Making and remaking a book called Sleeper - by Tamsin Green
Published in RPS Capital (May 2016)
I have always been an avid consumer of books; on design, art, photography, but I really started looking at photobooks when I was living in Tokyo doing an MA. I spent a lot of time in bookshops, and discovered the work of Japanese photographers, Naoya Hatakeyama, Hiroshi Sugimoto, and the Provoke era photographers. I was studying architecture at the time and would look at their use of light and texture. I also looked closely at the choice of paper and how the books felt, all references at the time for making architectural images and portfolios. When I started taking photographs some time later books were a natural aspiration.
Sleeper was the first body of work that I conceived as such. The project grew out of a love of travel stories. Stories about people making epic journeys. The stories led me to Central Asia, a place I found fascinating at the border between Europe and Asia. For nearly a century, a secret war was fought in the lonely passages and deserts of Central Asia between two of the most powerful nations in history, Victorian Britain and Tsarist Russia. It's a story of high adventure and courageous travellers without maps setting out to discover little known lands controlled by local rulers who were not always welcoming. The prize they were seeking was India. Inspired by these stories a journey of my own began to take shape, one that would take me overground from home in London to Russia, before heading South through Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan to India.
I knew that the journey would result in a large body of work but I wanted to create something small in size, that was easy to handle and intense to look at. I knew that the sequencing of the photographs would need to be loosely chronological. Working with physical prints for the sequence and creating a digital dummy, the book began to form. I had collected tickets from each leg of the journey, some of which were quite beautiful with their dog ears and stamps. I tried using them in the sequence but it broke the flow of the photographs too much, so instead I started taking elements from them for the design of the book; information, fonts, colour. I printed several physical dummies along the way to see where I was going. When I reached a point where it was communicating my ideas I signed up for my first portfolio review event and was encouraged to submit the book to competitions, one of which was the RPS.
Attending a professional practice event I was exposed to many different opinions. I met a book designer and publisher who saw the potential in the dummy, but thought I was using the wrong photographs. We collaborated on a second edit of around 500 prints. When we knew what we were looking for we returned to the full-edit. We sorted them quite quickly into yes, no and maybe piles before working on the sequence by laying out prints on the floor. He helped me to see the potential in images that were quieter, and to give them their space within the sequence. The final edit has 58 photographs broken up into sections by a map.
In the middle of this second edit the original dummy was shortlisted for the RPS photobook competition. It was amazing to have this recognition and the competition gave it exposure as well as enabling me to meet other photographers equally interested in books. I'm a real believer in collaborations making work stronger and know that working with someone I respected and trusted fast-tracked the learning process from the initial edit to making a real book. But beyond that he also taught me things about my own image making that are invaluable for the future.
I printed and hand bound the second dummy for Sleeper and enjoy the tactile quality of the photo rag paper and hand crafted feel. I'm not yet decided on how the book should find its way out into the world, whether as a small edition artist book or as a larger print run. For now I'm focused on creating new work. After completing Sleeper I challenged myself to shoot and create a book in 3 weeks. Inspired by the writing of the Mexican writer Juan Rulfo, I drove 2800km through the central plains of Mexico before sequencing and self-publishing a zine. I'm now busy on a longer term project which is a very different creative process. It is using photos from my archive, both from the days of architectural studies through to the more recent conscious photograph making. It is still very much work in progress but I'm looking forward to sharing this work soon.