Lay out the little ones | my publisher alter ego

I work for months at a time on the images of a story. Mono no aware started out with roughly 30,000 images and will eventually be 32 images for the book. (next time I'll talk in detail about the story, promise!)

Just thirty-two images.

Even by my standards – YAKUZA had 89 images I think – that's quite condensed to say the least. This means I must be absolutely sure about every single image in the book. Just one or two mistakes would be devastating. There's no margin for error this time... But somehow, it feels right to do it this way.

I work in Adobe Lightroom to ingest, tag, organise and make initial edits. I use RPP for my actual raw conversions. I use Photoshop to make fine adjustments, sharpen, and prepare for the different media to be printed on. Illustrator for concepts and mockups. InDesign to lay out everything and prep for press. The list goes on and on... there's no denying the absolute joy of using good software.

But at a given point, after months of looking at screens, I feel the need to work with actual printed images: so I make a bundle of mini images to carry around in my pocket (if you really want to know: I print the A, B, and C edit, which is usually about 200 images). I carry those around with me and make edits all over the place, every time taking a picture of the edit I make, just in case, to remember an accidental genius moment.

I repeat this process for weeks: in different places, with different moods, at different times, alone or in the company of others. On tables, floors, chairs, against walls... whatever is available. In a way, I force myself to make the same edit over and over again from memory, to see if it will stand. To see how it changes. And of course to allow it to change. Trusted friends or strangers join in and their opinions and gut reactions help shape the story too, in ways I can never predict or imagine.

Example of an early YAKUZA edit back in 2011 on a friend's table

Example of an early YAKUZA edit back in 2011 on a friend's table

This process is not only good for strengthening and finalizing my edit, but – kind of unrelated and related at the same time – it's also decision time for me in a broader sense: it's the moment that I decide to do the book or not.

Because by now I know the story should be ok: the biggest hurdle has been taken after all. But there are many more factors to publishing a next book: is the timing right? Can I afford it financially? Is it a good career move? Is the project really really ready to go? Is it a book I'd want to own myself? Will my mom approve? Will I be able to follow up? What about the press, the professionals, fellow photographers? And finally: what does my gut tell me?

So during these weeks of repeatedly laying out the little ones, there's quite a lot more going on in my mind behind the scenes... And I know I need be ruthless here. No compassion. Be ready to kill my darling. Even if, like this time, it took me over a year of blood, sweat and tears to finally get to this point... the sheer amount of work I put in, cannot be relevant anymore now.

That's why I get nervous carrying around the little ones... not because of the possibility of the edit changing, but because this is the moment where months of work will get a final green light or not... and this green light has totally nothing to do with the amount of effort I've put in there up till now... and that kind of scares me.

It's like I'm switching between my photographer self and my ruthless publisher alter ego that will only accept the best.