The Handmade Photobook

As I begin to finalise the work for my Degree Project, I have been looking at the process of making a Photobook. Whilst the actual logistics of producing a book, as part of my final hand in, have been hindered by various Covid-19 restrictions, I used the opportunity to explore  learning some new skills, that I could not only reflect in my Degree Project Research Journal, but also used for future projects.

The Photobook:

I have used both Blurb and Blissett Bookbinders  in the past and by using their online software, which allows quite a degree of creative choices, you can create a professional and personalised book. However, I would argue that the results are more suited to family and wedding albums, rather than a platform with which to showcase a fine art project. 

If you are lucky enough to have access to a professional publisher, the choices are unlimited and you can make pretty much whatever your creativity desires.  Dragana Jurišić’s book Museummade in collaboration with poet Paula Meehan, is a beautiful example of what can be achieved. Ellen Jane Rogers’ book, Norfolk Calls was completely handmade with her amazing darkroom prints. It is unique in a way that a commercially produced book would struggle to capture in quite the same way. 

Below the beautiful Norfolk Calls by Ellen Rogers:

©ellenrogers

©ellenrogers

The Handmade Book:

I have emails from Ilford Photo regularly pinging into my inbox, and a few days ago I had an email entitled Making A Photobook from Darkroom Prints’, which was incredibly well timed. 

The article was written by Mike Caputo, an American photographer who owns ‘The Hawaii Darkroom’; a membership driven community darkroom in Hawaii. Caputo is an experienced darkroom technician, but by his own admission the most difficult part of the process was getting two darkroom prints on the same piece of 8x10 paper; and just to make things more difficult he chose to use negatives of different formats and sizes too. The making of the book required a few specific tools over and above what was required for the darkroom prints: 

  • a bone folder
  • awl
  • pen and pencil
  • paint brush
  • PVA glue
  • thread and wax 
  • a metal ruler

Caputo admits to not knowing anything previously about book binding, but embarked on making a leather-bound hardback book, stitched and glued together with darkroom prints on Ilford FB Classic Matt paper. It also involved learning some new terminology as he says here: 

  • There was one printing format I would adhere to; I would make one centrefold per folio. In case you are as unfamiliar with the term folio, I’ll explain; it’s a sheet of paper folded once to form two leaves (four pages) of a book. My idea was to have three sheets of paper for each folio, the first two would have one print on each side of the paper, and the third sheet would be a centerfold spread on both pages (Ilfordphoto, 2021)

What he ended up with was a beautiful 5x5 leather bound book, completely made by hand:

©mikecaputo

©mikecaputo

©mikecaputo

This process is something I will certainly try after my final hand in at uni, in just a few short weeks time. I have a small darkroom at home, but at the moment I’m only set up for black and white printing, so if I wish to include colour images I will have my printing done professionally. I have begun to make some enquiries about printing onto Photorag paper stock, which I think will complement the to the feel of a handmade book, together with looking at some YouTube videos (what did we do before YouTube!) Four Keys Book Arts have several videos all about making your own book, with the first one in the series ‘Making a Handmade Book - Part 1’. I’m really looking forward to working with some prints of my own work to create something personal and unique, that also complements my own creative practice … watch out for a future blog on how it goes!

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