Musings on Photography

(inter)National Solo Photography Book Month (aka NaSoPhoBoMo)

Posted in Solo Photo Book Month, Uncategorized by Paul Butzi on December 21, 2007

5D-071209-4866After some email exchanges with Todd Gehman, current organizer for National Solo Album Month (aka NaSoAlMo) it seems that both Todd and I think that a similar effort focused on photography is a great idea. Judging from the comments on my first post, it seems there are others interested as well. Exactly how many are interested doesn’t seem to be vitally important – I’d note that apparently National Novel Writing Month started out in 1999 with 21 participants, six of whom ‘won’. (Here the word ‘won’ means that the participant completed a novel.) In 2007, NaNoWriMo had 101,510 participants of whom 15,333 were winners.It’s worth spending a little time at the NaNoWriMo website and the NaSoAlMo websites to get a feel for the flavor of this sort of enterprise. In his email to me, Todd referred to it as a ‘contest’ but it appears to me that it’s not a contest in the sense of competition, it’s a contest in the sense that it’s hoped that each participant will finish (and thus ‘win’).In particular, I found this page at the NaSoAlMo website that described the ‘rules’. I think they do a lot to capture the flavor of the sort of undertaking I’d like to see.So it seems there are questions to be resolved:

  • What month? I’d advocate for some month in Winter, mostly because that’s when I personally most need a little intense immersion. Todd seems to strongly favor some summer month, when it’s less forbidding out and thus easier to photograph.
  • How many photos? Todd seems to favor 90 – a number I think is very high. For comparison, the image counts in some photo books I happen to have close at hand (because I’ve been looking at them, natch): George Tice Common Mementos: 16 images, Linda Butler, Inner Light: the Shaker Legacy: 58 images, Michael Kenna Monique’s Kindergarten: 65 images, Ray McSavaney Explorations: 64 images. The George Tice book is arguably more of a pamphlet than a book. Still, Jay Dusard’s Open Country is a serious photo book, and it’s only 40 images. Oliver Gagliani’s monograph has 42 images. John Sexton’s Listen to the Trees has 49. Nick Nixon’s Photographs from One Year has 39. Kenna’s Easter Island has 44, Ruth Bernhard’s Gift of the Commonplace counts in at 35. If we’re going to go by the shortest inarguably awesome photo book then I’d argue for 35 based on the Bernhard book.
  • What’s the goal? Both Todd and I feel that since the goal of NaNoWriMo is to write the book and not to get it published, and the goal of NaSoAlMo is to record the album, and not get it into distribution, that we should pick some reasonable analogue for the photo book process. I’d argue for having a PDF like you’d upload to some of the POD publishers as the natural analogue to having an album recorded. Todd seems to be leaning more toward having a portfolio on a website like Flickr.

Other than that, I think the rules seem self-evident: all the photographs must be made in the designated month, although thinking and planning in advance is allowed. All the editing, layout, etc. done in the designated month.Thoughts?

11 Responses

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  1. Gordon said, on December 21, 2007 at 3:38 pm

    I tend to agree that a goal of 90 images would tend to force me to produce a less than good book. 35 or 40 in a month to me is a stretch but possible. A well put together PDF is potentially a more interesting presentation format than a portfolio on flickr – much of Brooks Jensen’s work on the Lenswork extended is a good example of one way to go with that sort of PDF publication and I think that is a good way to go.

    It could potentially also be actually published, via some print on demand site such as or or some other higher quality outlet. Give away the PDF, provide a way for interested buyers to actually get a good quality hard copy version of it too. Profit from that if you like, or not.

  2. Ed Richards said, on December 21, 2007 at 5:26 pm

    What did it take to get those 35 images? Half a lifetime? 35 images that belong in a book in a month? Not likely for a landscape photographer. Maybe in a year, if you have lots of time.

    How about putting the book together in a month, using existing images?

  3. Paul Butzi said, on December 21, 2007 at 7:40 pm

    One thing to keep in mind is that neither NaNoWriMo nor NaSoAlMo purport to be cranking out top quality novels or albums. The payoff for participants is in getting it done in a finite time, not in achieving the absolute highest quality.

    I would expect that every ‘winning’ participant in NaSoPhoBoMo could produce a higher quality book given more time (perhaps even working from the same stream of exposures). That’s ok. The goal is to get over the hump of “I’ve done a book”.

    Once you’re crossed the finish line, you know you can run the race. It’s no longer about finishing. And that changes the entire process and experience.

    What would you attempt if you knew you would not fail?

  4. Ed Richards said, on December 22, 2007 at 7:04 am

    Unless you have full time to devote to it, just putting together a decent book is a month’s work. Maybe you can have two categories – the shoot and composite folks who have lots of time, and the composite only folks who have to work this in around their day jobs.

  5. Bryan Willman said, on December 22, 2007 at 2:10 pm

    A very key phrase from one of the other sites:
    “This is not a juried competition but rather a challenge”

    This is not, actually, a challenge to “publish an actual book you can buy at Walden’s” but rather, a challenge to “leave the chair in front of the computer and go and photograph, and process, and edit – to actually do.”

    Of course, any one person may do this in any span of time starting on any date – the point of picking, say, “January” is the moral support of a group all trying it at the same time. Knowing that other people are likely struggling with “bligh! it’s Jan 22 and I still haven’t picked a cover!”

  6. matt said, on December 22, 2007 at 3:09 pm

    Why not just make it one photo for each day of the month? Many of us who maintain blogs know that we can hit that goal, so the added goal of assembling the images into a book wouldn’t be such a huge task.

    I’d vote for Feb. That gives all of us time to recover from the insanity of the holidays. It’s also that short month 😉

  7. Kjell H A said, on December 23, 2007 at 11:05 am

    I think the idea is very interesting. Obviously some compromises must be made when it comes to quality, but that lies in the nature of such a challenge. What’s important to remember is that the result of such a month isn’t a real, finished, top quality book, but more a first draft. Or maybe a “proof of concept”, like “It is actually possible to set an ambitious goal and finish it”.

    A pdf gallery seems to me like the best way to present the result. It is much easier to control the viewing experience of a pdf than a web gallery. More like a real book.

    I guess this could be done with very little effort on the organizers part. I haven’t read the NaNoWriMo page yet, but it shouldn’t need much more funding than some web hosting. Prizes could be just fame and glory, at least until we see how it goes. There is of course work involved in the reviewing, but hopefully that’s the fun part of organizing such an event.

    And last, I would vote for a month with more daylight than January or February 😉

  8. joost burger said, on January 2, 2008 at 7:54 am

    I would leave the number of images to the participant, but count me in.

    You can also check out (a weekly photobook marathon, of a fellow dutchmen for inspiration..

  9. Comfort Zone « Singular Images said, on January 3, 2008 at 8:46 am

    […] where is this going? I am now considering the Solo Photography Book Month project being discussed by Paul Butzi. My creative work process has been somewhat purposefully […]

  10. Gordon said, on January 3, 2008 at 5:40 pm

    Something I came across, talking about the Novel in a month concept

    I can see the parallels – is the photo book in a month for everyone to do one book, ever, or as a means to get started on the ‘real’ book for those who were actually serious about it in the first place ?

    Does that actually matter, other than taking part and finishing ?

  11. […] where is this going? I am now considering the Solo Photography Book Month project that was proposed by Paul Butzi. My creative work process has been somewhat […]

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