Thursday, September 30, 2010

Harvey Benge - Birds and All the Places I've Ever Known

All the Places I've ever Known, Harvey Benge, Kehrer Publishing, 2010

Birds, Harvey Benge, FAQedtions, 2010

Harvey Benge just sent me his two latest books, though knowing Harvey, there might even have been something new released in the time it takes me to get a handle on these 2. Harvey is a busy man, not only publishing constantly, he also writes and insightful blog.

I have talked about a few of his other books here, both of which have been self-produced under his own imprint FAQeditions in Auckland, New Zealand.

Here 2 short descriptions from the publishers:

All the Places I've Ever Known
New Zealander Harvey Benge works and lives in Auckland and Paris. Since the early 1990’s his photography practice has investigated our view of the world and the relationship between parallel lives, when one thing is happening here something else is happening over there. Laced with irony and humor, his work reminds us just how strange the world is. Benge’s photographs reveal the bizarre absurdities of life. Moments of the everyday flash with ambiguity and tension, contrast and conflicts. Small anarchies, an urban dream at the edges of reality....

...The book opens with this quotation from the ancient Buddhist master Longchenpa: »Since everything is but an apparition, perfect in being what it is, having nothing to do with good or bad, acceptance and rejection, you might as well burst out laughing!« KEHRER


I've always liked Hans-Peter Feldmann's little book, The Little Seagull Book (Walther Konig, 2004) which presents a series of photographs Feldmann made while on vacation in Scotland in the 70's. These ordinary seagull pictures celebrate the simple beauty of nature and the very essence of life.

Here are some birds flying west into a darkening winter sky that I photographed yesterday afternoon from the deck of the Devonport ferry as it headed into Auckland harbor. What can be more fundamental and inspiring than observing this incredible performance.... I'm not sure what the bird is, possibly the short-tailed shearwater, a migratory bird that heads south in the Pacific at this time of year. H.B.

All the Places I Have Ever Known is published by KEHRER, a major german publishing house with international distribution, an amazing team, the best printing and a real PR machine helping photographers to get their books into a wide audience. Birds on the other hand is a slim, 10 page stapled pamphlet of an edition of 50.

These 2 publications are worlds apart in cost and ideology, each representing opposite ends of the publishing spectrum. The fact is, I really love both ends and these 2 books are examples of why. I was recently asked to give a few comments about self-publishing as I have self published 2 books in between my "bigger" books, and whether self-publising will be the "future" and publishers and big publishing houses will be thing of the past.

Here my feelings, then and now:

The toughest part of self-publishing used to be distribution. The web has solved this problem and now it is possible to sell out an edition of a few hundred books within a few hours. Combine that with the possibility to "print on demand" and all of the financial problems of self publishing can be kept in check. Though I try to self-publish a book each year, and the process is an important step of how I think about my photographs, I do think that the work which a motivated publishing house achieves is very important; wide distribution and press, as well as getting the books into public collections and libraries where they can be accessed by many. That is the only down-side I have found to self-publishing; the books get snatched up by collectors who keep them safe, out of harms way, and out of sight to anyone else. I often wonder how many of my 100 editon books get looked at even once a year.

I really admire the way Harvey manages these 2 worlds. All the Places I've Ever Known will be seen by many and end up in all the right collections and libraries, where Birds will end up in the hands of 50 people who will covet them in little boxes and glassine sleeves. I am teaching a class at the univ. here this semester focusing on the photography book and I know when I show up with these 2 books, I will hesitate about sending Birds through the classroom, worried about kinks and smudges, I won't worry much about All the Places... It can handle some groping.

The books I have been able to make with KEHRER were fantastic experiences, really the highlight of any work I have done in the publishing field, but I also have to say that the self-published books fulfill a different desire, to purposefully make something small and a bit elusive. But, as fun as it is to produce something "off the radar" it is nice to sell them out, and that works because the bigger books, promoted and distributed by the likes of KEHRER, help establish the market for people who then find their way to the smaller titles.

I received both of these within a few days of each other. One doesn't replace or de-value the other, I need them both. You need them both.

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