I always believe that when inspiration strikes, you need to act on it while the creative ideas are hot, you have passion for the idea or project and have the energy to carry the project forward.
Revisiting my images from the Big Bend region 18 months after my initial visit, I had a fresh perspective on them and saw the basis of a story about the struggling railroad on the former Northern Pacific Central Washington branch line. While my images were mostly of the Eastern Washington Gateway Railroad and their operations that I happened to catch during my visit, I did take others of the grain elevators and landscape that now captivated me and got me thinking about the entire ecosystem of the region since it is almost entirely built around wheat. Now I could visualize a story that spoke not only about the railroad, but the landscape and farmers as well, and thought the best way to show this project was in book form.
In order to see if I had the right material to work with and if the project could sustain my creative interest, I wanted to do a quick test of my ideas and put together a dummy book for evaluation. Not wanting to get bogged down making a perfect book, I opted to use Mixbook web book printing service which offers plenty of basic options for book types and sizes, but best of all, had building templates that are super flexible and easy to use. Within a few days, I managed to process and edit about 40 photos, add captions and lay them into a small book of about 20 pages. I ordered a 5×7 size book which was a minimal financial outlay and received it back within a week. While the print quality wasn’t great, the book served it’s purpose of giving me something tangible to hold and look at while thinking about my project concept.
A dummy book is a rough mock-up for a book, as visualized by the creator. It may be made for the creator's own purposes as part of the development process, but also as a submission to a publisher. The idea is to have a rough model of the final book, to let the viewer have a sense of the flow and rhythm of the story and images.
Upon receiving the book, it was exciting to see the virtual images turned into a physical and tangible form that could be held and flipped through. I like books, ever more so as the world gets more and more virtual! I immediately knew that the content and concept would sustain me creatively. The second observation was that there were too few images to justify a book as well as big holes in content for the story as I then envisioned it.
Thinking about the content, brings up the basic pivotal question of Who is my audience for this project? A book is after all a marketing project, and I need both an audience and a publisher/distributer that will care about the vision of this project.
While I intent to cover the entire railroad line, I don’t view this project as a typical railroad book. For me, the railroad is the central character in this story, but the supporting roles of economy, people and landscape are equally important to me. I don’t know of a single railroad subject book that also shows the economic base or landscape traversed and supportive of the railroad. Simply, without an economy of grain, this rail line has no reason to exist. If I include too much of that aspect, am I bringing in or pushing away my “railroad audience”?
Maybe my audience is regional, possibly the residents of the region or state? Would that market lead my project to include more of the people and economic lifestyle and be less focused on the railroad?
I have traveled back twice since I committed myself to this project and filled in some of the content holes, but with each edit not only do I see areas to fill, but also discover new opportunities in which to take the project beyond my original vision.
So with more images to choose from, I created a second dummy book. Not satisfied with the print quality from Mixbook, I choose to use the Blurb template built in to Adobe Lightbox, which is my image editing program. While there are a lot of templates to choose from, none gave me the layout nor flexibility that I wanted, which is why I choose Mixbook the first time. The main benefit was that I didn’t have to leave my editing program to build a book and I expected the print quality to be much better from Blurb. The new book was printed in a larger size (8 x 10) with 122 pages and the print quality did prove to be much better.
I have lived with the second book now for about four months and with the benefit of time, can again view it with fresh eyes. Looking through the book, I see lots of images that I like and fit the narrative well, but others are great images that don’t just don’t fit well with the others. I also realize that many of the two-page spread image pairing don’t work well and can now see that the sequence and pairings are essential to the flow of a good book (and story). It seems like the best way to view them and find the sequence will be to print the images and lay them out physically on my table or wall.
My goal over the next few months will be to re-edit the content and print a third dummy version as a visualization tool of my progress. At this point, I’m still focusing on imagery content and not the overall design of the book itself which will evolve later. Content is king!