Interview with Photobook Designer Elizabeth Avedon
I first met Elizabeth Avedon when she was the Gallery Director at photo-eye. Since the time Elizabeth departed Santa Fe, she established her own blog which has become a recognized voice in the photography community featuring portfolios and interviews, including my first interview about my photography. I am delighted to turn the tables on Ms. Avedon and allow her to discuss her profession: Book, Exhibition and Web Design + Curatorial Consultant. Here she discusses the photobook, print-on-demand, and some of her favorite projects.
Melanie McWhorter: At what point is it important to involve a designer in your project?
Elizabeth Avedon: There are different stages for a designer to step in for every project. It really depends on the artist/photographer. Some photographers will start talking to me years before they actually are ready to begin the layouts, others hand me a complete, finished edit when I first meet them. I can easily begin to sequence the work for them from that, but I think it's an important step in the overall process for the designer to be involved in the edit of the work from the start, to get a feel for the point of view of the photographer. Many times the designer will see an interesting "book" the artist hadn't imagined for themselves. Other times the photographer will be overly critical in their edit, second guessing themselves and their audience, leaving out images that may show important steps in the evolution of their work. Other photographers may not be critical enough with their work, unable to edit out images because of the people, place or action going on which may not actually come across so well in the image as they think. They are still visualizing the moment, but we don't see it in the frame. It's important for everyone to have an outside eye.
MM: Are most of your clients individuals and do you consult with them one-on-one or are most publishers?
EA: I'm not really a trade book designer, although I love the work I've done for them in the past. (Favorite was An Open Heart by The Dalai Lama for Little, Brown & Co). Almost all of my clients have been individuals or at least the projects start out as someone approaching me and then suggesting to their publisher they would like to work with me. I'm mostly asked to work on special projects. I recently had lunch with the son of a late great photographer to discuss a book of his father's iconic images. Fortunately I knew his father and many of these images are part of my own history, so it could work out well for both of us. We discussed whether to bring in a publisher at this juncture or design the completed book and package it to a publisher. Other times I'll design and print a 20-page dummy for someone to shop around to publishers.
MM: What do you feel is the role of a designer in a creating a photobook?
EA: I think a designer is there to organize the work, whether through a timeline, chapters, subcategories or just by the sequencing into a narrative. The way the works flows from one image to the next, one spread to another, should intuitively guide the viewer through the photographer's world - his or her intention with their work. It's really fun to do a very creative design, with crazy fabulous typography and collage the images and show off as a designer, but that isn't going to showcase a photographer's work. I try to let the work dictate what kind of book it wants to be and stay out of the way. Let the work speak for itself. I've worked on several long-term projects that began as one kind of book and when they were completed, I could see they wanted to be an entirely different kind of book. The work needed to be organized into its first incarnation, to see it was meant to be as an entirely different kind of entity...read more here