Publishing a Book From Home
And Some Behind-the-Scenes Insight into a New Release
One day sometime last summer, I was driving through Scottsdale (a well-to-do city just east of Phoenix) when a bright flash pulled my eyes from the road. It was the reflection of the high, midday sun gleaming off a polished aluminum airstream trailer, parked prominently in front of a large church. I had never seen an airstream camper so shiny. The flow of traffic carried me quickly past the church, but a few blocks down the road I pulled a sharp U-turn to come back, knowing that somehow a picture of the trailer would be worth being late to wherever I was headed.
I parked in the mostly empty church parking lot, made sure my camera was on and walked up to the glowing camper. As I got right up to it, I could see myself and everything behind me distorted in the smooth curves of the metal, like looking into a funhouse mirror on wheels. The airstream wasn’t in the parking lot like all the three or so other vehicles parked around the church – it had been carefully placed near the pathway to the front entrance, as if it was a huge lawn ornament sitting amidst the desert landscaping the church obviously spent a lot of time (or money) maintaining. So, just as I released the shutter standing on this lawn of short, crispy grass a voice behind me, in a not-so-pleasant tone, said, “You need to leave.”
I turned and saw a guy about my age standing with his hands on his hips and a pretty deep frown below a pair of pretty stern eyes. I motioned to my camera and then to the camper and said, “I just wanted to take a picture of the airstream, it really is beautiful.”
I half expected his displeased manner to dissolve away into an excited explanation of how a church comes to keep such a showy recreational vehicle in its front yard, but his hands didn’t move from his hips and his eyes didn’t leave mine. I told him to have a nice day and made my way off the premises. A few days later when I drove by again, the beautiful spaceship of a camper was gone.
The one picture I took that day of that airstream trailer is the first picture in a series of books I am self-publishing titled Arizona Road Dust, the first volume of which, AUTOMATIC FOCUS, I am releasing today. In an attempt to make this less of an ad, but still let you know that the book is indeed for sale (here on my website), I thought I’d share some of the ideas and decisions that went into making this book something I am proud to share with everyone who supports and enjoys my work.
I won’t go into what the book is about (if I could come close to explaining that here, I wouldn’t have needed to make a whole book in the first place). My goal here, as with the story above, is to give some insight into what the book is, and why I made it that way; a look into my process of translating ideas and experiences and inspirations into pictures and words and a sequence of 60 bound pages. My personal book-making process is not necessarily straightforward or logical, and so I am writing this for you just as much as I am for myself, to hopefully better understand my own way of doing things, too.
I started making these pictures 4 years ago when I spent a summer in Arizona, my first time living in the state for longer than a week’s vacation here and there. Over time, I’ve come to learn that Arizona, and especially the greater Phoenix area, is a place where the line between a “local” and a “visitor” seems razor thin. Some people move here for a few months and call it home;
others still call themselves transplants after thirty years or more of residence. It's hard to tell what makes a true Phoenician.
This uncertainty, though, is at the core of how I take pictures here. I look for situations and scenes that sit in an area between touristy and true to my experience of actually living near Phoenix. Imagine a tour bus makes the wrong turn and instead of walking around the Grand Canyon or Saguaro National Park, the camera-wielding group ends up wandering around a trailer park neighborhood in Apache Junction. That’s kind of how I think about making pictures of Phoenix and Arizona, with the added benefit that I get to do it every day.
In an experiment to see how far I could push the quality of the materials and technology I personally have access to, every copy of this book was proofed, printed, and bound at home. I used the laser printer I bought on Facebook Marketplace, paper I ordered on Amazon (after lots of testing), and the cover stock is drawing paper from the local art store. Not to brag, but I do think the print quality approaches that of some bigger publications, achieved through many proofs and knowing exactly what makes a 20-year-old laser printer happy.
I made the decision to limit this edition of the book to 15 physical copies for two reasons – first, to set an achievable goal for the number of books I had to print and bind by hand, and second, to make each copy a unique piece of art. No two copies of this book are the same, because inside there are bound 4 pages from my own personal (now torn apart) copy of Marshall Trimble’s Arizona – A Panoramic History of a Frontier State, onto which I have printed 4 of my own images. Each copy of AUTOMATIC FOCUS has a different 4 pages from Trimble’s 1977 publication, and so each will have a slightly different reading experience. I chose this book specifically for the quality of its paper, the perfect title, and the fascinating (if oftentimes outdated) stories contained in the text. Including these unique pages in my own book was a way to make each copy more than just a copy, and to make owning a physical representation of this work feel a little more special. It's like a limited edition of fine art prints, that you can read!
That being said, I have also made available a digital edition of the book for purchase on my website. This PDF version is high resolution and includes scans of 4 Trimble book pages, for those who want to see the pictures and read the words but maybe don’t have the shelf space for yet another photobook. Or you could even print it out yourself! I hope the digital version makes the book as accessible as possible to everyone who would like to interact with and enjoy the work.
One of the most important things I learned during this process is that printing and publishing your own book, from start to finish, is something I think is more achievable now than ever before. Making this book was somewhat of an experiment to see what is possible with relatively cheap and available resources, and it seems the experiment was pretty successful (but I’ll let you be the final judge). While mass-market books will always be beautiful and polished and sold in the thousands of copies, I think we can all embrace the fact that it doesn’t take a lot of expertise or connections or money to make a book now. If you have been thinking about putting work together in a printed format and getting it out into the world, I encourage you to do so by whatever means. I would love to help, too. To me, making a book that will live on someone’s shelf or coffee table (or hard drive) is the most rewarding aspect of photography and artmaking, and I want to share that feeling with others.
Thanks for reading SIDEWALK! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.