Steer for the deep waters only

Robert Day's thoughts on his photography, his writing and his business

The Soul of the Machine

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I realise that I’ve been fairly silent on this blog for a while. Well, the simple reason is that nothing’s been happening.

In one way, that’s bad. There is certainly no work coming in at the moment, which is provoking thoughts of possible Plans B. But it’s also given me time to work on my own projects. Chapter One of The Lost Railway – the Midlands has been seen by my editor and found good, and chapter two is complete in outline. The latest photographs I’ve finished for it can be seen here:

Midland Place, Derby, 1977 (photo by Ted Day)

Loco Works Sports & Social Club, Midland Place, Derby, 1977 (photo by Ted Day)

However, that project is all very well, but it’s not exactly remunerative. Ian Allan’s advance structure is one-third on signature, one-third on delivery and one-third on publication; and these are not life-changing amounts. And a year of doing model railway shows and antiques/crafts fairs have shown me that photographic prints for the wall are not big sellers. A lot of people have gone “ooh” and “ah” at my pictures, but their wallets have, for the most part, stayed firmly in their pockets. I decided that I needed a product to sell. I contemplated making postcards, but that didn’t seem right for the pictures I have been making. The scale is too small. So then I thought of photobooks.

For anyone not familiar with the concept, photobooks are self-composed, print-on-demand books showing off photographic work. You download the composition software (essentially a desk-top publishing application), design your book, upload the pictures, add whatever text you need, and then send the whole lot up to the site provider. They then print as many copies as you want, from one (the minimum order of the provider I’ve been using) to – well, however many you can afford.

I was recommended Blurb.com, and I have to say that I’ve been impressed with them. They claim that the end product is “bookstore quality”, and I would broadly agree with them. The book is available as a paperback or a hardback, and price is dependant on format, binding and number of pages. I have produced a 144-page book and I’m able to price it competitively with similar books from mainstream publishers.

Of course, the question then is what to select. I had various thoughts, but what I really wanted to showcase was the set of pictures I took on my trip to Poland and Germany back in February, because I consider that to be some of the best work I’ve done to date. After some thought, inspiration struck. My friend, the Canadian science-fiction writer Cliff Burns, had commented a while back on some of my pictures that he’d seen on-line. He said that I’d “…captured the soul of the machine”, and I liked that so much I’ve been using it as a strapline. Why not do a collection of my best machine pictures of the year, and use that as a title? I could produce a different book each year, and I could work back through my portfolio, producing retrospectives at least as far back as my digital photography can reach, and possibly further as I get more material scanned in. Of course, given that my photography has developed (if you’ll pardon that pun) over the past ten years, it’s possible that I won’t necessarily find the same amount of material in earlier years for a high-concept portfolio as I had to choose from for the first volume. Well, I can worry about that later.

Further thought suggested that I could also produce generic titles along the same theme: ‘The Soul of British steam’, ‘The Soul of the narrow gauge’, and so on. But that’s for the future, too.

Earlier this week, I received my first copy fromthe printers in Holland; I’m really very pleased with it. You can preview a copy on-line here: The Soul of the Machine 2011. It was comparatively quick and easy to do, and in my opinion the results are impressive.

The Soul of the Machine 2011

Now to get back to work on the project I’m actually being paid for!

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