Following my first book on digital photography, I’ve had books published at the rate of roughly two books a year – that’s over thirty books in about 15 years. Looking back at this, it’s hard to believe I’ve managed to produce some rather good books despite what looks like a lot of production-line churning.
And the truth is that I, myself, did not achieve this.
I’ve had the benefit of being able to rely on highly skilled, meticulous and sensitive support from the publishing teams that I’ve worked with at Dorling Kindersley. (And I don’t forget great editors and designers at Mitcell Beazley and at New Holland.) While a book’s author leads the parade, behind every him or her is a trireme of editors, designers and managers who pull the oars and man the tiller. And last, but certainly not least, I’ve had the benefit of a wonderful wife and partner, Wendy, who has always ensured I have a good working space, while she firewalls me from all the accounting and business matters which I am
not terribly good rather useless at handling.
It all started in 1998. The head of the photography department had been approached by a publisher needing an introductory book on digital photography. When he learned it was for a popular readership i.e. of no value for gaining research points, he sent the enquiry my way (wiping his hands to remove any populist stain). As it happened, some years earlier I’d done some consultancy for the same publisher. That was a good start. I offered the book to other University of Westminster colleagues to share in the writing, but the silence was as profound as those greeting news of funding cuts. Oh, well; I’d offered. The title was to become the very first full-colour book on digital photography ever published (or so we believe: evidence to the contrary is welcome).
Other book ideas came started to come together so that, by the autumn of that year, I had at least four ideas in hand, all at various stages of contract negotiation. I asked for a sabbatical to do the work but was turned down. So I had to take unpaid leave. Even now – thirty plus books later – I have several ideas milling around, but whether they will output as books on print is another matter. And not all are photographic in content or nature – indeed, more and more are in other writing genres. It’s only a matter of time – having lots of it – before they can emerge blinking and screaming into the bright of day.
Someone once asked me – and somewhat testily too – ‘How many books on photography can a man do?’ The answer I gave without any hesitation was ‘One‘. By then, I’d already had three or four books published, with a few more bubbling away in the cauldron.
The problem (if it is one) is that it is neither possible nor very clever to put it all down at once, in a single volume. (That is a direct consequence of easy mass printing.) It is obvious that anyone’s understanding and information about a subject so young as digital photography has to adapt rapidly. Only fools – i.e. those who know so little they think what they know is everything – will think there is anything definitive to say. Or that any kind of ‘last word on the subject’ is of any use, apart from freezing a moment in conceptual evolution. So the work must be spread over many volumes.
Look at my books in the round and you see someone who is mutters around in his den and books trying to understand, trying to share some of what he’s figured out, searching for the right language for what he thinks. It’s the external expression of someone whose ideas ‘twindle’ and ‘rollrock’ about yet still trying to meet the needs of people who understand even less than he does about photography.
More than an author’s bumbling, book concepts evolve as readers demand more, some having mastered the newbie basics are now asking profounder questions about emotion and feeling and meaning in photography. And now the nature of book consumption itself is changing: for example, ebook sales have overtaken print book sales. There are even people advocating that we abandon the teaching of handwriting because virtually all text is sent via keyboard entry these days (many of the urban West do not write anything by hand for weeks at a time). Which is why I’ll be pushing out more and more ebooks.
Anyway, it is of course true that my later books are much better than the old ones. Digital Photography Essentials (Digital Photography Step by step in UK markets) brings together many highly-evolved ways of presenting a vast amount of information in fresh and open ways. The Complete Photographer brings together lots of thinking about photography which I could not have written twenty, even five, years ago. Top of the tree is Photography – the definitive visual history which was was a prize-fight of effort. I love it, I love that I could offer some revisionism to the standard histories, and I am very happy to have the chance to give technology its due in the history of photography. By far, it’s the best book I’ve ever written and if you buy only one book of mine, let it be the history book. It’ll teach you more about photography than all the others put together.
What I am working on now? From my experience judging big and prestigious competitions, such as working on the start up of the Sony World Photography Awards, twice on the jury for the Wildlife Photographer of the Year – which does things differently from other competitions. And, most recently, I’ve had the honour to judge on the Hamdan International Photography Award (HIPA). I’ve learnt a lot about the process. I’ve put crammed that into a handbook for photo judges. This makes three e-books so far, with more planned – the net one being on Photographic Ethics – something I believe in most passionately.
I hope you enjoy and learn lots from my books. Let me know what you think, what you’d like better, what I should do.
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Buy the Photography Judging e-book.