Friday, October 30, 2015


I was reading some stuff on the webernets from a guy named Keith Smith, a bookbinder who also writes books about binding books.

He made a very interesting, to me, remark about books. He points out that the turning of pages creates a kind of cadence, a rhythm. He has written a whole book about this, which book I have not read and might well never read. But the basic idea is obvious, and it unfolds itself easily in to more ideas. How would we manage the cadence? We might put several pictures on one page, to slow the reader down (generally -- not 100% of the time, but often), or we might use a picture with more interest (more people?), and then the next page is the one you want to nail them between the eyes with.

Or whatever, really.

I've long thought about sequencing of portfolios, and creating ebb and flow, rising and falling themes, ideas of that sort. I've never thought of it in terms of time, though, just of ordering. Of course, if you're hanging stuff on walls, there's a lot less control of ordering than in a book, but neither is absolute. What a book does give you is a pretty distinct cadence. You can only turn pages so fast, and as long as you've got the reader/viewer's interest to any kind of degree, they're likely to turn pages more or less on the beat, as it were.

Food for thought.

How does the structure of the book alter the basic cadence? Big pages, little pages? Thick pages, thin pages? Slick pages, matte pages? Big gutters versus little gutters?

How could I build a book with a naturally non-linear flow, with loops or forks? Where we consider books to be pretty much anything made by gluing and/or sewing pieces of paper together.

What ideas from here can we drag ruthlessly back to non-book-formatted portfolios?


  1. Smith's "Structure of the Visual Book" is essential reading, though in the main, as you say, sort of self evident once you sit down and think about it. The whole area of the "artist's book" is an interesting one, which has an extensive literature (and some beautiful "books about books") and is very relevant to the self-publication of photo-books. The Parr/Badger "Photobook" volumes come out of this tradition, more than any thinking about photography as such. It seems to me that photographers are oddly prone to "silo thinking", and only seem to pay attention to stuff with "photo-" attached to it...


  2. Nonlinear flow? Print it on one big page, folded like a Rand McNally road map. When you try to fold it up the pattern goes haywire and every time you reach for it you're starting from someplace new and unexpected.

  3. Your questions lead me to think about fold-outs and even pop-ups as devices to break up the flow - though it would still be mostly linear.

    Or maybe an unbound book. My own print portfolio has a sequence and, I hope, a rhythm or cadence as people turn through the prints. But I don't always put the pictures in the same order - the sequence is always a work in progress. And sometimes prints get shuffled in one showing and not restored before the next. People pick up some prints and flip past others. Sometimes people set photos aside to look at a second time. I have had people pull out their favorite prints and arrange their own sequence with them.

    Some years ago I put together a small boxed set of prints, made multiple copies, and mailed them to photographer and model friends. I wonder if some of them went through similar processes.

    Not exactly a book, but maybe somewhat along the lines you are thinking. I have also done boxed sets of prints.

    I also wonder to what extent the cadence concept could extend to the "composition" of the single photo. I have always thought in terms of how a viewer might see the photo - what catches the eye, what they see first, what secondary details the may pick up on if they choose to really look, how the eye would move over the photo, how much time a viewer might spend with one detail or another.

    The comment about the road map has me thinking of the press room and a printed signature from a sheet-fed press - 16 pages printed 8 on each side of a single large sheet so as to be folded and cut and bound into a book. Having spent some time proofing and checking press work I can tell you that is an interesting and challenging way to view a picture book. Challenging and sometimes enlightening.

  4. Centerfold. As in Playmate.
    Are you old enough to be familiar with these?