Interview: Darius Himes – Photography Book Now Competition’s Lead Juror

With on demand printing more and more people are creating their own photography books. July 14th is the deadline for Blurb’s Photography Book Now, one of the largest international competitions for self-published photography books. I recently had the opportunity to interview Lead Juror Darius Himes about the competition and his own love of photography books.

P: How did you get started working with/publishing photography books?

D: After grad school I was working with Photo Eye Books which is based in Santa Fe and is really like North America’s best photography book store. We started a quarterly magazine, the Photo Eye Book List, that was just about fine art photography books. I was the editor of that publication for several years.

I always had a desire to publish books myself so in 2007, after Photo Eye, I started a company called Radius Books with several colleagues. We published books on the visual arts, not just photography specifically, but the full range of the arts. Through all those associations I became involved with photography books.

P: You‘ve worked with quite a few established and emerging photographers during their process of  publishing photography books. Do you have a project that you would consider your most exciting project?

D: It’s always hard to name favorites but several of the books that we’ve done at Radius in the last year are just fantastic. Colleen Plumb’s book,  Animals Are Outside Today, is a great project because it’s her first monograph. Janelle Lynch’s book titled Los Jardines de Mexico, which is also her first monograph. I really like the first monograph projects because it’s so exciting for the photographer and so exciting to help them bring about their first work. David Taylor’s book, Working the Line, is about the US/Mexico Border and it also an amazing project.

A project that I wrote an essay for was Paula McCartney’s book Bird Watching. I loved her project, I still love it. It was also great to write for a project that was being published by someone else. She has done all sorts of really interesting artist books over the years and this is the first one that has turned into a trade publication.

P: Between your involvement in Blurb’s Photography Book Now contest, your book with Mary Virgina Swanson, Publish Your Own Photography Book, and your blog, you are quite passionate about helping people self-publish. Is this because it’s a great time for people to take the reigns on publishing their own books or because you were getting so many questions and requests about how to do this? This is sort of a chicken and the egg question.

D: The book that I coauthored with Swani came out of all of the questions that both of us would get about how to get a book published. The book was written to answer that and it’s about working with both the traditional publishing model as well as self-publishing. We really just wanted to explain how to think about publishing a book.

But I do think that right now with self-publishing there is a really exciting movement because there are so many tools available and photographers are being really creative. Whether it’s using print on demand or whether it’s approaching local newspaper printers or whatever, they are doing really interesting things and I think that is just exciting.

P: You’ve been involved in The Photography Book Now competition as the Lead Judge for four years, what is your favorite aspect of this particular competition?

D: Initially, it’s great to reach out and ask people if they would like to be a judge because I get to call up all of my own heroes in photography and ask them to be involved. I have to say it’s also always fun to bring all of the judges together in New York. Obviously when everyone is in New York and it’s the judges and the books themselves, it’s always great to see stand out projects and to see everyone respond to them on their own timeline.

P: Do you have any advice for people who are entering Photography Book Now?

D: On the Photography Book Now website we made a video where I talk about what the judges are looking for–what we are looking for overall and how to think about the criteria and the categories. It’s definitely not just a photography contest. Over the years we’ve seen some amazing bodies of work in terms of the photographs, but the books themselves, the books that the photographers put together just looked so amateur. Those immediately get passed by.

It’s that sense of really looking at what makes a book as opposed to a portfolio box of photographs. Thinking through things like, what does the cover look like. Consider little things that many photographers forget to think about like half title pages, title pages, front page pieces, moving you gently into the book. This is where looking at other photography books is so important. What are the first ten pages in that book and trying to mimic that in a way, not because it’s a formula but because it’s effective and relevant to your book. Really think about why or why not to do something similar.

P: I understand you are also a photographer. What are you drawn to in your own images?

D: I’m interested in things like shadow and points of attraction. That’s sort of abstract, I know. I don’t come out of any documentary school or anything. I’m interested in how a photograph transforms the reality of something, or can open your eyes to something, whatever that is.

P: Sort of the same way you look at books.

D: Yes.