guest post: a new lens

From publisher and Yellow Pear Press founder Lisa McGuinness comes this musing on photography in the publishing field, and making the shift from words to images, alongside some of Lisa’s lovely photos from Provence. Enjoy!


The recent focus of my publishing career has been on words, but in the spirit of becoming a jack-of-all-trades in this increasingly-visual world, I’ve been honing my skills in photography to accompany said bons mots.

For me, it’s not an entirely new skill set. After I graduated from college, I got on a plane with my new husband and my old 35 mm Minolta (that used actual film) and traipsed around Europe seeing the sights and trying to take decent photos. I went through a tremendous amount of film, and upon our return home, spent a sizeable wad of cash, given the extreme poverty in which we lived, on developing. We found several true gems among a bounty of boring and/or bad photos. But times have changed.

When I started at Chronicle Books it was the waning days of the film era of photography and one of my very lofty job tasks was to put slides into these plastic things called slide sleeves (which are basically page-sized plastic sheets with little square pockets in rows). A stack of slides would land on my desk and I would spend a tremendous amount of time slipping the little cardboard-framed pictures into the translucent pockets. It was a mindless task, but one of the pleasures was the fleeting moment I took to hold each tiny picture up to the light for a quick peek before tucking the slide in. I loved that moment. It was a pleasure to see the work of good photographers.

It was interesting to know the sheer number of pictures taken for any given book. Once the designers had taken stock of the entire bonanza of possible images (not on a computer screen, but in the form of slides on a light table), they culled the group down to the ones that made it onto the pages of the published work.

Back then, photographers had to develop their photos in the dark using chemicals, tongs, paper, and all the detritus of their art form. While a great photo is still a work of art, the process has become simplified and more accessible. Now, if we take a bad photo, all we have to do is hit delete and try again. There’s no waiting until it’s developed to discover whether you’ve “gotten it” or not. You can just look at the screen of the phone or camera to know. A good photo still takes a good eye for the subject and a great photo is a rarity, but seeing so many good photographs everywhere made me yearn to dip my toes into the pond again.

I started by researching quality digital cameras, which was an onerous task because research isn’t my personal strength. Once I landed upon my tool of choice, I spent some time playing around with it, and then took a photography class to remind myself of some of the fundamentals. Then I practiced, practiced and practiced more. I shot photos at antique markets, in charming little stores, outside on the streets and on walks through nature. I worked on downloading and editing the pictures and attempting to be ruthless in my scrutiny. There’s still much to be learned, but I’ll be doing so on site because tomorrow I (along with my camera and other equipment) get on a plane for France, where I will be taking pictures for a book called Windows on Provence. Don’t worry: I’m not the only photographer and a photo editor will be backing up our efforts. I’ll send reports from the field. I’m excited to try my hand at writing visually.

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