At the end of the Body of Work course, I rather rushed into creating a book from my linen prints. As it happened, that was fortunate because when the lockdown arrived in March I was just able to collect my book from Bristol Bound before travel restrictions would have made it impossible.
I say that I rushed into it because I more or less just created pages like the ones I had made for Body of Work and had them bound into a book by Bristol Bound. I did spend some time working out how to make the linen pages but I did not give the book as a whole much thought – it was little more than a collection of pages. I concentrated my efforts on the technical aspects of the book – linen printing, page construction and binding. At the time, I was still envisaging an exhibition as the final outcome of this course, so the book was more of a means to an end.
As it has become clear that an exhibition was not going to be possible, I have gone back to the idea of the book, which will now be the main resolution of my body of work. The original book was an important proof of concept – although Bristol Bound make many specialist books, including photography books, they had never made one with linen pages. Now that I know it is possible, I can give some more thought to the design and take into account feedback I received on the work.
One of the main comments I took away from portfolio reviews and then showing the work to people as it progressed into a book was the amount of text. Some people could see the point of the text as a kind of reference – you could skim through the text at first reading and then return to read it in more detail later. Others, notably Martin Parr, thought there was too much text. Martin felt it would be better with just one headline per page.
The text has always been an integral part of the work to me. The challenge I gave myself was to put across the significance of the Irish Border now that there is so little visual evidence of it. I had in mind Sekula’s view that a photograph always requires cultural connections in order to be understood. Sekula writes of a ‘hidden’ or ‘implicit’ text, but for my purposes I need to make the text explicit.
In researching newspaper articles through the history of the border I tried to capture the mixture of politics, tragedy and humour in everyday life on the border. A single headline per photo would just not work for me. So the challenge was to retain enough text to tell the story but t integrate it better with the photographs.
I had the idea of printing the text on translucent overlays, so that the image would be visible through the text – in a literal as well as a metaphorical way. I sourced several different kinds of paper to experiment with printing on them and assessing the degree of transparency and the feel of the pages. I was pleased with the results, so I continued to experiment with editing the text and trying different layouts. Hopefully this will lead to a better version of the book.
Having established that I can use a translucent material for my text overlays, the next stage was to design the pages. As I have shared the work with various people through portfolio reviews, one aspect which I have kept under revision was the amount of text. Resisting some views that that I should have only one piece of text per page, I have nevertheless reduced the amount of text from my original design.
One of my concerns has been the way that the text breaks up the visual flow of the book. Now that I have come up with the idea of translucent overlays, I feel that the text is more integrated – it floats above the images rather than being completely separate.
I now need to consider an additional aspect of the text layout – the image is visible behind it. Rather than stick to a kind of scrapbook aesthetic, which is where I started, I could make the text follow the form of the stream in the image behind the text.
Figure 1 Text overlay from book with image behind