance.

While in Fantastic Voyage – Raquel Welch  zooms into your aortic valve at sub cellular environments.

The west is like our left brain, the east, to oversimplify is the right brain, which brain is better? The moment we start to moralise these differences we have wars on the cards.

Men are said to be left brain, women right brain and so the metaphors can go on and on. Which eye do you place your camera at can affect, maybe the way you see, there is an optic chiasma where the left eye is connected to the right brain and vice versa.

Being conscious of where your photographs are coming from is crucial to the process of seeing and re-seeing, respect. Does the external, the magazines, the viewership, the hits on a photo-site determine the way we see? Are market forces determining our colour palette and our choice of subjects? Do our photos come from a place of integrity?

We have never seen ourselves, we have seen at best the tips of our noses and that too out of focus, we have seen virtual/mirror or photographic images of ourselves.

And yet everything that we look at deep and long enough can reveal, reflectively our true selves. Sometimes maybe we need to shut our eyes and sense the heat of light as the visually impaired often perceive.

When in doubt take two steps closer.

Bibliography:

Ways of Seeing – John Berger

LIght Fantastic

Man and his Symbols – Joseph Campbell

Roland Barthes – Camera Lucida – Death of the Author – Elements of Semiology

Susan Sontag – On Photography

Geoff Dyer – On going Moment

Bresson – The decisive moment

photography – philosophy – Will and Aerial Durant –  Slavoj Zizek

Purism – Teilhard de Chardin – Man’s search for meaning, Le Melieu Divin

Malcolm Gladwell – 10000 hour rule

Banish the viewfinder

July 20, 2010

Prabuddha Das Gupta is probably Indias most versatile photographer and has straddled the dichotomous twain of the commercial/editorial and fine art worlds with ease and authority, creating a precedent where for some odd reason in this country fine-art almost by definition cant show a beautiful woman or a Manish Arora product. In the west, Penn, Avedon, Netwon, Bailey, Araki and Lachapelle have no such compartmentalization, free flowing like iodized salt, from one to the other elastically.

Beginning with his last exhibition in mumbai, ‘The Edge of Faith’ had Das Gupta make a leap of faith himself, plunging into hitherto unchartered territories, abjuring the hip, white cubes of south mumbai, preferring a derelict, decrepit  warehouse in a non fashionable, mill hunky district. The exhibition space had a blown away roof, open to sky, it took its Goan inmates to a new metaphoric level. It created easily, a Goan vibe in mumbai and that was no mean feat considering the monolithic abutment of the grotesque Godrej highrise that blocks out the sun at 4 pm.

The photographs of a sort of sad Goa, where das Gupta spends a lot of time, in themselves were typical in their melancholy. You had to peer through fig trees that had, Angor Wat like grown out of the cracks in the concrete to get a glimpse. Friends were messaging each other to visit the exhibition with detailed google map locations and directions, as the warehouse had only a number on a black gate and no other landmarks around. The magic hour (and how photographers love those) started at 6.30pm where there was just a hint of blue in the sky and the incandescent warmth of very simple lighting made the photographs acquire a new and domestic quality. But more crucial to the show was das Gupta thumbing his nose at hoity toity photographers who make a big deal about humidity and temperature control, diva like requirements more suited to growing exotic orchids than for photos to be exhibited. And in one fell swoop rather than making external demands that your work be respected, the courage and conviction of this move made you respectful. To move off the beaten track is the destiny of an artist, to have the testosterone to show in a place that might not get the ‘foot fall’ is a terrific statement that should empower photographers who are tentative.

Das Gupta’s aesthetic can be traced back to European sensibilities, which is probably why his work looks so at home in Vogue. Jeanloupe Sieff is an obvious influence. The ipso facto abstraction of black and white sometimes in this country looks forced and unnecessary. But most photographers succumb, gallerists love it. It is harder to work with colour meaningfully, and in this country especially, colour has its own semiotics and is meaning-full.

His first book ‘Women’ published in 1996 was again a watershed in depicting nudes in what has become a very Bowdlerized India. But the book even then looked immature and naive, a hurried attempt at getting it to market.

‘Ladakh’ his second book in 2000 showed Das Gupta’s other interests, it can loosely be called a Travel book. The photos are all in black and white again and while it is beautiful, it does not engage you with a new perspective or an insight; and yes it does show wrinkled faces and black polarized sky with contrasty white clouds somewhat clichéistically.

‘Edge of Faith’ 2009, far from a ‘tribute’ to Goa, is an edited vision, a narrow, fashionably dystopic prism at decrepitude and de-generation. Its not how the other half lives necessarily but how some people live anonymously; in quiet desperation away from the tourist noise. The works have mood and ambience and disturbingly you want to return to them.

Das Gupta is best know for his editorial work in fashion magazines, and here is the conundrum. Most fashion magazines are ‘brands’ and like all brands you cant tamper with that image, so if you are going to conform to make your photos fit the brand, can it then be fashion? One suspects that Das Gupta struggles with these issues.

If Das Gupta can be guilty of a borrowed aesthetic the only person who can show him an alternative is Laxmi Menon, his muse. Prabuddha’s best work is when he is photographing Menon who can do no wrong, she is the quintessential, modern, languid, strong, dusky, elegant, indian woman and in photographing her comes a new syntax that is perhaps unique, subject and predicate, viewer and the viewed, banishing the viewfinder.

If you are a photographer chances are that you have always had the secret desire to eventually have your work out in a large format book. And if you have tried to pursue that logic and send your manuscript off to a publisher you will know exactly the frustration.

Many of my literary friends too who have had their debut novels published by large publishing houses like Penguin are considering self-publishing for their second and third novels. The logic is simple, if a publishing house is going to give you a very large ‘advance’ then its to your distinct advantage to go with a publisher, but if a publisher is going to give you a nominal fee, chances are that they will not promote your book with the vigor and interest that you would like. You will find your book languising, badly displayed with little promotion. If they pay an Arundhati Roy, a Shobhaa De or a Vikram Seth a million dollars and you 500 dollars, guess whom they are going to promote aggressively.

Many of my musician friends are abandoning the route of finding a ‘label’ which  is the equivalent of the publisher in the music business and going via YouTube and FaceBook to get their music out to their audiences.

These are some of the eternal excuses/experiences.

1. That no one at the other end ever even acknowledge receipt of your prized work.

2. After you make numerous phone calls you eventually get to talk (maybe) to the head in charge, who sounds brusque while you sound apologetic, you get to hear the usual, ‘have not seen your manuscript, send it again’; ‘but you know how busy we are, we get hundreds of manuscripts daily’.

3. You re-send and meet the same fate

4. You repeat no 2. and if you are lucky you’ll get the familiar ‘we’ll call  you,  you dont call us’.

5. Six months on you pick up enough courage and you find out that they have lost your manuscript, misplaced  your DVD and other material; ‘shifting office’, no apologies!

6. The scenario has many shades all of which you would think are true to us only in the third world, but here is some solace, it happens everywhere, even among the best, international publishing houses.

7. The days of people being professional and responding, forget the days of lick a stamp and mail; when things could not be easier to reply while you wait on tenterhooks, are OVER, this can add to the frustration.

8. I’ve had one really ‘bright’ publishing head of a large, established publishing house tell me to find a ‘sponsor’. To which my horrified expression must have replied ‘if I’m going to find a sponsor, why the effing hell do I need you? I may as well take sponsor on my back, drink a Daiquiri and do the job myself. Sometimes one wonders whether they even hear what they say, so meaningfully.

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But here is the good news – you can SELF PUBLISH and even make a profit doing a big photo book.

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My experience for its ten paise worth:

There are a few components to getting your book out of your HDD or your archival closet if you shot TPs/Negs in the bad ol days.

1. Pre – Press

2. Print

3. Market

4. Distribute

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I) What pre-press means, is that you have to get  your ‘dummy’ ready for the print shop, this has several shades and nuances. But its no occult art, its science and you can do it by the numbers. I am presuming that if you are a photographer you can handle a computer and even better PhotoShop and In-Deisgn (book design software) if you are a Mac person, or Quark or the equivalent in a PC, this is not a complex operation. However if you are having difficulty, hire a kid with some of these skills and you are free. At this point I will list some good young designers at the bottom, but if you know someone who is looking for freelance work and is good, just add their details in your comments below.

Lets talk first of ‘scanning’ your TPs/Negs, film derivatives. if you only have prints of your work that too can work, but understand that you should work best with the raw material, meaning the first generation of image, either the neg or the TP is best and if your work is all digital then the digital RAW file is your dig neg.

Regardless of what pre-press houses will tell you, please bear my advice and do exactly what I say now.

Ia) Get hi-res, 16 bit scans, this is best done on a drum scanner, leave your desk epson or whatever for the Income Tax documents that you need to scan. For a book  you need clean, crisp and rich scans, 16 bit RGB does this job, many people have scanners, but like anything, how a scanner is used is crucial. All pre-press houses have drum scanners or very high end flat bed scanners that will do the trick, many older scanners convert to CMYK immediately.

Ib) All scanners, like your TV, camera, projector and indeed monitors produce colour via RGB, it is basic to all CCDs, CMOS  and photomultiplier tubes. So be firm and request 16 bit RGB, a minimum of 300dpi (dots per inch) and if you get a file size of around 100+ mb  without conversion from CMYK, raw scans you are doing good.

Ic) Depending on how much money you have for this opertation and whether you want to exhibit large size prints of this work later or during  your book launch, you need to think about this now, so that you avoid having to re-scan and pay more money later. You can scale an image down with less damage to the integrity of the image than the other way around. Dont ever try to scale an image up by more than 20%. If you must, only use Genuine Fractals or some software like that, that will do a good job interpolating.

Id) Pre-Press houses will like to recover costs on their defunct scanners, and quote you ridiculous prices, per mb and stuff, if you are going to do a book with some 100 images, you should pay no more than Rs 300/scan. Understand that you have the bargaining power here, scanning is a dying operation.

Ie) Its best to go to the same print house that will have a pre-press dept to get your scans. I have listed some printers below who will do world class work.

If) Bring your scans to your system, its best to do this operation on a fairly good monitor, a Mac cinema display or if push comes to shove an iMac will work too, clean up your photos, dust, scratches and any other retouching that you need to do, is best done now, work in native 16 bit, it will occupy twice the disk space but leave it that way. All your ‘curves’ and adjustments and layers etc that you do, dont compress your file, leave it with all its layers as a .psd file in 16bit RGB. (I am presuming again that your monitor has some basic calibration, like that you have set your colour preferences in Adobe to adobe RGB (1998), proRGB or sRGB, these have much larger colour gamut (space) than CMYK and offers the printer a larger gamut to play with.

Ig) By now you would have done your layout, with In-Design or Quark or similar. The software makes a package of the images, fonts, colours and that sort of thing that makes the logic of placement of images for printing easy.

Ih) if you are shooting or using digital files, please shoot in RAW which by default is 16bit RGB, set your camera RGB to the same colour pref. on your PS. so if its sRGB on your camera then it should be sRGB on your PS etc and follow the steps above.

Ii) You are done with the image from your end. Now you take it to your printer who has a pre-press dept.

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PRINT PRE-PRESS:

Ij) Sit with your printer and bring up each of the images from your book, your printer now will convert them to CMYK  and 8bit  that best suits the paper you are going to print on. Each and every paper absorbs inks and reflects ink differently, there is something called ‘dot gain’ and SWOP that you need not concern yourself with, but it is crucial for the printer and if they are any of the below mentioned they know what to do with those figures.

You have to look at your images in a ‘controlled light’ environment, generally the office this is done in use 5500k light that most closely resembles daylight. The monitor should be a high quality EIZO/ Lacie type monitor that costs much more than your Cinema Display for good reason. The monitor will show you simulated CMYK that should be close to what you will eventually see ‘proofed’ so trust it and make the best possible colour corrections here, this stage is crucial to getting great print quality.

Ik) Next insist on a ‘laser proof’ also called an Iris proof, this is an inket equivalent of your book, its printed only on one side and the colours are a bit richer than will be your book. You still have  a chance to make corrections in type and in pages, images at this stage without any costs of ‘plates’ yet.

Il) once you approve of the ‘proof’ you are ready to go to the next stage of PRINT.

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2) PRINT:

This is usually an offest job and could be in two types of screens used to get ink on to paper, one is stochastic (FM)and the other is an AM screen, your printer will best decide which one is best for your application.

modern digital printing is CTP, (computer to plate) with no intermediary steps, at this stage plates are made, one for each of the colours C.M.Y.K.

2a) If you are new to the printer and the process, ask for a ‘gang’ proof, this proofs your ‘difficult’ images and text as pages on the actual paper that you have choosen with the same inks that your book will be printed in. This is equivalent to the strip test prints one made in the darkroom and will give you the last and final proof of how your work will show. There is a small incremental cost for the plates made for this process but its well worth doing it to avoid disappointment later.

2b) you can make changes here if warranted, go back to the colour correction on the Eizo monitor for large changes you want made.

2c) When satisfied give the go ahead signal for your job to PRINT.

2d) You should be present when the print rolls off the press, its a heady feeling to see your ‘forms’ emerge crisp and rich from the machines. These days to avoid the setting of the inks which used to take 48 hours, printers can coat the paper ‘on-line’ with an aqueous silk/gloss coat that is ‘baked’ on to the paper, giving you a real, ‘final’ colour within 5 minutes of the print coming off the press, this is advisable for several reasons, its a small incremental cost, well worth the extra money.

2f) You can even here, with the print boss, make subtle changes especially when images run as double spreads or across the ‘gutter’, to make sure the tones are matched. The print boss generally puts the tabs on a densitometer and checks values to see if they are within range.

2g) Your book is printed, it needs to sit for 48 hours before it can be folded, cut, ‘perfect’ bound and stiched and have the cover pasted, before it gets shrink wrapped and delivered to an address you provide.

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3) MARKETING:

3. Try and pre-sell your book, take your dummy or make a presentation along with some hard copies of your photographs and run them via corporates or institutions that match closely your style or content of your book. Financial year ends and beginnings, academic year ends, and festivals are good times for gifts. Pre-selling can save you all kinds of worry and if you do a good job here  you can avoid a distributor and maximise your take home money to recover your large printing over heads, also this will give you the best idea of how many books you should print. If you can pre-sell 500 books, that is before the launch date, you will have recovered your costs if you do a 3000 print run.

You can offer special prices and take orders on 1-5 books, 6-50, 51-100 etc etc. all before the launch date, on the launch date you can increase the cost a bit but keep it below the MRP (max retail price) and a day after  you can sell at 20% lower than the MRP direct.

3a) It is imperative that you do the marketing and PR for your book, no one will do it with more enthusiasm than yourself. it needs to be done. (* check Sandeep Fernandes details below). If you have friends or students who have done a BMM course and are in media houses, then you should be tapping into those sources and scheduling some interviews. You need to create a buzz about your book.

3b) FaceBook is one great way of informing everyone of an event. Get books stores to allow you a ‘reading’. The media loves a celebrity, so muster whomever you can to read from the book and find as many ways to promote your book as possible, there happen to be several these days and many malls and book stores like to have some live and relevant event in their stores. Make sure you display the books prominently. Make some large posters too with the name of the book and your name prominent. This you can do at any digital printing, laser printer outfit, you could even do some vinyls too. SMS, Twitter. YouTube use all of this to your advantage, its all free almost.

3c) If you have an exhibition of your work, that works both ways one promoting the other, its a good idea to have an exhibition of your work simultaneously. But press is very important. Choose your book release at festival times, like the Kala Ghoda festival or the Jaipur literary fair, check dates in advance and work  your schedule backwards.

3d) Y0u need to make some press kits, where you have hi-res (300dpi) images no bigger than 5×7, with an assortment of photos no more than 10 and a bio of yourself along with some text if any from the book, as excerpts. You will also have to allocate some books (10-15) to be given away to the press.

3e) Use bulk SMSs and Twitter to post invitations to your mailing address and request that your friends fwd your mail/message to at least 5 of their friends.

3f) Strategise your publicity, realise  that many magazines have ‘Book Reviews’ you need to check the magazine closing dates and the magazine schedules, eg. weeklys, bi-monthlys etc will all accept inputs and have cut off dates, request those dates that most closely match your ‘launch date’ so that all the publicity peaks at about the same time. TV slots like ‘Just Books’ needs to have at least a month lead time.

3g) Do not give your material to the media too early in eagerness, it will be lost, allocate time to follow up, or hire a junior media student to follow up and take your material back and forth to reviewers. Dont be penny pinching at this stage. Pay for SMSs, taxi charges etc so that everyone feels they are being compensated. It is vital to getting your book noticed and to make it move off the shelves.

3h) Dont be shy about talking about your book, if you dont do it, no one will.

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4. DISTRIBUTION:

4a) This is a tough call, you will need to get your book out to as many book stores as possible. for this you will need a distributor with reach. A distributor typically will take 50-65% of your MRP, so  you need to keep this in mind when pricing your book. I will give  you a rough guide to how you should price your book later. A distributor will sign a contract with you. you can customise this, viz, you may want to give Strand Book stall, in mumbai the books yourself. STrand will take 40% off your MRP, and return 20% to the customer, everyone benefits. You get stung 40% but thats better than what the distributor will take, so you can make a caveat like that in your contract, that the Distributor will service all book stores except the ones you will do directly. Book stores and Distributors take between 2 and 6 months to pay.

Find a Distributor only after you have done your damnedest yourself, that is once  you have marketed and distributed the book before, during and post its launch, dont get a distributor too late either, let him/her ride on some of the publicity that you might have garnered for the book.

I will try and add to a list of Distributors at the bottom,  these are tough business people, you need to be firm and earnest in getting the best possible deal, every percentage point that you negotiate in your own favour is money in your account. There is also the reverse, distributors are notorious in telling you that if they make little on your book, they also have little initiative in pushing it. So its a balance.

You must get all inventory off your premises. Try not to schedule your launch around the monsoon, you dont want your precious books to sit in a dank warehouse.

There is an alternative to printing large quantities by offset, its called Print On Demand (POD), this means you can print one copy of your book and each can be presonalised  too. The method for doing is is called an Indigo print and its printed on an HP what is euphemistically called a digital offset. Its a much more expensive per copy method but you dont have inventory. All the above steps are valid, till the point where you make ‘plates’, with the Indigo the plates are reusable and the paper is sheet fed. Bellow are listed the Indigo POD print shops in Mumbai and around.

You can also get your book on to Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Flipkart.com (for india)  and other speciality photo book sites. not figured out the process, am searching, if anyone knows how, please post your comment here. I will post as soon as I know. Its not insurmountable, I hear its quite easy actually, but I need to follow up on this.

Frankfurt book fair happens in the first week of October. Make appointments at least 6 months in advance to get your book a co-edition. They have an on-line presence with a list of all the zillion publishers that are represented.

Many TV channels have a Book Review section, NDTV has Just Books, CNN-IBN and others too, send in  your synopsis and make it seem like your book is the next big thing. Humour works.

7/may/10 Just met my distributor in Delhi, and found that he has not pushed the book. So dont assume that once you have a distributor all is well. You have to call (preferably, and face perhaps, the same ignominies)  periodically and ‘remind’ your distributor that he has your book and that you are ‘monitoring’ its presence or absence in book stores. Dont assume that people other than yourself are doing the work they say they will do.The fact is that they DONT. But the catch is not to get frustrated by this, just do what you have to do and press on regardless.

Distributors will tell you the most cliché things, like books on Monuments of India, crafts of india, textiles of india, religions of india, festivals of india and sex, sells. YOu dont need to be a rocket scientist to know that, just visit any book store and see the plethora of boring, India, books out there. You have to have an absurd (and if you need courage, read Camus) belief in yourself and press on when all tell you that you are writing a book that is non typical. But that is the point isn’t it? The best thing about self pub is that you can do exactly what you please, not be so market orientated. Established publishers/distributors have basically only market considerations. They work like ‘Insurance’ agencies, on the law of averages.

There is a new Amazon type service called Flipkart.com for on-line book distribution now especially for india, I am about to investigate this. Watch this space.

Distributors dont single you out for shoddy service, even Jeffrey Archer who sells in millions calls up his distributor/publisher regularly to ‘monitor’ them.

ok have now investigated FlipKart.com and it WORKS, they now have our book on their inventory. http://www.flipkart.com/itinerants-charmayne-de-souza-david-book-8190821806

they are easily contactable via their comprehensive  website, will keep 5-10 books with them and you can negotiate a commission with them  that is mutually comfortable. Payments are made on a monthly basis as and when they sell.

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Getting a quote:

To get an accurate quote from a printer you will need to specify some details

1. size of your book, generally 9.5×11 inches is about the proportionate division of the paper size. Ask your printer what size is the most economical that is closest to the size of the book you envisaged. Dont do odd sizes, that involve paper wastage, a large portion of your budget is consumed by paper, so keep that part of the equation maximised.

2. No. of pages

3. Colour or black and white, you can do 4 colour black and white for a rich tonality.

4. End papers, these are generally thicker papers, like card, that is stuck to the covers for strength.

5. Hard or soft bound

6. Dust jacket

7. Quality of paper, you can choose from various swatches of paper, and can even get a sample photo of yours printed on a few different papers for you make  up your mind. paper is measured in gsm (grams per square millimeter). Generally for a lush book 160-175gsm works well

8. Quantity /Number. Print run, anything smaller than 1000 copies you might want to consider POD, but offset comes into its own with larger quantities the costs per unit come down drastically. but simultaneously your inventory also gets considerable. Think of where and how you are going to stock those books. and if you life in an apartment whether the slab can take the weight.

9. Printers can do special things like metal stamp foiling, on-line aqueous silk/gloss coatings, die cuts, special folds, special colours like gold, spot UV lamination etc. each of these is an additional cost.

10. Scanning

11. Digital pre-press

12.  Digital proof

13. Gang proof.

14. Make sure estimates are all with duties specified, CIF (cost, insurance freight), if you want various quantities shipped to different locations you need to specify that here.

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You also need an ISBN,  this is a unique number for your book that can be used as its identity and tracked anywhere in the world. It is free and you can get it from this address (shall update this soon, or you can google it and get it from Delhi, the process takes about a month, so leave  yourself that much time, if you can get someone in Delhi to do it, it will take no more than 2 weeks, try and get a bar code with it, you will get 10 serial numbers, so you can technically do 10 books after this without re applying).

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Final Cost of your book:

Eg. if your book costs Rs 1000/- all inclusive, that is all physical costs that you have bills for, excluding your costs as a photographer, then your MRP should be roughly Rs 2500-Rs3000

Literature, prose, poems are much cheaper to print, you can only do a lavish cover at the printers listed below, these printers specialise in colour reproduction, dont use them for printing text, most any printer can do this.

I will shortly publish here on the blog, a short tut on fonts and design, all elements in a book are there by design and intention, all leading to an end product that is seductive and the best vehicle for you to claim your existence. So dont use defaults.

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For PR and getting media attention here is Sandeep Fernandes, he did a remarkable job for our book Itinerants and the book on St. Xavier’s college -140 years.

* Sandeep Fernandes : 9819266551, sandeepfernandes18@hotmail.com

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Print shops:

Pragati – Hyderabad. Contact person: chandresh@pragati.com, 9821114114

Reproscan – pre-press. mumbai, Pankaj Mehta98210-31209, Ketan Mehta accountsrepro@gmail.com

Jak Printers –  Kushru, “JAK Printers Pvt.Ltd. Business Development” <jakprint@vsnl.com>

SilverPoint, 493-9908/9/10/24, silverpoint@vsnl.com

Comart – Pre-Press, 9892237339 Freddie

Jasra – Pre Press, Ravi Jasra, ravi@jasras.com, gyan@jasra.com

There are great printers in Delhi too, but I have no personal experience of them.

Ranbir Nerwal 9810324069, ranbir.nerwal@gmail.com  will do great, clean scans and is a superlative archival exhibition quality printer based in Delhi

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POD:

ZoomIn- Sunny, sunny@zoomin.com, 9967546468, they print mugs and tea shirts and other merchandising too should you need it.

Reproscan – pre-press. mumbai, Pankaj Mehta98210-31209, Ketan Mehta accountsrepro@gmail.com, they do an excellent job on a variety of surfaces.

Mazda 2309-7392 / 6

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Distributors:

Variety Books, Om Arora, 09810016868, varietybookdepot@rediffmail.com, 011-24602032

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Time line:

presuming you have your book design ready, this is the sort of time you will need to print and receive your book.

Scanning, Pre-Press: 10 days

Proofing : 2 days

Printing approx. 200 pages (50 forms, 4 pages to 1 form) 3 days

Finishing (folding, cutting, stitching, binding, packing) 15 days.

Shipping, presuming you will go to Pragati in Hyderabad, 2 days.

Keep aside a month for your press and printing. It can be done in less time, but dont hurry your project, give yourself enough elbow room.

If you think you may need another print edition soon, make sure you tell the Printer to save and secure  your plates, you can save a considerable cost the next time. Most printers by default will keep the plates for a month, then they recycle them. It is also not advisable to keep  your plates for too long as they do deteriorate.

In any event, all your digital data, can be/should be ‘backed up’ at least on two different media, DVDs are known to get corrupted, so back up on a HDD as well.

Printers store your print profiles too, save this, it can save you time and money later on.

There you are done, if you need any more help, comment here and I’ll see how to point you in the right direction.

There is no better feeling than getting your book out.

Now with the iPad and Kindle and a slew of virtual book readers going to flood our space, publishing your book has never looked easier and affordable. Copyright issues still plague the publishing world, but they will be sorted out, soon enough.

Movie studios and Publishers like music labels had better watch out, the conventional model of publishing is/will dry up, when last did you go to a music store to buy a CD? Its not long before an ITunes type of iBook, or iTitle or iPub appears. Its around the corner, be there on the upswing. The writing is on the wall.

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There are tax benefits to being an author, and a publisher, Books are not taxed. Once I have collated all the exact info from the Tax Guide, with article no. etc. or if someone is an expert and would want to add, this is your place and chance to do that. But the good news is that books are given special consideration since Pandit Nehru’s time.

other related articles:     http://www.openthemagazine.com/article/true-life/writer-blocked?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed:+openthemagazine/essays+(Essays)&utm_content=Google+Reader