Book / Jamel Shabazz – Seconds of My Life

Digital photography has revolutionized the way that the general public creates, stores and consumes photographic media. The portability, instant gratification and— more recently—the social engagement of photography via channels like Instagram and Facebook has made photographic imagery both more prevalent and, arguably, more important to our lives than ever before. Recent advances with mobile phone cameras makes photography for virtually everyone immediate and easy. Fueled a boom in photography by amateur photographers. With this volume, photos— once relatively rare treasures in the days of emulsion have become more disposable under the wave of digital file photos that are so immediate that grasping onto even the best has become a challenge. And we say “grasping” not just as one will save a file to one digital folder for archive, but instead to grasp in appreciation, nuance, and reflection.

Considering the space that photography exists today. It is interesting that the both print thrives and that the hardbound book survives as a more tangible and substantial tomb for work of a certain caliber. The monograph and the well-versed photo essay are put to paper in weighty volumes. But we ask, can the same strength of the work be carried by a digital delivery? Has the ephemeral nature of Instagram, Facebook, and Flickr and other amateur and semi-pro photographers using digitally networked photo services and display technologies predisposed us, as viewers, to seeing all photos on devices as lesser or temporary? Can additive light convey the same message as the subtractive light of prints, particularly when viewing photo media that predates the digital revolution? If there is a way for the monograph to be effectively shown as an ebook, what affordances does this media offer in place of the weight and tangibility of the bound page.

A hard cover book that affords the reader a high-quality, quiet space to experience photography remains the preferred “device” for presenting a body of fine art or journalistic work, but does this necessarily have to always be the case?

Significant segments of the professional photography world initially resisted the shift to digital, but as the resolution quality of digital prints matched and then surpassed that of film, digital has become the dominant mode of all kinds of photography, from amateur to journalistic to fine art. Photographers may still utilize film in their practice, but nowadays this is a alternative strategy of making. The digital revolution has either seduced or forcibly captured most working photographers shooting images. Should not an ebook format also emerge as a true platform for displaying “real” work with brevity, engagement and interest that parallels the bound book form? We think yes. The ebook monograph should offer something important to the photographer or editor wishing to entomb a body of work and offer something to the audience that reaches beyond novelty to something powerful.

Chief of the questions that we will tackle is how to balance the purposeful narrative layout created by the author/photographer with the potential remixing and reconstituting affordances offered by an ebook. An even more important challenge is that of quality, which is one of the chief hallmarks of a photographic monograph. How does an ebook reproduce both the quality of the photographs (certainly the Apple retina display and follow-on display improvements help to serve in this area) and the aesthetic quality of created by framing strategies inherent in a photographic monograph. More than books that rely mostly on language, there is a meditational quality inherent in the experience of reading a photographic monograph. How can this experience be mediated and/or improved through the ebook platform.

With the previous considerations in mind, we have elected to select the work of Jamel Shabazz and his book Seconds of My Life as our laboratory for creating an ebook of a photography monograph. Because Shabazz’s career spans the transition from analogue to digital photography, Seconds of my Life provides a good functional challenge to the creation of an electronic monograph.

Fortunately Jamel Shabazz participates in the digital world, and as ebook designers, we have access both to digital work though his website and his Facebook feed. This will allow us to consider the role of incorporating new content created by the artist. We will certainly also consider the incorporation of photography created by the public that comments on Shabazz’s work or contributes to his line of inquiry.

Shabazz’s work also provides our design team with rich opportunities in terms of content. Because Seconds of My Life chronicles the black community of New York City as well as the greater African diaspora in the 80s, 90s and 00s from a journalistic perspective there is ample opportunity to leverage secondary cultural, historical and location-based material to orient the reader. Even in the the artist’s note of the printed publication, Shabazz introduces interactivity into the work by providing a musical playlist that he recommends listening to, “to understand the essence of these images and the spirit that created them.”

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