Our First Book Submission! Q&A with Milwaukee Photographer Erin Dorbin

Milwaukee photographer Erin Dorbin recently finished up production of her first photo-book entitled “Uncommon Spaces & Everyday Places: Volume 1.” This also happens to be the first book submitted for our Photo Book show that is slated for the Spring of 2012. The deadline for submission is January 31, 2012! We asked Erin some questions about the book and the photographs contained within, take a look below.

Q: Tell me a little bit about your background?

A: I have a background in public history, preservation and documentary photography. I have always looked for projects that meld my creative abilities as a photographer with my professional interests in the field of history and architecture. Therefore, a zine such as this was the perfect personal project for me.

Q: What is the subject matter of your book and how did it come about?

A: Since I received my Canon Rebel G in 1997 as a gift for my birthday it has remained my best traveling companion. I used its 24-36 frames as my travel diary, documenting the locations and experiences I have had along U.S. roadways. Specifically, around 2000, I became obsessed with traveling the Midwest to document the remaining movie houses still standing or in operation. I then started noticing other unique architectural gems, roadside attractions, or what appeared as structural anomalies against the more and more homogenous built environments that we live in today.  I pretty much decided to snap a photo of any structure or landscape that stood out to me as distinctive to one particular area; these were the places you couldn’t find in the next town over. In the end, the places I captured on roll after roll of film were the places that gave shape to each local environment and provided them with a distinctive visual identity.

I have been trying to put together a printed photo book / zine since 2002, or even earlier. I still have files I saved of books I put together in Microsoft Word! To me, holding a printed copy in your hand is much more satisfying than viewing digital images on a computer screen. At the time I began putting these small books together the cost of printing small runs that were full-color was just outrageous. I could never afford to actually print them. In 2007, I started to notice some of my peers on flickr producing gorgeous catalogue-quality zines and I began collecting them and inquiring about their processes. Prices are now much lower. If you can afford a few hundred dollars upfront, you can now produce a high-quality photo book or zine. The ability to self-publish opens up many exciting possibilities for sharing your work and presenting your images in unlimited printed formats.

Q: Discuss your process for the design, layout, and sequencing of the book…

A: I downloaded Adobe’s InDesign a few years ago but had no idea how to use it. I also did not have any formal training in design. My starting point was creating a document that would be a standard size that could easily be printed by any printer. I feel like making the document the correct size was the most important part of the process. If you overlook this step and make a custom size, spend all of the time laying out your design and then realize in the end that a printer can’t accommodate your document without charging high fees for custom sizing and printing, you are going to have to spend a lot of time going back to the beginning and re-laying out your entire book/zine. So, make sure that you look into the sizes your chosen printer can accommodate before beginning the process of laying out/designing our document!

I tried to select images that all fit a very similar theme or feel. Being a travelogue of sorts, I also wanted to include images from a varied geographical area. I ended up switching images out even at the last minute before I sent the file off to the printer because I didn’t feel like some of them were supportive of one another. I encourage you to spend a decent amount of time playing around with different pairings or groupings of images to get a set that is together the strongest. You will spend a significant time editing your collection, just like you would in any other type of portfolio. The time spent in this editing process pays off in the end because you have a much more powerful, cohesive book for people to experience. Always think about your audience, too. What images would be most visually or emotionally striking to them? Maybe your favorite images don’t tell the story that your audience would appreciate either so consider what the images are communicating to the reader and how they speak to one another on the page.

Back to the design aspect of the book, which I knew little about actually executing in a program, I tried to design pages that were clean, not too busy, and that were uniform throughout. I didn’t want any embellishments on the page to detract attention away from the images. I also used a strong, crisp, yet plain, font that also wouldn’t compete with the images.  These are important things to consider in the process. Spend some time viewing your pages with different fonts and layouts. Critically view them in alongside one another and see which one is the strongest, and possibly even the simplest. I also encourage you to view a stack of photographic books to study how images and text are laid out together on the page.

The front, back and interior covers were designed using Photoshop, which I am slightly more familiar with. I saved the .jpg to the size of my zine page and placed the image into InDesign just as I did the actual inside photos. I incorporated vintage maps into the design sent to me by a friend because they matched the overall travel theme.

Q: Where did you go to get the book printed? How was your experience?

A: I decided that I would forego using the publisher, Blurb, which I had used in the past when I created my previous photo book. I wanted this publication to be less formal, but without sacrificing the print quality. I chose a printer called SmartPress.com out of Chaska, MN. Perhaps having lived in the Twin Cities for a while I trusted them over the others found in the long list of online publishers. Plus, their prices were right with a 25%-off promotion for printing booklets at the time. This took down the price considerably. Their customer service was phenomenal, their pricing system very user-friendly and they had many options available for each booklet. Some websites I noticed had confusing or limited processes for selecting printing options. I didn’t have the paper choices in front of me so I went with a thicker stock knowing that I didn’t want images to show through the page from the other side. Their staff worked with me to get my book to me under a tight deadline. I highly recommend them! The quality of the book when it arrived completely surpassed my expectations.

Q: Final comments

A: Don’t be afraid of the process! There are many online tutorials to help you with design and layout nowadays. I searched Google several times to easily find answers to my questions about using a program I was unfamiliar with (InDesign). I also am the type of person to bookmark every site I visit and keep a list of notes on the process so in the future if I ever tackle a similar project I’ll have a frame of reference after the details of the process have abandoned my memory.

Q: Any other projects in the works?

A: I named this book / zine “Vol. 1” so there will be more! I’m already selecting images for inclusion in the next edition in the series.

You can view more of Erin’s work online on her flickr stream: http://www.flickr.com/photos/e50e/

Erin is also a Digital Historian and runs the podcast Hey, Man Cool! Digital History Productions


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