Three Instagram photobooks
Philosophy & Reflections

What do you do with all the photographs you take? Who actually sees them? – By Nik Stanbridge

November 3, 2021

In the olden days, before domestic computers, sharing images shot on neg film was all about physical artefacts. In order to share your work you had to produce something tangible people could see by holding it in their hands. Whether that was your own portfolio of darkroom prints, a stick-them-in photo album, a gallery show, photos in printed publications – if it wasn’t printed in some shape or form, nobody would see your work.

Vintage darkroom prints scattered on the floor

Some of my vintage darkroom prints from the 1980s

Nowadays we’re really rather spoiled because once we have digitised our negatives, we have the entire digital Internet-based realm in which to share our work. Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, blogs, portfolio websites (like 500px), magazine websites like this one… and it’s all so easy! The reality though is that computer-based display, sharing and distribution has very little longevity – yes the digital images have longevity, but no longevity in terms of actual time spent cherishing. If you have an Instagram feed for example, when did you or anyone else look at any of your images from say five years ago? Or even a year ago. Or last month. Exactly – people don’t really look at photographs on a computer (or tablet, or phone). Not with any gravitas anyway. Yes they might find, browse and generally research/learn about photographers and their images, but any serious ‘consuming’ (not the right word, but you know what I mean) of photography is done through the medium of, you guessed it, the printed image.

So what do I do with the photographs I take? This is of course a loaded phrase as editing them down into the ones that are worthy of sharing is a whole topic in itself (as is sequencing).

I do several things to get my photos into the physical realm:

  • I produce photobooks. These tend to be in editions of one, sadly, but I did go further a few years ago and home-produced a photobook that ostensibly is a run of a 100 (albeit on demand). More on this below.
  • I exhibit at home, once a year, as part of the Oxfordshire Artweeks open studio festival
  • I have exhibited in the local art society gallery both as a member and as part of a group show
  • A couple of times, in the (very) dim and distant past, I was lucky enough to have some work included in magazine articles
  • I’ve also had a photobook commercially printed as part of the Community Archive project in the village where I live

In short, I do whatever I can to get my photographs out there.

Photobooks

Given that no one looks at old Instagram feeds, I periodically produce photobooks of mine. Each one is about a years’ worth of photos (from back when my feed was a bit more prolific). OK, they are in editions of one, but it’s at least some sort of legacy of my photographic work. And given the nature of Instagram, these books are great because they are so random in their content. I produce these in InDesign from a dump of my Instagram data. Takes a while to produce the books but the results are amazing.

Three Instagram photobooks

Three of my recent Instagram photobooks

I’ve also produced photobooks of holiday snaps – the modern equivalent of the old photo album of pasted-in prints from Boots. If you think back to the importance of the photo album in your family’s history and folklore, these modern versions are as much cherished and as important as those books of yore – mainly because they are the same thing. Something to share when sitting on the sofa with your loved ones (or to leave lying around on the coffee table). Much better than saying… “c’mon, let’s all huddle around my tablet”.

Holiday snaps

Holiday snaps

When I find myself working on an ad hoc photography project, I’ll often produce a photobook (one off) just to have something tangible. The project may evolve beyond that first book but at least I have something I can share and get feedback on without having to get people crowding round a computer screen. The project below is ongoing and is around what I see while walking the dog… a lot of muddy paths and tractor tracks.

My biggest success in the photobook arena was (and still is) On The Ground – a book that I designed, printed, and bound at home to tie in with one of my Oxfordshire Artweeks open studio/home events. A simple stapled book whos design was lifted from Brian Shuttmaat’s Good Goddamn book. I sold maybe ten copies at the Artweeks event along with a similar number of framed A3 prints from the wall. People like looking at your work in the physical realm – and when they do, they frequently buy something to take home.

And, I produced this one-off (sort of) photobook, Mark Having a Shave, back in 1984 from a set of darkroom prints glued into a reporter’s notebook. Again, exactly the same as producing a photobook from home printed images… or a Blurb (or whatever) professionally printed photobook. It’s a book of images that you can hold in your hand – something that provides context and form to a collection of images.

Oxfordshire Artweeks Open Studio

If you really want the gallery experience but don’t know where to start, find your local open studio event/festival and have a go. They exist all over the country. And no matter how apparently unsuitable and inappropriate you think your home is, you can adapt it and your work to mount a successful ‘show’. People will actually seek you out to come and see your work (not your home/space). And because you are there too – to talk about your work and engage with them – they will often buy something. Remember, your enthusiasm and passion about your work is a powerful sales pitch when combined with work on the wall that can be bought and taken away there and then. They may only buy a card, but it’s all exposure. Photography is often underrepresented in these at-home festivals so anyone interested in photography tends to seek out what’s there (whether that’s a good or bad thing I don’t know).

Framed photographs on the wall at home in an open-studio event

My Oxfordshire Artweeks diplay at home in May 2018 – Photos of New York taken in 2012

I’ve done the event twice now and am signed up for next year with a new body of film-based work. Not sure exactly what it will all look like, but there will be prints on the wall and a photobook. And some cards. All from my most recent Flooded Fields project (see my recent post here on 35MMC on this minimalist body of work).

Local Galleries

It’s a great feeling to go to a gallery show opening and seeing your work on the wall. Sipping warm white wine (!) and casually chatting to the people looking at your work… “that’s mine!”. It’s one of the few times we’re able to get independent feedback on our work. And again, standing there enthusing and describing the vision that inspired the images helps people remember you and your work.

Framed images on the wall

Printed work on a gelleray wall

Whether it’s a members’ show where your work is automatically included, or an open submission show where you have the excitement of having to wait to find out if your work has been accepted, having photos framed on a public gallery wall is something else. And the frisson you get when a red dot appears… incomparable.

Uncommon Bampton

OK, the book wasn’t exactlty called Uncommon Bampton, but it should have been. It was styled on Stephen Shore’s Uncommon Places and covered everyday scenes and views in the village where I live. It was commercially published as a tie-in to my solo show (sounds grand but wasn’t) put on by the local community archive. Helped by the fact that the village of Bampton is part of the Downton Abbey tourist trail, the book is a slow but steady seller. Which is ironic really given that it’s a complete antidote the the chocolate box image of the village the Downton tourists love and come to see.

The future?

I would love to have a (symbiotic) relationship with a pub, restaurant, cafe etc. where I had work for sale on their walls. I’ve seen other artists do it so why not me (OK, maybe if I had some work that was a bit more commercial perhaps). Or maybe a tie-in/relationship with an interior designer who’s vision was aligned to mine. Both doable I’m sure. Just have to do the legwork – it’s one of the reasons I do the Artweeks open studio events as these attract such businesses/people.

And more hand-made self-published books from archival prints. A delight to design, execute and share. And sell of course.

All so that when people ask “what sort of photography do you do?” I can both point at my famed photography on the wall at home, and hand them a photobook of prints. Magical.

Apologies if this comes across as blatant self-promotion – it isn’t designed to be. It’s just sharing how I have gone from someone who thinks they have very little exposure… to having achieved a moderate amount of exposure (and recognition and sales) without really trying, by printing the photographs.

What do you do with all the photographs you take? How to you share your work? What successes and tips do you have?

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28 Comments

  • Reply
    Dana Brigham
    November 3, 2021 at 11:31 am

    Wow! You are pretty prolific in exploring the physical ways to get your images “out there.” I shoot a few hundred rolls of film a year, and about as many shots with my mirrorless camera. The film I send off to be processed and scanned. I store everything on 2TB of DropBox storage that I pay for — organized by date/roll/event — in RAW and unedited scans (will need to add more space in 2022!). For those that I want to share I create subfolders and pick and choose select shots to edit — then mostly I create albums on FaceBook — but I only have a dozen FaceBook friends — all family — who see those. Really interesting shots I will post on my Instagram — but that’s maybe one or two a month. I will occasionally get a print (5×7, 8×10 or larger) of the best of the best to put on my wall or give to someone as a gift. But yep — 95% of my photos are only ever seen by me. Which is not a sad thing — I enjoy the process of testing out a new-to-me vintage camera and finding interesting and creative subjects to shoot (typically landscape, nature, architectural) — the joy being more so in the shooting, than sharing the final product. My mirrorless is more for family photos (which are more likely to be shared — digitally), or when I am shooting a particular subject where I want “control” shots in addition to my film-camera shots (I have had rolls with nothing on them due to malfunctioning cameras!). I have toyed with the idea of photobooks — single-editions — as a way of sharing my photos in person. Your post here has helped motivate me to explore that option more. And I am not sure if in my area of the US (Maryland — between Washington, D.C. and Baltimore) there are galleries which host “hang your own” shows (it’s too often about $$$ here) — but that would be fun. Thank you!

    • Reply
      Khürt L Williams
      November 3, 2021 at 12:29 pm

      Hi Dana,

      I stopped going to a local ice cream and coffee house I frequented for several years after the owner quoted me a hefty price to hang my prints and wanted 20% of the sales. Very few of the art galleries in my area will display for a fee, and only after they approve which prints you can show. I’m in New Jersey, so maybe it’s an East Coast USA thing.

      A single edition phonebook could be an excellent way to have something to share with a close friend or family member or maybe just yourself.

      • Reply
        Nik Stanbridge
        November 3, 2021 at 1:17 pm

        I think it’s narrow minded for businesses to want a fee for displaying AND commission. I can see how they might want to cover their backs in case there are no sales, but it is a teensy bit greedy…

    • Reply
      Nik Stanbridge
      November 3, 2021 at 1:11 pm

      Hi Dana, I will have succeeded if I inspire you to produce a zine or book or two 🙂 I do also agree that commercial galleries are very hard to get into without (significant) costs. I once persuaded an art sale/shop to take some of my work on a sale or return basis. I had low expectations of selling anything. I then got a brutal email telling me to come and collect my work as it no longer resonated with their clientele (or something similar). I was resolute in not being demoralised!

  • Reply
    Khürt L Williams
    November 3, 2021 at 12:08 pm

    When I was a child, my elders would collect printed images into albums. Once in a while, perhaps several times a year, my mother or grandmother or uncle would bring out these photo albums, flipping through the pages. They would tell me about the place or person, or event in each photograph.

    I have a few printed albums of my work, which were expensive to produce. I have also created digital albums in Flickr and Apple Photos albums for sharing with family near and far (outside the USA). But I share most of my photographs on my blog, where I think more people see them than if I printed a photo book.

    The money I have spent on those photo books provided little value. They sit on a coffee table in the living room. The Apple Photos images are constantly being viewed by family members leaving comments. I meet the occasional person who will whip out the phone and flip through a digital album of photos from a trip. But it is rare. Culture is in constant change, and I think few continue the film era photo-sharing bonding rituals.

    As for art galleries. Been there, done that, wasted money. The local photography clubs arrange for members to display prints of their work in places with a lot of foot traffic – adult daycare centres, the lobbies of hospitals with chemotherapy patients, local restaurants, etc. The club members with skills even help with mounting and arrangement. Perhaps my work is subpar, but I have yet to sell anything. I have sold prints to people who viewed my website.
    I do know a few professional photographers who sell prints at flea markets and earth day events. A few have built their own art studios where they teach classes. This helps with print sales.

    It’s encouraging to read about your success.

    • Reply
      Nik Stanbridge
      November 3, 2021 at 1:15 pm

      Thanks Khürt. I think your experience of having family members far and wide, and your online solution, is the foil to my analogue solution 🙂 your circumstances dictate your solution quite rightly.

  • Reply
    Lee
    November 3, 2021 at 12:32 pm

    I am not very good about getting my images printed. I do develop and scan my film at home, so I am able to be quite involved in the back-end of my film process too. I archive my negatives in 3 ring binders by date, with development notes. One binder for each camera in my collection. I archive my digitized images in multiple places. I have duplicate 4TB external hard drives that I routinely back up with new scanned RAW files and processed JPEGs. I also upload my processed JPEG final images into Google Photos albums based on the event I was shooting or the roll of film I developed. I find it very easy to share photos with friends and family by sharing links to the Google Photos albums. Perhaps once or twice per year, I will print new images for display in my own home, or as gifts for friends or family. Before COVID, my family used to travel fairly regularly, and I would make magazine-style photo books of our trips using tools available from Blurb.com. We have a nice collection of these photo books over the past 7-8 years and I still have a backlog of photos to condense into some new such books.

    • Reply
      Nik Stanbridge
      November 3, 2021 at 1:30 pm

      Hi Lee, the zine thing resonates with me as an economical way of doing things. And the backlog… boy do I have a backlog!

  • Reply
    Jeremy
    November 3, 2021 at 1:00 pm

    My solution is to enjoy 100 percent pre electronic photography, live in an eastern city (Istanbul) where framing costs are negligible, and have plenty of wall space to enjoy my production.

    • Reply
      Nik Stanbridge
      November 3, 2021 at 1:34 pm

      Hi Jeremy, love this. Your own work hanging on the wall is a wonderful thing.

  • Reply
    Robert Guanci
    November 3, 2021 at 2:13 pm

    Loved your article, great read and great points! The discussion on the longevity of digital images is a really interesting argument against digital centric and pro film/print/tangible photos. Photos should be cherished, and no matter how many likes a photo generates, it’s never the same as holding a printed photo. Love your work and very inspiring!

    • Reply
      Nik Stanbridge
      November 3, 2021 at 5:18 pm

      Thanks Robert. I agree. When a photo is printed, in whatever form that is, it gets seen and cherished over and over (and over) again.

      And thanks for your comment about my work 🙂

  • Reply
    Marc
    November 3, 2021 at 6:37 pm

    Thank you Nik for this great article. Because this article made me think of printing more my own work, eventually doing photobooks or zines and so on. Of course i hang up my photos at home at my wall for many years now. I am in a local street photography collective and we do exhibitions, next one will be in december lasting till january 22. The feeling of seeing your photos in a gallery and of course watching how foregin people look at your work is so pleasing and feels so good. But i always tend to fall back to this socialmedia algorithm thing and so that’s why your article is so good to read because i see hope getting out of this machinery 😉
    greetings from germany,
    Marc

    • Reply
      Nik Stanbridge
      November 4, 2021 at 7:08 am

      Thanks Marc. You make a good point… the social media algorithm thing is still useful (and important) but the buzz from reactions to physical work is something else 😀

  • Reply
    Peter Roberts
    November 3, 2021 at 7:17 pm

    All valid points, Nik.
    Why do we do it, what do we do with it and what, if any, is our audience?
    I fully appreciate the comments that a printed photo is cherished. Ten years ago when I gifted my son a camera he had a photo book made of his first efforts, nothing fancy, just one of those readily available from Jessops, Photobox and such. As he is now in Australia and obviously stuck there I find myself getting it out and, yes, cherishing it. As every year I toy with the idea of producing something similar as a personal yearbook for friends and family it’s about time I returned the compliment. Thank you for spurring me on.

    • Reply
      Nik Stanbridge
      November 4, 2021 at 7:11 am

      Peter, what a great and inspiring story. I did create a yearbook a few years ago and it is a very cherished thing. I hope you create yours.

  • Reply
    Merle Hall
    November 4, 2021 at 1:10 am

    One of our local libraries has a small room (actually, a hallway to a conference room and administrative offices) that they use to bring in artists for shows. They have an opening to meet the artist, but then the show is open anytime the library is open. Usually, the works are for sale. If purchased, they are marked but remain on display for the duration of the show.

    • Reply
      Nik Stanbridge
      November 4, 2021 at 7:13 am

      Thanks Merle. Just shows that many many local organisations, especially public ones, like to use their space to promote local artists. You just have to seek them out 😀

  • Reply
    Gamini
    November 4, 2021 at 6:40 am

    Very eye opening article. I used to make photo books but strictly for home consumption. Sri Lanka is a country which still has market for your (and my) kind of photography. People go for calendar shots. I once went to the annual Colombo art fair and the organisers refused to give me a stall as they don’t think photography is an art!
    In this context, putting your own photobooks for sale is a wonderful idea, and I’m going to try it. Even if they don’t sell, I’ll have a useful archival collection as time goes by.

    • Reply
      Nik Stanbridge
      November 4, 2021 at 7:16 am

      That’s it Gamini… dual purpose… you might sell some, and you have an archive of printed work.

      And yes, it’s sad (ridiculous in fact) that some so-called ‘art’ organisations still don’t recognise photography as part of their remit.

  • Reply
    Bill Brown
    November 4, 2021 at 2:35 pm

    Nik, You have touched on a very sensitive topic to me personally. I have spent virtually my whole adult life, since 1976, assisting photographers in producing and exhibiting their work, both film and digital. I presently do all in house production for a high-end portrait photographer and print one day a week on an Epson 11880 wide format printer for a small local lab. I have been fortunate to be the finisher for numerous one man shows and I know all the steps in the process. Unfortunately I have never taken the steps or time to fulfill my own ambitions of creating a photobook/s or exhibits of specific bodies of my own work. Partly due to lack of time personally but also because I have always been a little self-conscious about the quality of my personal work. Having served as the finisher for several very particular photographers I know how much time, money and devotion it takes to produce what I would deem gallery ready work. I commend you on your ability to see your own work in print form as I see prints as the final form that a negative or digital file were meant for. I am a product of my film upbringing and am one of those that has never stopped shooting film.

    The past year,2020, has seen me take a closer introspection into the production of my own work as my own mortality has become a common subject (those 65 and over). My wife has been working as a hospital chaplain through the two covid surges so I understand the fragility of life. I don’t want this reply to take on a downer note but I wanted to say that with all of lifes’ events I have determined more than ever to see my work in print form. I spent the first eight months of this year going through my film archive and printing 500 5×7 proof prints of an eclectic assortment of my work. Seeing and holding those prints was an amazing feeling. I have now connected with someone who is going to help me find a venue to display 20 to 30 framed works.

    I admire individuals like yourself who have the confidence to produce their work. Thanks for sharing your story, I didn’t see it as self-promotion at all, but more like a gentle swift kick in the pants for those of us who continue to talk about all the photobooks we would like to make. As the old tele commercial used to say ,”Thanks, I needed that”.

    All my best to you in your endeavors.

    • Reply
      Nik Stanbridge
      November 5, 2021 at 3:01 pm

      Bill, I’m so pleased that my article resonated with you and meshes with your current print/display project. Do share when and where the exhibition is when you can.

      Your comments about the article being a “gentle kick in the pants” has been made by a few people and it’s exactly what I wanted to happen, in a nice way. As someone who has just turned 60, mortality and legacy and so on has started to intrude into my thoughts too.

  • Reply
    Jesper Reiche
    November 5, 2021 at 6:42 am

    In this day and age I do not think that we can have too many reminders to print our work and get it out into the world.

    Really appreciated your article, which I will save at pull back next time I need to remind myself that it has been too long since I last got some of my photos printed. For that I owe you a big “thank you”.

    • Reply
      Nik Stanbridge
      November 5, 2021 at 3:05 pm

      Jesper, thanks for the feedback. Getting our work out into the world is, I firmly believe, the number one reason we make the work in the first place. But it’s a ‘final hurdle’ that is sometimes perceived as hard to do if it involves physical printing. Keep up the good work!

  • Reply
    Holly Gilman
    November 9, 2021 at 9:53 pm

    Now that I’ve worked on 35mmcs first photo book I think I might challenge myself to curate some of my work into photo books -just for my own enjoyment but I love the idea of curating my images 🙂

    • Reply
      Nik Stanbridge
      November 9, 2021 at 10:12 pm

      Good luck! We are our own worst editors… we love our work so much 😀 I’m getting better at it but it’s still very hard.

  • Reply
    Ian Do Carmo
    November 12, 2021 at 4:41 am

    What enjoyable reading Nik, and one worth of attention between this digital realm and the analog aspects of holding a physical material, that really impacts how we perceive a media object, and the emotions that follows from that perception.
    I truly appreciate two of your of your works, (Earth and On The Ground); I love their consistence, there is a theme, a collection of “the same same” that seeing separately would not hold as much impact in the story telling narrative as seeing it together, and I respect that you put your efforts in making books for telling those stories.
    Your Earth publication really inspired me to do a small project, thank you for sharing the article.

    • Reply
      Nik Stanbridge
      November 12, 2021 at 11:54 am

      Thanks for you kind comments Ian. And I’m so pleased to have inspired you! I hope you’ll share the results 🙂

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