It’s amazing how a project can metamorphose like a caterpillar into a butterfly; how it can start out as one thing and end up completely different.
My new book of photographs - Seasons of the Moon
contained not one photograph when I first started the project.
A little history.
As a ten-year old in London in 1960, I saw a black and white war movie called “Sink the Bismarck!” In one scene, aerial reconnaissance photos were being ‘souped’ in the developer, and the image of the dreaded Bismarck started to emerge. The music swelled… “We’ve found her!”
I was fascinated and went out the next day and bought a small contact printing frame, some Kodak Velox paper, and some Johnson’s Universol developer and fixer. I commandeered the bathroom during off hours and immersed myself in the wonderful noxious smells of a wet darkroom.
I was hooked.
Eventually, A photograph of mine was published on the cover of the British Journal of Photography. I was very pleased with myself and thought that David Bailey’s days were definitely numbered, but my other love – music - distracted me for quite a while.
In the early seventies, I co-founded SARM sound studios in London’s East End, the first twenty-four track recording studio in Europe.
It was in those extremely cramped studios that Queen mixed the gargantuan “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
At the same time, I published the musical “The Rocky Horror Show” which later went to become a cult. I started to work as a record producer, and in 1976, I co-produced the debut album by Foreigner, which went quadruple platinum, with two Billboard top ten hits. “Feels like the First Time” and “Cold as Ice.”
With all this action, somewhere along the line, I sort of lost the photographic plot and put my cameras away, and it wasn’t till my mid-forties that the bug returned, and with a vengeance.
In the meantime, I had left the music business and come to Jerusalem to immerse myself in learning Torah. After 10 years of learning, I was given a position at Ohr Somayach/Tannenbaum College (www.ohr.edu)
teaching Talmudic logic and Jewish Philosophy.
Around this time, I started to write short English essays on the weekly Torah portion for the then-fledgling Internet. I believe I was among the first to do this.
Seasons of the Moon started as a monthly article dealing with the connection between the astrological symbol and the corresponding events in the Jewish calendar (For example, Libra, the sign of the Scales of Judgment, is the month of Rosh Hashana, the day on which G-d judges the entire world for the coming year.) A poem appeared in the middle of the back of the page, which related to the article in some way, and in the same position of the front, was a picture.
For the first year of its publication, I didn’t even take the photographs. The first edition of Seasons (which happened to be Libra) boasted a very un-glorious freeware clip-art drawing of a set of scales – not the most creative of beginnings.
From small acorns…
After a year or so of writing Seasons, I started to attend the lectures of one of the great Jewish thinkers of our age, and I was fascinated by his intellectual brilliance and depth. I thought I would try and take one small point from a lecture of this great Rabbi and try and express it in terms that a layman could understand.
Seasons started to get deeper.
After about a year later, I made the blindingly obvious link between my writing for Seasons and using my own photographs. I don’t know why it took so long for it to occur to me, but every idea has its time.
Fast forward some eight years and I start to think about making a book out of the synthesis of my essays, photographs and poems. At this point, I had around 75,000 words to choose from.
My photographic skills were improving, but the photographs I was using for Seasons didn’t really have a unified identity - a look.
It was at this point that I dropped into Neil Folberg’s Vision gallery in Jerusalem (www.visiongallery.com)
and saw the work he was doing called Celestial Nights
It was beautiful.
Neil had managed to capture the moonlight feeling that I was looking for.
I asked him how he had lit the scenes and he said, “They are taken using the light of a star.”
It didn’t dawn on me which star he was talking about until I picked up a copy of Popular Photography and read an article with Neil in which he went in to details.
Most of his photographs were done using Photoshop to combine infrared film of the landscapes, to give the ‘nighttime’ look and panchromatic film of actual night skies. He’d used a telescope with tracking equipment to avoid star trails, and then contact printed large format negatives that had been outputted on an imagesetter.
I ordered some infrared film and started to shoot and I loved the results that I was getting.
I felt that I had found a technique that reflected what I was trying to do in the articles.
The skies were more problematical however; not all Halachic opinions condone photographs of the celestial bodies, and as I was doing a book that included words of Torah, I didn’t want to get into a Halachic controversy.
So I either covered over the moon with clouds or made it difficult to make out in some other way.
It was enough to hint to a nocturnal view, without being overly astronomical.
I also feel that this limitation helped me to intensify my ideas and define more specifically my objectives. Limitation is the father of Art
just as necessity is the mother of invention.
I had the concept for the book, but no way to fund it. I am a firm believer that G-d runs the world, and it ‘just happened’ that at the same time that I was trying to fund the book, the head of our Institution, Rabbi Nota Schiller managed to find a sponsor for the book, Mr. Neil Auerbach, and I had to go to work in earnest.
It worked out to be a win/win/win deal.
Mr. Auerbach did a big mitzva (good deed) giving charity to the Yeshiva and supporting Torah and those who learn it - and he got the kudos of having the book named “The Auerbach Edition;” the Yeshiva had a very nice sum even after covering the publishing costs, and yours truly got his book published for almost nothing.
One of the great drawbacks of publishing a book is that you can go into deep-pocket debts of $50,000 and more without having to try at all. And unless you have a guaranteed market, the sponsorship route has tremendous advantages and virtually no drawbacks. The only thing is – you have to find a sponsor. But if you think creatively, you might find an angle that an individual or a company would want to sponsor in return for the kudos of being associated with the work or theme of the book.
So there I was with a 75,000 words and 12 of photographs.
After painstaking, not to mention painful, editing, I got the book down to about 200 pages.
Along the way, I decided to put more photographs into the book, and apart from the 12 photographs that represented the months of the year – the Seasons of the Moon – I married about twenty-five other photographs to articles, but not every article had a photograph; there were another twenty articles without photographs, and some had no poem.
The book, as I far as I thought, was finished.
And then I tried to find a printer. It’s ironic but printing black and white seems to be much more difficult than color, and try as we might, we couldn’t find anyone in Israel that knew how to do really high-end black and white printing.
I looked at printing the book in Germany or in China. I put a message on the Large Format photography forum and I got a reply from David Spivak of Focus publishing.
David offered to take care of the printing in the US at a very competitive price, feature a portfolio of my work in Focus magazine, and a free advertisement in the 12 issues of the magazine.
A great deal.
Now the name David Spivak rang a big bell with me, because my father’s family name was originally Spivack – and my father’s first name was David.
It could be that this influenced me, but together with David’s enthusiasm and his very competitive prices, we decided to go with him.
It turned out that David was much more than a vanity publisher. He worked tirelessly on the book as though it was his own baby.
One day he said to me, “Rabbi, you know, if you are doing a photography book, why are there so many more articles than photographs? I think you should consider who this book is for, and maybe adjust the balance.”
It’s amazing how a few words can change the course of a whole project.
I decided that rather than do a book of Torah ideas aimed at the religious Jewish market with a few nice photographs, I would change Seasons into a Fine Art photography book with a Jewish theme with an across-the-board appeal to Jew and non-Jew. religious and non-religious alike. The 35 photos grew to over 70 and I cut the articles from nearly 50 to 18, and left the poems almost as they were.
I hope I have succeeded. In any project that seeks to bridge two worlds and include everybody, you always have the danger of falling between two stools and pleasing no one but yourself.
At any rate, I worked furiously for the next two months, cutting and re-writing, and going back over my files and re-working another 40 photographs.
My friend Rabbi Shlomo Simon re-edited my work. A fine photographer himself, Shlomo was my sounding board both as to the tenor of the articles and the choice of the photographs.
And now it’s finished and out.
David and Bob Tursack of Brilliant Graphics did a ‘brilliant’ job of printing the book in quadtone. I was absolutely blown away by the quality.
At the time of writing, I am looking for a major distributor to put the book into bookshops, and books are selling well over the internet.
Looking back, I can’t say that it was an easy job, but I learned a tremendous amount.
Probably the biggest lesson was perseverance.
Very often the difference between success and failure is the point at which you are prepared to give up.Visit My Website