Unboxing ‘Self Publish, Be Happy’

Bruno Ceschel’s Self Publish, Be Happy is part survey, part how-to, and not quite what I expected at all.

Ceschel founded the Self Publish, Be Happy organization in 2010 to “…promote a new generation of photographers and self-publishers.” Self Publish, Be Happy the book is a survey of 50 self-published photobooks, grouped together in 5 loose categories:  Self Publish, Be Playful; Self Publish,  Be Yourself; Self Publish, Be a Storyteller; Self Publish, Be a Team; and Self Publish, Be Crafty.

If you’re looking for a traditional sort of how-to book, Jorg Colberg’s Understanding Photobooks might be a better place to start.

If you’re looking for a best of list, I don’t really know… Jorg Colberg has regular coverage of photobooks on his site; Aperture magazine puts out the Photobook Review twice a year; there are those year-end best of lists… In any case, Self Publish, Be Happy isn’t that.

But if you’re interested in seeing the different directions and forms that photobooks take, how photographers are pushing the form, this is a good place to start. Each of the 50 books has a one-page introcution, with information on materials used, cost, publication information, a quick synopsis, and a quote from the producer, followed by a photograph of the cover and reproductions of a few spreads from the book. And they vary widely: photobooks printed in ultraviolet ink; photobooks made from cement and wax; unique one-off things produced during performances; and, of course, traditional stapled or saddle stitched or case bound or whatever photobooks.

The last chapter is a sort of how-to for the Self Publish, Be Happy ethos. This, for me, is perhaps the most useful, and what I was looking for, and though it’s a bit more elementary than I hoped for, there is some cheerleading that I can use. The manual starts out a little bit abstract, with suggestions to demystify the photobook and “think of a book as a journey, not a destination,” but most of it is practical stuff: how to edit, sequence, find the right paper and binding, handling text, and the like. A recurring theme throughout is the suggestion to get help from people with some distance to the work and some expertise that you lack. This is really good advice. After all, most of us don’t know anything about typesetting, graphic design, or layout, and we’re probably too close to the work to cull the herd successfully. I’m slowly working on making some friends and other contacts that may be able to help, but then I’ll have to figure out how to ask for help. That’s very hard for me.

Self Publish, Be Happy the book is readily available (and fairly inexpensive). There’s some inspirational and encouraging stuff in it, so you might find it useful.  Self Publish, Be Happy the organization offers educational programs, puts on and supports programs and pop-up events at museums, photo fairs, and the like, and runs a publishing house. Be sure to go and check them out too.

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