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.

Sikh and ye shall find.

October 26, 2012

Raghu Rai is a photographer of international importance who derives all his nourishment from the land that raised him. From his days at India Today and those remarkable, unforgettable black and white photo features that helped propel IT into the serious content magazine category, his fame is legendary now.

 

His latest book ‘The Sikhs’ along with the redoubtable Kushwant Singh is fresh off the Lustre Press. Roli Books make an impressive large square format documentary on the lions of Punjab.

 

The text has been written authoritatively and with the very readable, simple style that makes Kushwant Singh the icon that he is. It is very clear that the subject is part of KS’s (not to be mistaken for Kamasutra, he writes because a condom for the pen has not been invented yet) blue blood cells. Kushwant Singh weaves his narrative over the history of the Sikhs interlocking its spiritual ideology with the religious rubric. The politics of the Punjab, the dynastic clashes, the fall of the kingdom, the role the Sikhs played during British rule, the Nationalist movement, the Akalis, The Temple and Operation Blue Star. Through reading the text (and its un putdownable) you somehow get to know the author more and how much he loves and admires the people and the land that give him an identity and a voice. He tries to be objective but is any objectivity ever possible? One of the most endearing qualities of Kushwant Singh is his ability to laugh at one and all. There is no malice in the man despite his columns’s claim. There are typically some Sardarji jokes too in the book.

 

But this is largely a Picture Book in gleaming colour fabulously produced, with a clean layout. By any standard it is a beautiful book however, Raghu Rai has to be judged on a standard that he himself sets up and by that exalted benchmark the book falls very short. Raghu Rai has this genius quality of the elements of foreground, background and midground coming together in an almost advertising set up. When you see a Raghu Rai you cant help but be messmerised at how this trained dog and trained cow and trained crow and trained people and sculpted sky and etched tree all come together co ordinated and preordained in the middle of the nowhere.  Or from within the chaos of Chandini Chowk, a pattern, a shape, a form, a canvas emerges. He does this with such uncanny regularity that you would think that he travels with a caravan size prop box and trained extras who pop up like cutouts in the desert. His unique sense of composition leaves you not getting the ‘whole in one’. You need to come back often, mull, savor, get pieces of it till finally the synapses in your head go click and it falls mysteriously in place like a cyberslot machine. The greatest quality of a Raghu Rai is its ability to make you part of the creative process rather than presenting you with a beautiful picture that leaves no doubt as to its origins and destination, a fait accompli. A picture that you ‘get’ at once does not need to be revisited. Raghu Rai’s images have a shadowy, mysterious quality but here he visits his own work like a ghost, appearing sometimes and walking out of his mind at others. The work looks too similar to Rahgubir Singh’s, most of it shot as a observer rather than a participant. Yes if you are a sikh you will definitely want to own this book, but if you are looking to see a Raghu Rai then the book hangs tenuously and it momentarily seems like the plastic credit card is heavier than the considerable book, should you commit the Rs 1975 or not, that act of indecision is where the book loses out. There are books out there that leave no doubt that even if you have to rob your grandmother to own it then shut your eyes and your qualms do it and sit down gently later to explain, and buy your ticket to visit Benares and do Ganga snan too.

The photos on page 43, 51, 54, 75, 77, 80, 81, 83, 84, 92,105 and 115 are purely redoubtable RR and truly marvellous. Some of them do look staged but what the heck, it seems natural and within context. The others are there and have documentary significance, the gaping hole in the golden temple after operation Blue Star is a glaring example, the rest of the images are cold and seem to look a bit tired. The text talks of the diaspora but where are the sikh cabbies and truck drivers? They seem to be on strike. Where is the Sikh Regiment? And the sikhs all over the subcontinent and beyond? Where is Bangra, bangra rap, and hello where is Daler Mehndi and Jaspal Bhatti? Oh they are in the cabs and trucks that are on strike and stranded.

 

Raghu Rai’s style is inimitable though a couple of young photographers try hard, they if they don’t watch out will always be a facsimile. There can be only one Raghu Rai as there is only one Kushwant Singh, but there are many sikhs and thankfully this is not the definitive volume, so take heart. The Sikhs don’t give up their secrets all that easily, maybe they are more democratic in sharing their mystique and wealth than artists and photographers are.

 

 

There is a lesson and a huge one somewhere, Sikhism is a direct reaction against the Hindu caste system, it does occur that if one exchanges  this oppressive social structure for a more egalitarian one or reorganise it to be contemporary then the people of that belief system inherit the earth and the wealth it provides. There are no Sikh beggars, chew on that Yaswant Sinha and Lal Kishan Advani.

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.

Blossfeldt do you?

October 23, 2012

Can a piece of work be described as Erotic and Devotional simultaneously? The question itself suggests dichotomy. Maybe our perceptions come from contemporary established behavior within temples and cathedrals. That these places are supposed to elevate, to be inspiring, to take us to a higher plane while eros and the desires out of sexual love keep us rooted to our humanity. Duality

 

Can Karl Blossfeldt’s book on botanica ever be termed erotic? Can it be called Devotional?

 

The book simply called Karl Blossfeldt is the work of an artist, botanist, lover, high priest. The book incorporates most of his previously published work ( Art forms in Nature 1928, magic Garden of Nature 1932, Magic in Nature 1942) and some hitherto unpublished photographs.

 

Though Blossfledt died in 1932 all his work here is quite simply extraordinary by contemporary standards. He once remarked any verbose explanation would only detract from the plants themselves. Blossfeldt never had any aspirations of becoming a photographer, his passion was botany and the miniature and what the camera lucida helped him do was show magnified sometimes 45 times, the overlooked, the underfoot and unrecognised. His camera is almost a microscope in unusual formats. The bane of his life was sharpness. Anyone who uses a large format camera with larger bellows extension will know how difficult it is to keep the camera steady let alone prevent your tiny plant specimen from blowing away with the gentlest breeze. He built simple and crude devices to sandwich the plant within two sheets of glass keeping a space between them to keep the plant from getting pressed. This would help his depth of field issues but long exposures would mean that even creaking floors could cause shake.

 

The photographs have no complicated positions, Missionary top down and standard side ways. Backgrounds are either black or white. These were going to be  standard teaching aids while he lectured botany.  Blossfeldt almost becomes accidental, faceless, voiceless, inconsequential. The plants have strong personalities, they have ways of behaving and misbehaving, they have voluptuous lower lips and sex organs. They can remind you of a ‘septre’ only because we are arrogant to think we invented the shape. They look like wrought iron railings. They can be sensuous and emotionally charged.

 

They can be architectural forms, cupolas and pillars. They can have the delicacy of a Rococo ornament or display Gothic flamboyance. They develop Baroque lungs and sing antiphons, they are Gregorian chants, and can be the Vienna boys choir. Then flip the page and the sound they start making are Theravada and grown up and visceral. The plants talk and sing its an audio visual experience. The whole orchestra is there from the snares to the tinkling triangles, from the double bass to the violin, from the kettle drum to the dumroo.

 

Darwin would suggest that all of nature has only one function to perform, SEX, all beauty all shape is there because it helps survival better.  Then could it be that this cosmic conjugating unfolding on the lawn and in your backyard, is a puja to the Lord?Can Karl Blossfeldt’s book on botanica ever be termed erotic? Can it be called Devotio

 

 

 

 

Not too many people nor indeed photographers in India have heard of Joel Peter Witkin, but he is celebrated in certain circles in the west for his controversial images.

His eponymous catalogue titled simply Witkin is a treasure , it coincides with a huge retrospective on at the Guggenheim museum NY. 

When you look at a Joel Peter Witkin image you are overcome by its technical uniqueness, especially these days when its all instantaneous and digital, Witkin is peerless when it comes to creating a Daguerrotype style image. It is said that he dips his negatives in coffee and then scratches them with a finger nail, makes his own prints, coats them in beeswax, warms and then burnishes them.

 

Whether what Witkin does is art or not will forever be debated, depending on your own sensibilities and aversions of things ‘grotesque’, weird, or ghoulish. In the same tradition of Arbus, Witkin thrives on  transsexuals, or people with deformities. Many of his images are distortions or alternative views of classical paintings and have mythological undertones. While Leonardo’s visits to the morgues might have resulted in anatomically perfect figures, Witkins visits to the morgues in New Mexico results more in a meat shop placement of amputated heads, limbs there by design that challenge notions of beauty and ugliness.

 

Witkin says of his own work that they are spiritual, each like prayers.

I’ve received Bone House recently and shall add  a much large commentary when I’ve formulated some thoughts on this wonderful book.

http://www.zonezero.com/exposiciones/fotografos/witkin/jpwdefault.html

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?

ART – PORN photography

October 20, 2012

 

At what point can nude photography be considered art as opposed to pornography? Pornography in the pejorative is associated with explicit depictions of the sexual act. ‘Deliver me from writers who say the way they live doesn’t matter. I’m not sure a bad person can write a good book. If art doesn’t make us better, then what on earth is it for’ — Alice Walker.

Having said that there have been ‘terrible’ people who’ve made great art.

 

So that in essence is the polarity. All of us have resident within the human, the animal and the divine or sacred, individual or mob violence is a tendency that comes out of our animal side, compassion from the sacred, staying non committal, neutral is perhaps our human, sitting on the fence, side. The difference and similarity would be akin to Love and Lust. If we can remove morality for a minute, it might get simpler to understand. Human beings have a heritage of making judgments and often what has been handed down as good and bad remain our sacred tenets. Nietzsche in Twilight of the Idols exhorts us to examine our values and see if they ring true.

 

A lot has to do with motives. Why are you making the photograph to start with? So even at the concept, ideological, wish level it is crucial to know one’s motives. Before anyone else has seen the photograph it could be art or vulgarity depending on that single test. But that is not the end of the line, just the start. A photograph when it becomes public has to fit into a sensibility. One culture would think a photograph vulgar/pornographic while another may not. Subjectivity comes with its own filters, morality, social mores and prejudice (pre-judgment). The point at which the photograph shifts from art to pornography could be several depending on who is viewing it. A general rule of societal thumb is when a group of people at a certain space/time become offended, the object of their disdain, ‘for them’, becomes vulgar. If a photograph is exploitative it veers towards the pornographic regardless of space/time or society.

 

M.F. Hussein’s Saraswati and Bharatmata along with Andres Serrano’s Piss Christ have a common element. The museum in Melbourne was vandalized by right wing fundamentalist Christians, in protest of a not too brilliant image, of a crucifix in an amber liquid. But go beyond the obvious, what if Serrano did not have a title to his photograph, some devout Christian might even have thought it worthy of veneration in their home, what if the image was called Honey Christ? What if it was dipped in Honey and called Piss Christ?

Vandalized Piss Christ

Many what ifs, as the answer oscillates from ‘art’ to ‘offensive’, notice the image has not changed at all. Only  ones perception. It might be crucial to check on Sorenno’s antecedents and his track record, would it change things to discover that he might be a devout and practicing Christian? If you saw a pair of perfect, sensuous breasts in a magazine half the populations could swing either way, but what if you then discovers a sign at the bottom that read, “Early examination prevents cancer”, would the context change the message.

 

Eventually art is not necessarily to be ‘liked’, art and artists roles are to challenge our perceptions of the world and ourselves. It holds a mirror to us and often times our warts and our insecurities show up. Shall we be content to be unaware of our ISness and bury our heads in the sand.

 

Most often historically, it is politics and those vested interests that create schisms and intolerance of one set of people over another. If we could borrow the sensibilities of the ‘other’, would our world view be that much more enhanced or diminished?

 

The nude human form is the most challenging subject there is. Because it’s all to do with perception. The human form laid bare of time and space, suddenly becomes eternal, divested of pretensions and fashions. It’s got the EQ (emotional quotient) that anyone from anywhere can relate to and identify with. The photograph does not need a title and explanation. It might be difficult to get emotional or attached to a pressure cooker, but the human form is quite another saga. How one deals from behind that eye piece with ones humanity is the process to greater potentials.

nude © david de souza

Advertising by definition is entirely attention seeking, if today people are aroused, shocked, jolted by an image, advertising will not discriminate. It is there for that reason alone. So if nudes bring the advertiser its target market closer to the client’s product, advertising will use nudes, but if you were in a society saturated with the nude images advertisers would find fully dressed images to sell their products. What is scary is that all the creative, intelligent people get into advertising; they know how the mind, and senses work and then use images to seduce people. There is a manipulative specter that surrounds advertising. It’s like some foul smelling, long haired, kid getting into your brain and pressing your pleasure centers, without your knowledge and/or ‘consent’.

 

If you have a society that is not squeamish, puritanical, or right wing. If there is a relevance to the product. If the advertising can be aesthetic and uplifting, responsible and have its motives sorted out. If it’s ethical there should be no problem in using the human nude form. Having said that with so many ifs, rarely can you justify using the nude as an advertising ploy in India.

 

There are several countries in Europe and South America and even some in Asia that have pornography channels along with porno magazines and DVDs that are free to view and buy if you are above legal age. Pornography has become so undeniable that reputed universities offer a study of the subject. It is such a far cry from our country where mere ‘sex education’ is such a hotly debated subject in parliament, where the objectors to the education outnumber those who are for it. If a proper scientific, sexual survey was done in our country it would then expose what everyone sort of surmises, that our sexual misconduct and crimes would then show us up and dent our ersatz pride for who we truly are, and that would not be acceptable. Hypocrisy is one of our many legacies.

 

Hypocrisy can be pornographic.

 

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

16/11/06


Photography is certainly coming of age and art in India, in recent weeks there has been a spate of high caliber fine art shows, Dress Circle, a black and white photo essay on at the Jehangir Nicholson gallery adds to the list.

Shahid Dattawala explores Delhi Cinema houses where two-dimensional hoardings seem prophetic of the three-dimensional real world around them, becoming animated themselves in the process. A fallen cut-out of Ajay Devgan in Lonely Stars is aware of the presence of the intruding lens while Urmilla tries to cuddle up to him, the irony and truth are not lost.  A busty torso from one poster, voyeurs into Jism setting up their own competitive, jealous conversation. On a rolling shutter a job opportunity poster solicits – Wanted Women with pleasing personality, all ambiguity of what that might constitute is diminished with the midriff bearing, navel showing nach girl in the adjoining hoarding, the recruiting agency might never have anticipated such a slew of raunchy applicants. Purdah Ladies step past Bikini Island but this kind of image has been seen and done before, Steve McCurry / Pamela Singh Bordes did their own ‘me too’, colour/bw women in burkha marching past the shiv sena tiger hoardings at churchgate. Juxtapositions offer a quick and immediate, hole-in-one irony, the photographer has to locate a catchy poster (not too uncommon with C grade cinema houses showing A or XX rated films) and then lie is ambush till the ‘appropriate’ quarry falls between his cross hairs. This is not to take away from the exquisite quality, beautifully composed, full toned, rich black and white, archival injets.

Interspersed are graphic architectural images of seedy, decrepit, art deco in low esteem cinema houses, the three print sizes too break the visual geometry creating interest and makes use of the gallery space intelligently. The show is well curated and tight, with not a single loose or careless image.

Shahid moves away from the crowded, does not show the predictable, instead chooses off hours, intermission, holidays or after shows, most of the images are devoid of recognizable humans, they are mostly put through the meat grinder of camera obscura, they appear with their backs to the camera or as ghostly blurs being preyed upon by Bhoot.