Submissions are being accepted until 16 July, with a grand prize of $25,000 (around £17,500) at stake. In 2008 more than 2,000 photography books were submitted for consideration. Beth Dow, a professional photographer from Minneapolis, MN, was awarded the grand prize for her project, 'In the Garden,' a dream-like evocative book-length portfolio of large platinum-palladium prints that examine tensions of mass, light, and perspective in highly cultivated landscapes. For someone who had doubts about the possibilities of self publishing, vanity publishing to some, Beth found the process a positive experience. Macworld caught up with her to discuss her work and what advice she’d give to others hoping to enjoy similar success.
Q. How would you best describe your work?
I make pictures that explore various ways we shape and experience our environment, and I use technology from the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries to get there.
Q. Can you briefly tell us how you work?
I shoot quickly with a hand-held medium format Rollfilm camera. I hate tripods and never use them. My photographs are printed in platinum, which is a contact rather than enlargement process, so I need a large negative the size of the desired print. To achieve this, I scan my 6x7 cm film negatives, use Photoshop on my Mac to adjust contrast and exposure, and have those new digital files enlarged and printed on clear plastic with an Epson printer to make new, final-sized inkjet negatives. My printer then places those inkjet negatives directly on paper that he has hand-coated with a solution of liquid platinum - and other good things - exposes them to ultraviolet light, and develops out the prints.
Q. Much of your work looks like it could have been taken at any time during the last 100 years or so, was this intentional?
Yes, but that’s only half the story. They could also just as easily have been made 100 years in the future. Nostalgia never, ever, figures into my work, and my garden pictures are not about the past in any way. Rather, they are about the absence of ordinary, linear time as we typically experience it. They are about the experience of space in the absence of time.
Q. And what draws you into working in monochrome particularly?
Colour is far too descriptive and specific for me. Too easy. I see colour everywhere I look, all day long, and want my pictures to tell me something else. My pictures are about perception and experience, and not about horticulture.
Q. So why Blurb and not a traditional publisher for your book 'In the Garden'?
The Blurb book was an experiment with sequence and text. I’m extremely happy with the way it turned out, but I never intended or expected this to be the final form. I still want my pictures published.
Q. And how did you feel about the how the book looked?
I designed a simple layout that was all about the images, without distractions. I was aiming for more of a catalog or index of the photographs, with no competing design elements. Just the facts. If I could change something about it I would make the text a bit smaller, but it seemed right at the time. This book was an experiment with print-on-demand publishing, and I had low expectations! I was stuck home on my rear with a freshly broken ankle, and was seduced by the ease of the software. I knew what I hoped it would look like in this incarnation, and was pleasantly surprised with the final quality. Blurb are very good at what they do. There are still many other ways I would like to see these images put together, but I’m very happy with this particular version. I would still like to see this images printed on a heavy, matte paper by a fine publisher.
Q. What effect did winning the Photography.Book.Now competition have?
It was so fantastic! I think we’re all used to getting the “competition was tough ... we’re sorry ... please try again next year ...” letters. This was absolutely amazing. The prize money was just such a boost. It’s difficult to work in such an expensive medium, and this just opens up so many possibilities. I am so deeply grateful.
Q. And what advice would you give to anyone thinking of entering this years PBN competition?
While I don’t recommend broken ankles and Percocet fogs to anyone, the positive side was that I left it so late to design the book that I only had a couple of days to pull it together. I had no time to second-guess myself. Know what you like, and, much more importantly, don’t like, about other books. I used a lot of white space to contain the images and encourage the viewer to spend some time with each photograph. I paced it like a slow, meditative walk. Other kinds of work might benefit from some delicious chaos or full-bleed spreads. Decide whether you want the book to be about the photographs or about design in general, and then stick with your decision. One is not better than the other - just remain consistent and the book design will resolve itself. And don’t be precious with your pictures. If you can’t find a way to make your favorites work with the others, leave them out. Think of the book as a single object, rather than a heaping pile of components. You can always use your darling rejected babies in another book. It’s only software and a send button away.