New Orleans Photo Alliance: bookmaking workshop with Frank Hamrick

Getting up at 5:30 in the morning on a Saturday is seriously Not Fun, but this workshop was totally worth it. It was $30 for NOPA members, which included all the material needed to make 2 books, and some tools (bone folder, bookbinder’s awl, heavy gauge needle) we were allowed to keep. It was hosted by Frank Hamrick, who teaches at Louisiana Tech University up in Ruston. He’s not only a talented artist, but a very good teacher: I never felt lost when he was demonstrating technique, and he kept the atmosphere lively–whenever he was gluing something and it would get quiet, he would ask people to tell funny or embarrassing stories. (My embarrassing story: when I had a receptionist job about 10-12 years ago, I was supposed to answer the phone: “Thanks for calling [name of business], this is Sarah”. Once I said “Thanks for calling [name of business], this is stupid”. Yeah. One of my co-workers overheard me and never let me live it down. I was almost glad when the business went under and we all got laid off.)

I’d never thought of photo books as anything other than vanity projects–like personal coffee table books–but actually they have lots of applications. As promotional material, as a way to present a portfolio, in limited editions to be sold like a you would a painting or a single framed photograph. Frank even displays his works in books, although sometimes it’s hard to get galleries to accept a book as a legitimate way to exhibit photographs. They’re so invested in the idea that the only way you display photographs is in a frame on the wall; plus they get nervous about artwork that patrons are allowed to handle.

books 3, originally uploaded by pinstripe_bindi.

We made 2 different types of books. We made them totally from scratch; every board, piece of paper or fabric started out as a separate piece.

The one in the front is called a pamphlet, and is probably what you think of when you think of the word “book”: big pages folded in half and sewn through the middle, then glued between hard covers that have an adjoining spine.

The one in back is called a Japanese bound book: it’s single sheets of paper sandwiched between separate covers that have an exposed spine. We sewed ours together, but sometimes they’re bolted.

books 2, originally uploaded by pinstripe_bindi.

books 4, originally uploaded by pinstripe_bindi.

There are a few small errors: a couple of places where I used a little too much glue, the middle stitch in my Japanese book didn’t get pulled as tight as it should have, the pages of my pamphlet are a hair off center. But for a first effort, I can honestly say I’m pleased with myself. I’m especially proud of the fact that the pages are nicely lined up, and when the end sheets lay over the white paper, you can’t see any of them–they’re slightly larger than the white paper, because you don’t want the edges of the white showing. (As Frank explained it, like a well-made hamburger, where the patty is right in the center of the bun.)

When you make a photo book, obviously all the photos should follow a theme. On the drive home I was thinking about that. I kind of cheated on the portfolio I’m working on now; I picked a theme and chose existing photographs that fit that theme. I want to do a project where I think of a theme, and shoot new photos for it. I started thinking about my “newest” camera, the Rollei A110, and all the vintage cameras that I use, and the fact that film itself is sort of technically obsolete, although lots of people still use it. And I want to do something exploring the subject of “obsolescence”, and how when things no longer perform their original function they can still have or attain artistic value. Old barns, old sugar mills, old boats pulled onto dry land and allowed to rust.

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