Print Portfolio Mania
Ideally, being a photographer should be about taking pictures. Sadly however, an inordinate amount of time is spend getting people to ask you to take pictures. Selling yourself through your portfolio of work. Back in the day this was a matter of carrying a box of your prints around for people to look at. Then it became sending a box of prints. Then sending a book of prints. And then these books got prettier. Much like that scene with the business card in American Psycho, the whole thing got out of control. The books then needed to individualized with fancy papers and bindings and boxes to hold the book when you were done. It's all very baroque. And in my opinion, annoying as all getup. Mostly because all of this frill and lace has absolutely nothing to do with the photographs inside the book. Don't get me wrong, I think 'presentable' and 'quality' are delightful, but this stuff gets over the top. People spend $1000 on their book. It's all about the presentation and not the work. A state of affairs which really offends me. As you may have figured out, I'm not a big fan of trends and fashion.
When I got into photography a few years ago I made myself a series of portfolios. Nice letter sized prints. Then someone told me that they images needed to be bigger, so I made an 11x14" book, with most of the images centered on the page with borders. Then I was told that I should do more images full bleed out to the edges of the paper, so I did some of that. It wasn't that the old fashion portfolios were really that terrible. But printing your own prints for them was time consuming and expensive. So making changes and updating was a bit of a pain. Plus I didn't like the pictures were sitting inside of mylar pages so you were physically separated from the print. The whole thing wasn't ideal.
Then early last year, I tried a Blurb book as my portfolio since they had done a nice job on my 365 Portraits and Japan books. But the images in this book didn't look as good as I needed them to. In fact the first go around was just terrible and I went back and forth with them before the reprinted and got it right. Wrote all about the affair at the time. The thing is, I liked the idea of having my portfolio be a solid book. Still do today. You can actually touch the pages for one thing, and make no bones about it. Portfolios are a tactile thing. I just needed to find a better bookmaker. Blurb and most of the others use CMYK printers. This 4 color process, which is how most magazines and packaging is printed, have a much smaller color gamut than your nice pigment ink jet at home. So except for the most unchallenging of images, you'll probably find the print wanting.
Then I gave Adorama books a shot. They bind together standard fuji c-prints by hand with a custom binding. So in some ways it's the best of both worlds. You get real photographic prints bound together into a book. Perfect for me. Sure you've got to reprint your whole book when you want to change an image, but I'm willing to take that limitation. I've done my portfolio book as well as the Drabbles and Motion books with them and been very happy overall. They're not the cheapest, but they're good. Oh and FYI, if you're a color nut and want to get a really good match, make sure you soft-proof with their profile because I found that if I was going by a standard sRGB rendering, the shadows of the prints would block up. The prints were a very close match to the soft-proofs though.
However, I was told this morning that art buyers are sick of the custom books and are wanting to see the old school portfolios again, and I'm honestly not too excited by that. In fact I don't know if I'm going to go back. I like the way my work looks in the books. I like the way they feel, and I think it's a very professional presentation that I have no reservations putting my name on. Maybe they don't like the 4 color books. That I can understand. I'm in great need to revise my standard portfolio and I'm in a bit of a quandry as to which way to go. Listen to the wind or listen to my heart. I tend to think about that Dylan lyric in times like this, "When somethin's not right, it's wrong". I think I'm gonna stick with a book. Redesigned for sure, but it feels more right than wrong to me despite what other people may think.
This whole discussion purposefully skirts the issue of which images go in the book. That's a book in itself. I wrote about it a while ago, but it's probably due a revisit. Maybe next week.