07 Dec 2009 Podcast 220 : Martin Bailey Photography Fine Art Folios
Some time ago I saw a Luminous Landscape Video Journal interview with Lenswork’s Brooks Jensen, in which he showed some work in a card folio, and I immediately fell in love with the look of these folios. I thought it was such a unique and practical way to package smallish prints to be viewed hand held, and even passed around. It took a lot of work and patience to actually get to the point where I have something to sell, and to be honest, there’s not much point in my going into much detail about the process, because the same resources are not going to be available to many of you that don’t live in Japan, but I’ll give you an outline of what I did, and then talk a little about the folios themselves.
If you are at a computer now, and want to understand better what I’m talking about, you might want to go over to www.mbpfolios.com, and take a quick look at the folios themselves, and to get the best idea of what they are, click on the Videos link, and take a look at the short video I have published to show you the inside of one of the folios.
If you think back to episodes 192 and 193 of this Podcast, I spoke about some fine art inkjet paper tests that I’d been doing, and I also released a PDF file with the results of those tests. What I was actually doing at that time was trying to decide the paper that I would use for these folios. Based on those tests I narrowed my choice down to a few papers and set about the task of sourcing the paper in bulk for the folios. Unfortunately, as I looked for the various components originally, including a matte board that I would stick to the back of the folio both for strength and so that you couldn’t see the back of the title photo stuck to the back of the window in the folder, I was not able to find everything in a common size.
I won’t bore you with the details, but after much though, I decided to use 8.5 x 11″ paper for the folios. I think also the paper I had chosen was not available in bulk in A4 and also with the boilerplate that I was going to put along the bottom of each print, I would lose some height, and so I wanted a slightly taller aspect than A4. I also found that I could order the papers I wanted in boxes of 50 from B&H in the States, which would help to keep costs down. Of course, I have to ship the paper to Japan, but the papers I wanted are just not available here. This is one area where we are pretty much all on a level playing field if you decided to do something similar to this yourself.
The folios needed to be die-pressed and de-bossed which I obviously can’t do myself, so the next thing I needed was a design to show my idea to the paper processing companies that I would approach. I designed my folio in Adobe Illustrator, bearing in mind that unlike Lenswork, I was not going to be able to make different folios for various purposes. I would need to use one folder for multiple folios, so I didn’t add anything in the folder design that would be folio specific. I just added my logo and Martin Bailey Photography to be de-bossed on the front and back of the folder and a window in which I would put a representative photo from the folio with the folio title. That way I could change the folio to work for just about any content that I want.
To house 8.5 x 11″ prints, the folder ended up being 482mm high by 554mm across. To check that the folder actually folder as planned, I printed it out on 13×19″ paper, which is much smaller than the actual folder, but it allowed me to fold and check the design. Once I got something that I was relatively happy with, I started to look for a company that would work with me on the die-pressing and de-bossing. This was probably the most difficult part of the whole project. I mailed and called a number of companies that looked as though they could help, but none of them had machinery large enough to die-press my folder.
I got in touch with our good friend Landon Michaelson in the US, and Landon was kind enough to put me in touch with a good company that did me a reason quote, but with me being in Japan, they were difficult to get hold of by phone, and while I was still trying to get hold of them, a company here in Japan that I’d reached out to replied to my mail. They took a few weeks, so I’d given up on them, but they told me straight away that they thought it looked like an interesting project and they’d love to help. I double checked that they could work to the sizes I required, and was delighted to hear that they could. It was one of those punch-the-air moments! Funnily enough, it’s the same company that makes the quick reference guide that ships with every Canon Camera around the world, so we hit it off pretty quickly. I visited their facility, about a four hour drive from Tokyo, and was impressed with their machinery and processes. In the following weeks they sent me various paper samples until we decided the paper that I’d use.
This same company ended up helping me to get the heavy tracing paper that goes between the prints and the introduction pages. They also put me in touch with a company to order the transparent plastic sleeves that each folio will be slipped into. They weren’t so hot on getting me matte boards for strength, so I ended up having those order made, cut to size at another company here in Japan. They also got me some pH neutral glue to stick the photo and matte board to the folder.
Things to note that we found most difficult were that because every component has to be acid free, pH Neutral, archival quality, we had to double check with every supplier that their materials met our standards. Another limiting factor that would hold people back from creating these folders is that to keep the price down, you have to order a lot of stuff. The paper that I used for the folder for example comes in 250 sheet lots. We can die-press 2 folio folders from each sheet, so this means that I have 500 folders to sell. The heavy tracing paper comes in lots large enough to not really make it worth making less than a thousand of these. The matte boards price started to make sense from 250, and as I don’t have a lot of space to put all this stuff, I had to make a trade of between space and cost for every component. Once I run out of matte boards, I can order another 250. If I sell 500 folios, I can get another 500 made about $350 cheaper, because now we already have the dies for the folder and for the de-bossed logos.
That reminds me, although originally all the die-pressing, the de-bossing of the lines for folding, and the logo de-bossing was going to be done in one press, the guy at the paper processing factory roped a friend at a nearby factory into the project to de-boss the logos with a special heated die process for an even cleaner and sharper finish, so the paper went through two processes before being shipped to me. You need to de-boss the lines to fold along by the way, or you don’t get clean folds. The card will crack and look horrible if you just fold it without a de-bossed line.
I should say, that if you decide to try to create these folders yourself, be prepared for a lot of work. I probably can’t help you with the process any more than what I’m relaying today, because how you go about this and the companies you work with will really depend on where you live. Brooks Jensen has just released a Folios Workshop DVD with instructions on how he makes his folios. I didn’t buy a copy as I’d finished mine by the time it was released, but everything Brooks does is top quality, so if you want to make something like this yourself, I strongly suggest you pick up a copy of the Lenswork Folios Workshop DVD.
So, with the folder and all components to be manufactured in Japan on order, 10 boxes of Harman GLOSS FB Al paper arrived from B&H. I’d decided on the Harman GLOSS with its Baryta layer because it came out top in my fine art inkjet paper tests. I’d actually been very close to buying the Canon Platinum Pro paper, but eventually decided on the Harman because the Canon paper has Canon written on the back of the paper, which I don’t think it very cool for fine art prints, and also because B&H didn’t have enough stock. As the Harman paper winged its way over to Japan, I had continued to soft-proof my selected images with a box that I’d bought earlier to test with. It was this soft-proofing task that led to Episode 215 on soft-proofing recently.
During that process, I found that there were a couple of prints in the Flowerscapes folio image set that I could just not get to print as I wanted on the Harman paper. This isn’t a problem with the paper I should add, rather some prints just don’t suit some paper. So at this point, I decided to try the Flowescapes set on one of my favourite fine art matte papers, Hahnemühle Photo Rag. B&H have 50 sheet boxes of this Photo Rag, and I had some in Japan already to test with, and the Flowerscapes images looked beautiful on it, after a lot of soft-proofing I should add, so I ordered 5 boxes of this from B&H as well.
I finished my soft-proofing of all three folio sets as I waited for the components to arrive. The last thing to arrive is the packaging. I’ve ordered boxes made to fit from one to three of the folios, as I’ve released three folios in this first batch. The last thing to do was create a Web site to showcase and sell the folios, which I did last week, and that is the address that I gave you earlier, www.mbpfolios.com. Someone has registered the .com site, although they are not using it. Still, as I’m in Japan, I figured the .jp URL would be OK.
I’ve selected 12 images in the sets that I’ve called “The Colours of Japan”, “Season of White” and there are 10 images in the “Flowerscapes” set. The reason for the difference is basically the number of prints I can fit in the folio. The Hahnemühle paper is thicker than the Harman paper, so I can only fit 10 prints in the folder along with the introduction page.
I spent a lot of time selecting the images, as you can imagine. I really wanted these first three folios to be special, and represent some of my main areas of photography. Flowerscapes is a word that I use, and might have even coined, to describe flower scenes, though not close up photographs of flowers as such. They’re really segments of a large flower scene or landscape, hence, “Flowerscape”. I shoot a lot of this sort of image, so I made my selections based on a balanced selection of colours, types of flowers and season. This set is probably where my use of shallow depth-of-field is most prominent, and was the main reason why I bought the 300mm F2.8 lens, so that I could edit these scenes out of a large landscape and still get that shallow depth-of-field.
One of the other things I pay a lot of attention to is vivid or fresh colours, so I chose my second folio of image to represent the Colours that I find in the natural world around Japan, hence “The Colours of Japan”. In this set I have leaves from Spring and Autumn, as well as the frail pink cherry blossoms, and lush green of the Oirase mountain stream. I also included the bright orange-red persimmons covered in snow, and the blue twilight waterfall with fresh spring maple leaves in front. There are bright reds, shocking pinks and beautiful yellows in this 12 image set.
The last set is the “Season of White” folio. This was the most difficult folio to select images for. I wanted to represent my work from Hokkaido in some way, but as I started to sort through my images, I found myself with a set of Eagle shots, a set of Red-Crowned crane shots, a set of Hokkaido Landscapes and Winter Trees. The result was more like a reference book than a fine art folio, so I decided to select images that best represent my memories and feelings of what it’s like to be in Hokkaido. I selected images from the frosty river, with the cranes and the Heaven on Earth landscape from the Tokachi mountain range. The Cranes appear often, but when shooting the cranes you’ll often see a fox. The Ezo Deer in the harsh winter are simply beautiful, as are the Whooper Swans, Steller’s Sea eagles and White-Tailed eagles. Then of course, there’s the winter tree in the driving snow storm and I had to include a shot from a few years ago where I panned with some cranes in the last light of the day as they flew to roost. All of these things really engraved in my mind when I think of Hokkaido, so I chose to tell a story with this set, rather than give a sterile reference set of images.
The photos of the prints here give you an idea, but as I said there’s the video on my folios site, and I take you inside the Flowerscapes folio to really get a feel for what they are like. I also put together a small gallery of all of the images from each set. Here you can best see that each print also has a boilerplate, with the title of the image and the date and location that it was shot, as well as the title of the folio that it is included in.
I included the Introduction page and a photo of the front of the folios in each gallery too. I didn’t include an Image List in the Flowerscapes folio, as I didn’t think it needs it, but the Season of White folio and The Colours of Japan folio also contain an Image List, with captions for each image in the set. The introduction page serves a second purpose, which is that of a colophon, or record of the Edition. If I make any minor changes to the folios I’ll increase the edition number. I am also numbering, dating and signing this page with an archival pen. The number is the copy number, so when you buy one of these folios, you’ll know how many were made before it. The date is the date that I made the prints for that particular folio, and then I sign it at the bottom right.
The folios are I think reasonably priced at $285 each, which is just $23.75 a print for the Harman paper prints, and $28.50 for the Hahnemühle Photo Rag prints. I’ve also knocked $120 off the set of three for a limited period, so the three folio set is for sale at $735. If you are interested, even just to take a look at what I’ve put together, please do take a look at the www.mbpfolios.com Web site.
Please tell your friends too. I believe the price I’ve set will make these accessible, and when you hold the folio in your hand, and feel the quality of the folder and of course handle and delve into the quality prints inside, I’m sure you’ll agree that it’s a totally different experience to looking at the images on a computer screen.
Thanks for listening/reading today. As creative people, I think it’s great to be able to take that creative process past the capture of the photograph, and even passed the printing, to create something like these folios. It’s been an education figuring out how to do this, and working with all the people that I’ve had to, to make it happen. This probably hasn’t been that useful as such, but I hope you’ve enjoyed going through the process with me.
MBP Fine Art Folios: http://www.mbpfolios.com
WebSpy Soho icon vote page: http://www.webspy.com/soho
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