About the design process
I wanted to share a bit more about the design of the Even Firemen book – the choices I made and why.
Since the project has been running for quite some years now, the idea of making it into a book was not new. But the concept did take a long time to form. Also, what was I really photographing? I knew it weren't your average family snaps, and that it must have had something to do with how I felt and how that related to Lora. By the time that became more clear, over the years, the idea of a book formed.
First there was the title: Even Firemen.
As you probably know this came from an actual dialog me and Lora had, when she was about 4, 5. I wrote down most of these conversations, if I thought they were funny, cute, or remarkable in any way. So I browsed through them and found this one again:
"Papa, does everyone die?" "Yes, sweetheart. Everyone." "Even firemen?"
I realized it sums up our relationship, and the position I was in. That it is about fears, about parenthood, protection your child from the grim realities of life... the unavoidable ending of things... and about how I had to face these questions, as much as she had to... So there was my title. And a big step in finding out what I was doing with these photos.
By the time I felt I was near the end of making the series, I started to think about the design of the book. For me, the Even Firemen title immediately formed visually. The color use of red was logical, and could mean both "firemen" and "love". Also, I liked the directness of the color. The curly letters and boxed lines could make it look more fairytale book like. Give the design a duality that might attract ones curiosity, and sum up the duality of the story: both wonderful & lovely as well as grim & displaced.
Further on, the red became a recurring theme in the book design. I decided all text pages would be red with white lettering, so the front and back of the book would lead you into it. The thank you page in the end, the quote in the beginning, etc. They would be a separate red section of the book, a contrast witht the white pages with photography.
So there was my template.
Then came the hardest bit: the sequencing of the photos... and how to present them. What size would they be? Would I make spreads? An actual story?
As a designer (I also work as a visual designer on websites, corporate identities, logos, etc.) I have always found sequencing photos both exiting and difficult at the same time. It is often a very intuitive thing to do – which is beautiful and poetic... but the same time goes against my designer instincts and workflow, where I am often used to searching for the most logical solutions: there is a reason why something should be blue and not green, triangular or rectangular, small or big. But when sequencing photograpy, this works completely different. There is often no logical way to follow one photo after the other, unless you want to tell a story chronologically. There a a million options... and all of them based on a gut feeling. Leading to so many questions... Is this too obvious, or not obvious enough? Does this mean the same to you as it means to me? Is that important?
But I knew one thing: I wanted to make a new story, take the reader on a journey that somehow resembled, in a nonlinear, more emotional sense, the journey I undertook with Lora when photographing this dark, emotional period.
So that became the rough idea. To let Lora take the reader on a journey. From light to darker, and then back to light. Lost to found. Not only did this made sense to me, it also gave me something to hold on to. It gave the story and sequence a form of guidance, a backbone.
And it worked. When the story became clearer, I could add little visual sidesteps, in the form of photos Lora wasn't on, but photos that added a bit of extra poetry – that feeling of misplacement, surreality. This could help the flow of the sequence feel more playful, more layered. The same thing can be said about the quotes – all literal words Lora said – they deepened the story in a poetic, playful manner.
Now... this process ended a few weeks (months?) ago. I needed the bookdesign to be almost finished to get an offer from the printer. But, if the book gets funded and then ready for printing, I might change a few small details. I purposely didn't look at it now for quite some time... but the main design stands.
One thing to remark: sequencing photos is something you shouldn't do all by yourself. It's very easy to get lost in your own interpretation of your story... and then get lost in it. In the end, the book is for the reader, not for you.
So there's a few people I need to thank here. Who gave me new ideas, insights and suggestions. Who asked me questions that irritated me, confused me, surprised me... and that made the book a lot better! Yes, I am talking about you Regina van der Kloet, Ola Billmont and Roger Cremers, and Freek Kuin from printer robstolk.
I really hope to show you the end result of this frustrating but rewarding design process, soon :)