Between the Shoe-box and the Portfolio Box:
The Book-Album for Storing and Showing Your Photographs
By: Mark D. Segal
My photographic output from the Luminous-Landscape China Workshop brought to the fore once again the beauty and practicality of a solution I developed six years ago for storing and showing photographs. In this case, what do you do with 730 letter-size prints? A bit much for the shoe box and quite a few portfolio boxes with many individual sheets of paper to keep intact and in order. Good quality conventional photo albums are both expensive and very time-consuming to prepare (layouts and paste-downs for 730 images?). They can be bulky and consume a lot of space.
Hence, considering all this in the context of a large Egypt photo-shoot back in 2000, I developed my own version of a "book-album". Both the concept and the implementation are very simple: print the pictures according to how they should look in final presentation (i.e. final page layout), assemble all the printed pages in the correct order and orientation, bring them to a quality custom bookbinder, select the materials for the covers and the endpapers (archival), decide on the content and style for the cover title, then return to the bookbinder when the job is done and take home the finished product. The finished product is a custom-bound book containing all the photographs in their final presentation format.
The advantages of this format are as follows.
1. The binding cost would be usually less than the cost of high quality photo albums (i.e. the type with durable artistic covers and heavy archival paper pages);
2. Zero time is spent doing placements and pasting;
3. No risk of pasting mess; no issues about the compatibility of the glue with the photos or the longevity of the glue;
3. The photos cannot get out of order because the pages are attached (using less than 1/8th inch page margin);
4. The pages are protected from user-abuse to the extent people know how to turn pages without creasing them.
5. Storage space is minimized because the bindings are not bulky and the thickness is limited to that of the photographs and the covers, whereas albums require the photographs plus the album pages on which they are glued;
6. Storage on a bookshelf should be about equivalent to dark storage conditions because while unused, light doesn't hit the pages except on top of the binding – but I'm not an in-house print permanence institute for testing this, so I can only cite my own evidence to date: books I made six years ago on Epson Enhanced Matte paper (then named "Archival" Matte) show no signs of yellowing whatsoever.
So, my 730 photograph collection from the China shoot appears on my bookshelf as shown in Figure 3. A view of one of the volumes is shown in Figure 1. The whole China set is seven volumes. These bindings were made by Don Taylor in Toronto at a cost of 60 Canadian dollars per volume. Around 110 pages per volume is the comfortable limit for paper the thickness of Epson Enhanced Matte. The bindings are extremely durable because the pages are stitched and glued to the backing material under the spine, so they will tolerate a great deal of handling over many years. One can bind thicker sheets than Enhanced Matte, but in that case fewer sheets per volume.
My images destined for book-albums are printed on letter-size (8.5 by 11 inches) Epson Enhanced Matte, usually at about 6 by 9 inches, unless cropping alters the image dimensions. However, books can be made with smaller or larger pages too. Normally the page size should be uniform for any one book.
The book format also invites creative opportunities to make title pages, commentary, fold-outs with maps, etc. Figures 2 shows a title page I created in Photoshop for one of the China volumes.
One need not restrict oneself to one photograph per page. I dimension many of my family photographs for placing two on a letter size sheet with comfortable margins all around. One doesn't need a RIP or a print layout program to do this. I have a blank 360 PPI template in Photoshop, size the images accordingly and collage them onto the template using "Show Grid" to ensure they are evenly or otherwise pleasantly arrayed. Once the grand-children are a few years older and learn to turn pages properly they'll either love me or cuss me for preserving book-albums of all those cute baby pictures!