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Read Beyond Novelty, the Changing Face of Photography PART One

Hiding and Seeking A Photo Book Kickstarter

B: BP A: Andre

B: Tell us more about the idea of the project, mission and vision.

A: This project originally began as an experiment in self-promotion. After being given the opportunity to exhibit my camera phone images at a local gallery I began thinking of how to promote my work. The idea was to create a series of small photo books and hide them throughout the city, giving people clues on where to find them in hopes to generate interest in my work. At the time I was also questioning whether people (the general public) with their smart phones, still believed in the printed image. Or had everyone’s perception of photography been conditioned to see it only as digital images viewed online. How were people interacting with these images online? Had it lost its personal, intimate touch? Had photography been boiled down to sitting at a computer or using our smart phones clicking the “like,” “comment” and “send buttons?” Is this what our experience with photography had become? A physical photograph is the very thing that makes photography, well, photography. So what has photography become? What does it continue to be? What happens to all of these images we create? Do they get stored on HDs never to be born into the physical world? If these digital files don’t last forever, what remains? What of our memories? I wanted to address this.

With this experiment, I considered how I could connect the audience with my work through physical interactivity. Aside from challenging people’s perception of photography, I wanted to challenge how people interacted with the physical images and the urban environment. With physical photo albums we could flip through pages. There was something very intimate and personal about holding, controlling those pages. By creating a photo book and hiding it for people to find I challenged them to get out from their computer, engage their environment, along the way they’d find something new, be rewarded by a truly unique experience, and a free signed and numbered photo book that would contain a one-of-a-kind story, theirs. This was a book that was created especially for the one who found it. And my plan was to engage every individual in the creative process. They would help create their own experience.

I thought about what I would like to experience if given this opportunity. What does it mean to create a book? What would it mean to find a book? Is there a story within it? Can there be a story attached to it? A memory? I thought of this experiment from the user’s perspective in two ways:

  1. Everyone loves a treasure hunt and exploring new places, sights and things.
  2. If I could engage them in the process, and they were successful at finding the book, they would have a photo book embedded with a memory of the adventure they went on to find it, a book that only a small number of people would own. This book would be extremely specialized because no two people’s experience finding the book would be the same.

Would people go out and find this book, a free book? Did it matter who made it? Did a book in printed form, that intimate experience we have touching and turning its pages matter anymore? An adventure outside of traveling to the bookstore or buying a book online that everyone and their brother may own? Oh no, there had to be more, and I was going to challenge this idea.

After hiding two different series I realized that people would be challenged on multiple levels. People’s perception of what a book was, where one would go in order to find one, and how they might interact with the environment once there.

“Life is a game we play with friends in a park.” Lower East Side, NYC

“They casually strolled looking for the catch of the day.” Coney Island, NY

B: Can you provide some testimony/ story with the first book? Who found it?

A: I’ll share with you the story of SF book #15. It has the most interesting story of all. This particular book had one seeker, two finders, was lost and then found again. Book #15 was one of those books where I found myself tired. I really wanted to just get it off my hands. I had walked all over trying to hide it. I knew that right across the street from my office in an alley was a beautiful graffiti mural. I knew I wanted to hide it there but was stumped on how to do it. Taking a quick walk over before a meeting with a student, I got to the mural and looked around, first for security cameras, and second, for a hiding spot. After a little thought I found a fire main that ran down the building ended in a large brass fitting that had four nozzles on it. Bingo.  No security cameras, bonus. I hid the book in a newspaper disguise, so it looked like someone had just stashed a read newspaper. I hid the book behind the large pipe, sat there for 10-15 minutes to enter the hint on the blog. Satisfied, I split. Here’s where it gets interesting. After meeting with my student he emailed stating that he saw the book was hidden near by and went to find it. “Has anyone found it yet?” I answered, “no.” Check again, I told him, revealing an additional hint. This was one of the more obvious books. The book had been hidden right outside of a bar/art gallery called 111 Minna. While my student was standing there looking for the book a guy came out of the building to have a smoke. The student asked if he had seen a tall tattooed guy hide something right around here. The person answered that he had. He sees everything, he stated, there was a well-hidden security camera apparently. After witnessing me place something behind the pipe, he came out to see what it was after I had left. He admitted looking at it. He was quoted as saying it was the weirdest gallery submission they had ever received. Obviously, uninterested, and failing to be unique enough for him, he threw it away. Really? After hearing this the student asked where he discarded the book. The guy point at a trash bin, and my student retrieved his book.

I was surprised to hear this story. Man, this kid had one hell of a story attached to this book now. He couldn’t believe the person at the bar/gallery had looked at it, seen a photo book and then threw it away. I would have put it back or kept it. Its not everyday you find something like that on the street. My student loved the experience, and the idea. He had been following the project but never had the opportunity to find a book. When he was finally given an opportunity he had to put one hell-of-an effort into getting his book. And now he’ll never forget it.

This obviously was an extreme example but it shows that each person’s experience in finding one of these books is unique. This experience is embedded in the book as a memory forever. Making the book even more unique. I created the book, and he helped create the experience that would define his book. It really is truly awesome.

B: What are some of the lessons learned being that this is such an innovative project under the new social networking/social media/ mobile photography/ tech world we live?

A: Hiding books in both SF and NYC posed their own unique challenges. I swear it feels like almost every book was a lesson learned. But to keep it simple here’s a list:

  1. Embrace the digital in order to love the physical. Yes, sounds oxymoronic. But this project would not have been possible without the web.
  2. I thought it would be really easy to hide small photo books in a dense city. It’s actually a lot harder to hide a book than I thought it would be.
  3. When I first started hiding books I went in with high expectations. “This is new, fresh, everyone will love this, it’ll go viral and life will be good.” Um, ya, don’t go into a project like this with expectations. Just do it because you feel passionate about the concept or the thought behind it, and then just go with the flow if it takes off. Otherwise, you’ll be distracted by a self-imposed sense of failure.
  4. One of the biggest challenges was figuring out how to promote the hell out of this idea. Let’s face it. You could hide a million dollars out on the streets, no one’s going to find it unless you tell them its there. I had to figure out how to create a want, a need, for these books. I wanted to get people talking about it. This was probably my biggest challenge, especially being a book of images created using a smart phone. Not everyone values these images or what they represent. When someone found the book I would post a congratulations stating their name and the book number so everyone would see. I spread it all over the web, IG, FB, twitter, my blog. I had a big wall to scale. And honestly, I’m still scaling it.
  5. People will put their hands in strange places to find a book
  6. Wrap your books in waterproof storage bags, rain and sprinklers aren’t healthy for a book.
  7. Hide your books in stable locations and include a brief “finders‘s” statement inside so if they’re found accidentally the person will know what to either log it or put it back. Expect one or two books to be lost to oblivion. Yes, it’s happened, SF, book #13, NYC books #6, 10, 11. They were either trashed, or someone found them and didn’t know what to do with it.
  8. Have a theme or an idea of where to place the books otherwise you’ll spend more time walking and less time hiding.
  9. Disguise your books. This is where you can be really creative. I disguised them in daily newspapers. This aided my success in NYC where there seems to be a million “eyes in the sky,” and a public policy that if you see something, say something. I would hide the book in a paper sit down and take my time reading an article and then stash it as if I was done reading. No one thought twice, and I hid some books in some extremely popular places.
  10. There are now options at book publishers where you can also create a digital version of your book for people to purchase or download. I considered making this available for my books. I decided against it. I wanted to retain a mysterious aura to the books. There was only one way you were going to get this book and that was to go out and find it.

“In his dreams maybe.” East Village, NYC

“There comes an image that defines every photographer’s existence, reason for being. This is mine.” In the subway coming from Yankees game, NY

B: Were there any historical references you used in developing this project? 

A: Good old treasure hunting, adventure, and the love for printed photography. 

B: Can you tell the readers more about why you feel that this validates the photography developed from a mobile device?

A: This validates mobile phone photography by proving that these images we are creating with our phone-enabled cameras are in fact a true form of photography, coming full circle. We are creating images and completing the photographic process by printing them. No matter what device we are using to capture the image it is still, and always will be an organic process, unique to the individual. Without that final step in the process of making that physical print, the process lies incomplete. And lets face it. There are a lot of people out there who don’t believe a good quality print can be pulled from the images being created on these smartphones. Making books like these, and prints prove that wrong.

B: When putting a book together, what do you look for in your images that you put in the book?  Can you give us some production ideas as I know that some folks have stated they love the idea and may possibly try something smaller scale amongst family and friends?

A: When I put a book together I find it to be a somewhat simple, yet difficult process. What makes this process simple is the fact that I shoot in one genre of photography, street photography, with a specific style. I don’t have to worry about what images to combine. I just have to choose my favorites. I DO NOT choose everyone elses favorites or my most commented on or popular as seen on my IG feed. Be careful of this. In the beginning I was tempted to choose images from my IG feed that had the highest views to put into my books. I realized very quickly that by going this route my audience wouldn’t be seeing me for who I really am, but as everyone else thought I was. These books are an opportunity for me to share my work, what I feel are my strongest, and my thought process on a more intimate level. Maybe even throwing in something you’ve never seen before as a little surprise.

Once the images are chosen I then face the challenge of arranging them in an order, what images is first? What image is last? My goal is to create a flow, a rhythm. Think poetry. Verts, horizontals, squares, b&w, color, how will all of these elements relate with one another on the page, communicate as a whole in the book? Once I get an initial layout then begins the process of finessing to finalize the feel of the book. The challenging part of all though is choosing the cover, and deciding on a title.

Production ideas

  1. Have a theme for your book. Try to keep it consistent. Not to say that chaotic book without a theme can’t be your theme.
  2. Pool your choice images into a working edit before you begin designing the pages.
  3. Edit that pool down to your favorites, based on how many pages you’ll be including.
  4. Think about layout. If you’re going to put multiple images on a page how do they relate to one another? How do they communicate as a “whole?” Are you Juxtaposing thoughts? Pairing similarities? Or just randomly placing images? Give sit some thought to bring deeper meaning to your book, and the story within.
  5. Consider writing captions for your images or include some text about your process. Everyone loves a little extra story.
  6. Title your book.

“Peeking into his subconscious the man knew there was work to be done.” Brooklyn, NY

“I had no idea what I had until I looked later.” Times Square, NYC

B: What do you feel about your project being duplicated by others?

A: I think that’s an awesome compliment to myself, and my project if others find it fascinating enough to want to explore the concept as well. What I would challenge people out there to do who might be considering a project like this is to not copy my project verbatim, but take the idea and use it as a spring board to create a unique project of their own. I was originally inspired by a local illustrator who was a stay at home dad. To pass his time he created 100 illustrations with one theme and hid them all around our town, one a week, using a blog to post hints. The idea was awesome. I even went looking for them with my wife and daughter a few times only to be beat to the treasure. But what I was fascinated by was the intimacy of the search, how I was included in the process. Look, there really are no new or original ideas anymore that weren’t inspired by something or someone else, as is the case with my book project. Think of it as an open source project. We’ll all benefit from the proliferation of creative ideas, and if we all contribute to ideas that help move the art of photography even one baby step forward then we can say we were successful in leaving our mark, even it’s a tiny one.  If you find inspiration in this project, great! Now take that inspiration and spin it into something that reflects you.

B: In each book, can you tell us the storyline, the effect you wish to have on the audience?

A: These books contain my favorite images at a particular moment in time that I took great care in choosing and editing. Throughout the pages I am sharing my thought process visually. I want the audience to look at these images. Touch them. Feel the paper. Smell the ink. Well, ok, maybe that’s going too far. I am hoping to create an internal dialogue in their heads. Why did he choose these? “Oh, that’s my favorite as well.” Or, “Not my favorite. He has better.” “Where’d he print this?” “Man! It looks so much better printed.”

There isn’t necessarily a storyline in the books when I hide them as much as they’re a portfolio of images, a celebration of the street, and how I see it. The images in the book are important but not as important as the memory of the experience that will be embedded in this book. That’s the effect I hope to have on my audience. They may be going to find one of these books because they like my images, or just want an adventure, or enjoy collecting photography. But one thing’s for certain, when they’re done this book will now contain a story that tells the tale of their adventure to find it, transforming it into a book that is uniquely theirs. Essentially, they help to complete the book with their story.

B: Share with us the process of developing the book, deciding where you want to hide, the significance of where you may hide a book, what hints you share with the audience?

A: When I first started the project in SF I truly had no idea where to hide these books. I just knew I wanted to hide them in random places. Honestly, this made the project even more difficult. Each time I went out to hide a book I would walk for blocks, sometimes miles unsuccessful. Unsure of what I was looking for, aside from an interesting crack or crevice that was slightly out of view. This made for some really obscure hiding places and even more general clues.

SF Book #2, “There’s a tunnel in the city, a gateway from the new and modern to the old. A gateway to another world that moves both people and vehicles. The book is hidden near the entrance. Look closely. What you find may be deceiving. Post your find here.”

With this problem at hand I would find myself wanting to get rid of the book as quick as I could, stashing them in the first place I could find. I had to fight this. I did not want to succumb to this laziness. After that experience which wasn’t bad, I thought about how I could approach hiding books in a dense city in which I was completely unfamiliar.

 

The second series in NYC I was particularly challenged because I knew nothing of the city’s urban landscape. I had to come up with a game plan if I was to successfully hide 20 books in NYC over 5 days. Giving it thought I knew that NYC was swelling with photographic history. I chose to hide books in, around or near locations that were historically relevant to street and documentary photography allowed me to add a whole new level to the experience for the audience. Whether you were actively searching for the books or just following the project’s progress you were about to be taken on a journey through photographic history, and hopefully learn about a photographer or event you knew nothing about. And that’s exactly what happened in NYC.

For example, Book #15, “Photographer Helen Levitt spent nearly 70 years shooting street photography in NYC. She had an eye for capturing private, tender moments that would otherwise go unnoticed. According to her Wikipedia page, she has been called the most celebrated and least known street photographer of her time.

Book #15 is hidden in the lower east side. Near the corner of Stanton and orchard are two faded blue boxes. One hides your disguised book. Have a seat and look carefully.

Please log your find here.”

“She pushed her cart up the hill like a modern day Sisyphus.” Chinatown, NY

B: How can we help you in your project?  (insert kickstarter or any other fashion you think folks can help out)

A: Thank you for asking. Throughout the life of both SF and the NYC campaigns I received many requests to hide books in other states across the US and in other countries. I couldn’t believe the interest that was generated from this project. I began to toy with the idea of approaching a much larger project, hiding books across the country. As you can imagine this would be a major undertaking. I quickly began to write out details and create a game plan. I won’t get into the process in full detail here. But lets just say I knew I wanted to up the ante here and make this special. I wanted these books to be hardbound. I approached a few different book-publishing companies. Of those, the folks at keepsy.com saw the unique value of this project and jumped onboard immediately to help produce the books that would be hidden upon the successful funding of this project. I also wanted to make sure that all of the donor rewards were also physical, printed limited edition items. The folks at insteegr.am, prinstagr.am, instacanv.as, and sincerely.com all got on board to help produce some cool rewards featuring my images.

So please if you really admire the idea, wish you had thought of it first, want a aeries of books hidden in your town, or just like my photography please donate to the cause at: Kickstarter, if you can’t donate at least $1 or $5 please share the link with your friends and family I would really appreciate it.


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