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Sam Harris: The End, the Beginning and the Middle of Somewhere

West Australian based photographer Sam Harris independently published his photo book, “The Middle Of Somewhere” with Ceiba Foto. It won multiple awards including the Australian Photobook of the Year 2015 People’s Choice Award. This blog post outlines Sam’s experience with self publishing and trade publishing a photography book.

The End refers to the end of Sam’s career as a commercial photographer in London, the Beginning to his new life free from a regular day job, to fatherhood, and a 12-year journey through India to Western Australia. And the Middle refers to The Middle of Somewhere, Sam’s personal photo project that grew into an independently published book that won multiple awards including a Lucie Award 2015, and most recently the People’s Choice for the Australian Photobook of the Year Awards 2015.

From the moment Sam, wife Yael and their 2-year old daughter Uma hit the road in 2002 he knew his photo project about his family would be a book. As they travelled through India with a printer in tow Sam produced a travelogue that became a 16-page insert in the finished book, and Yael produced another daughter, Yali. The next chapter of their journey where they settled in the artistic community of Balingup, West Australia, became the subject of Sam’s self published book, Postcards From Home, and a chapter in The Middle Of Somewhere.

How did you come to work with New York based independent publisher, Ceiba Foto, and Eva-Maria Kunz?  Who directed the editing, layout and design?

What were the differences between trade publishing and self publishing?

What physical format did it take?

The Middle of Somewhere was printed in an edition of 600, with multiple paper stocks, a softcover with rounded corners, two inserts including Travelogue and No Yesterdays (from Yael’s diary), plus hand made post it notes and title strip. The inserts and notes echo a trend in current photography book production, to incorporate ephemera and create a tactile and mutlisensory experience.

08Postcards From Home was a precursor and contributor to The Middle Of Somewhere, how did you find the process of self publishing a photo book?

How long did it take to publish The Middle Of Somewhere?
While the photographs took over 12 years to create, the publishing process was an intensive 9 month roller coaster ride from conception at The Photobook Museum, Cologne in September 2014 to a trip to the printer in Italy to review the proof in April 2015 and the official book launch in early June. But that was only half way!

How was The Middle Of Somewhere distributed and sold?

How was The Middle Of Somewhere promoted?

How important is creating a dummy book?
Eva and I met in Italy in February 2015 to edit the photos and establish the sequence, and create the book dummy. The dummy was essential to figure out the details of the design before printing, but it was also important for promotions. We used it to meet with Cheryl Newman, Director of Photography at Telegraph Magazine, and Tony Chambers, Editor-in-Chief at Wallpaper magazine, who both loved it and featured it. Sending out copies before launch allows you to get reviews, generating chatter and quotes to use for publicity.

Many people think that after they’ve printed their book, the journey is over but how much publicity and promotion did it require and what was involved period?
The photography, design and printing is part of the journey. The hardest part is getting people to notice it and buy it.  We sent out books for review, organised interviews, distributed a media release, ran a series of book launches and entered awards. The launch tour ran for almost five months. The official launch was at the Bronx Documentary Centre, New York on 5 June, next was Look3 Festival in Charlottesville, then The Photographer’s Gallery, London on 2 July, Les Rencontres d’Arles mid July, Ballarat International Foto Biennale in August and Delhi Photo Festival in October.

What was Look3 festival in Charlottesville like?
Look3 is a four-day festival that ran from 10-13 June. Everything happens in and around an old theatre in the middle of the downtown Mall.  There are exhibitions, interviews and presentations and the theatre gets packed with 1500+ people at a time. You can wander in to find someone in conversation with the likes of Alec Soth, Nan Goldin or Josef Koudelka! It’s crazy! After a couple of days you can’t go any more because you’re overstimulated and overwhelmed with information. On the last night they had an outdoor screening and slideshow, and National Geographic hosted a street party with food vans, ice cream and a band on the lawn. It was amazing. (Images below found on the Look3 website)

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What was Les Rencontres d’Arles Festival of Photography like?
Intense. Great. There’s so much work to take in. There are lots of exhibitions in reclaimed spaces and there’s an ampitheatre that hosts screenings, slideshows and presentations from 10pm until midnight. Ground Zero is Place du Forum, home to Café Terrace (the café that Van Gogh painted) and La Tambourine Bar where hundreds of people hang out every night until 3am. Everyone rocks up the next day in dark glasses, swearing they won’t have a late one, until you bump into them again at two in the morning.

Did any professional opportunities arise or develop during the social activities?
Late one night in Place du Forum I bumped into Maggie Steber, a prominent US photojournalist. We had already met via Instagram. She had commented on and liked several of my posts, and was complimentary about The Middle of Somewhere. She offered to show my book to some heavyweight editors she was meeting the following week. That’s the thing about Arles, there are lots of outdoor venues and social activities that make for amazing networking.

Have your accolades and awards helped your books or your career?
Winning the first Australian Photobook of the Year Award in 2011 with Postcards from Home generated great publicity. Around the same time I produced a limited edition with Momento Pro and sent copies to people of influence, I got featured by Instagram (growing my followers to 20,000 overnight), and Ceiba Foto got in touch. The Middle of Somewhere has been well received by critics but also by the public. Winning a Lucie Award was amazing, and it was also a finalist in the POYi Best Photography Book Award, Les Rencontres d’Arles Book Award and Guate Photo Awards. It made the top 10 list for Fotografia and photobookstore.co.uk as well as Photo-Eye Book of the Week, but winning the People’s Choice for the Australian Photobook of the Year Award 2015 is a great acknowledgement that it appeals to critics, peers and the public alike.

What advice do you have for photographers wishing to publish?
It takes time to build a good body of work. You have to live with it, you have to form a relationship with it and become obsessed with it. If I wasn’t obsessed, I don’t think I could have finished it. I don’t see photography as a career – it’s my life.

What’s next for Sam Harris?
I’m going deeper into photographing my friends in the community where I live in Balingup. I see it as a sort of ripple effect from photographing the domesticity of my family and the working title is Neighbours. And of course I continue to photograph my daughters! You can see what evolves at my blog.

We’d like to think that Sam will also head back to the Beginning, to the first page of The Middle of Somewhere and the lifestyle described in William Henry Davies 1911 poem Leisure:

What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.

No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.

No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.

No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.

No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.

A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

Sam Harris

Images © Sam Harris, Yael Harris, Ceiba Foto and Look3Festival

About the author Momento Photobooks

Co-founder + Marketing Manager of Momento, creators of premium photo books + custom stationery. A 100% Australian owned + made company dedicated to helping amateur, enthusiast + professional photographers preserve their images in style at www.momento.com.au.

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