Monday, February 18, 2013

Regular Customer -- still slogging along.

OMG!! – as they say in the text-messaging and tweeting world.  I just looked back in the blog and found that the previous post about  my Regular Customer project was in July 2011. 
“All progress is made by people who don’t know what they are getting themselves into.”  I wish I had an attribution for that quotation.  Regular Customer has become a case study to illustrate it.
 [For those who have not been hanging on my every word – Regular Customer began with my noticing that as of 2013 I would have photographs from Seattle’s Pike Place Market over a span of 50 years.  Says I: “I’ll bet there are enough negatives in there somewhere for a nice project.”  Turns out there were about 4000 of them
The sheer scope – 50 years and 4000 negatives – pointed towards a book which in turn suggested that I needed to go digital.
I rummaged through contact sheets, thankfully carefully filed with the sheets of negatives, and scanned about 2000 of them.  That was the state of affairs in July 2011 when I was four months into the project.  I’m now just over two years into it.]
From the 2000 or so scans I selected about 1000 as candidates for whatever the book was going to turn out to be.  Ah, there was the next question: What is it going to turn out to be?  Several months of dithering and sorting thumbnail images followed.  Eventually the book settled out to be a metaphorical walk through the market to show a visitor what it looks like and what it looked like years ago.  Several more months of dithering about book format and size ensued with numerous absolutely-final-for-this-week decisions, pilot trials, and back-to-the-drawing-boards.  The process eventually converged on a book of 300 or thereabouts photographs in a landscape format a bit smaller than 11x8 ½ inches.
It wasn’t too difficult to get from 1000 to 500 but then it got a lot harder.  I decided that the only practical scheme was to take what I had, put together a draft, and edit it down further from there.  I remember reading about a novelist who said that when his son was six years old so was the first draft of his first novel and the two were about the same height.  I understand.  He also said that the novel went through seven drafts, the first six of which were bad and the first three were very bad.  I understand.
My fifth draft looked good enough that I was willing to show it to a couple of people including my friend, Joe, a retired art director.  Boy, did that generate a lot of red ink!  As a result the sixth draft started to look like a semi-finished product – still close to 400 photographs however.  Before going further I needed to get reactions to it both from people close to the Pike Place Market and from people with an interest in local history.
By a stroke of sheer luck I had an opportunity to show the draft to the librarian and to the curator of photography of Seattle’s Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI).  To my delight they were enthusiastic about it and urged me to press on.  By another stroke of luck I was able to contact the daughter of one of the long-time market vendors, Pinhas Almeleh, to whom the book will be dedicated.  She, too, was enthusiastic and pointed me to the not-for-profit Pike Place Market Foundation.  Their director also was enthusiastic about it and, in turn, pointed me to the Friends of the Market – the loosely organized group founded in the 70s to oppose destruction of the market and construction of a high-rise.  I have met with them twice and find them a crusty, opinionated, funny, delightful gang of old coots (and I feel right at home with them).  What with one thing and another I now have a lot of additional caption information for the book and a lot better idea of how to edit the book down to about 350 photographs.  At that point I’m declaring victory and will be ready to produce the seventh and final draft, print a mammoth pdf and send it off to the print shop.
The only fly in the ointment is (sigh) a bureaucratic one.  The quasi-governmental Pike Place Market Preservation and Development Authority (PDA) now demands a license to use the trademarked name “The Pike Place Market” for any commercial purpose.  Now I never regarded my book as a “commercial” product but I would like to sell enough copies to at least partly pay for the printing costs.  I have been on “a couple of days, a week tops” for over a month now on whether I need a license, whether I have to pay the hefty fee for a license, when I will get a license.  I’m sure this will eventually work out.  I’m sure this will eventually work out.  I’m sure this will eventually work out.  I’m sure this will eventually work out.
On a lighter note, I also selected twenty photographs of market old-timers from the early years of my negative trove and made a set of silver prints of them that look just fine, thank you very much.  Fourteen of them are currently hanging in our photography group’s gallery and I’m pretty sure that MOHAI wants a set of the twenty for their collection.
I’ve done several smaller, less complicated books.  When I started, my expectation was that a book of 300 or so was only going to be six times more work than a book of fifty or so.  Silly me!  

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