Journey is the first short picture book from an A2 watercolour doodle from my Oromia Sketchbook for Assignment 5.
The watercolour was an emotional response to revisiting my photos of rows of burned out trucks along the road from Meki town to Addis. – originally to inspire a collage. The trucks and caches had been burned in a period of serious political violence in Ethiopia, many people killed and imprisoned, but barely mentioned in the Western Press. It was not clear how long these trucks had been there, but goats were grazing next to them. (See Oromia 2 Trucks) . This was a shocking experience for me, and not the first one I had in Ethiopia – having been caught up in actual violence in 2005, and had to return back from interviewing factory workers through burning tyres.
The painting was an emotional response, markmaking and colour exploration. I used a sword-liner brush and tube paint to make fast marks, but often working wet-in-wet. Mostly to free up my mind and think how to proceed with Assignment 5.
But I found I liked the general idea and found the colour bleeds very evocative. In some parts of the page there are remains of the glue and paper fragments from photos I had removed, these add some more textural 3D effects. So I experimented with different crops photographed with my iPad, and further clarified the images with Procreate blend modes.
I then experimented with different sequencing to form some sort of narrative around my original idea of ‘Journey’. I then further manipulated the crop, exposure, clarity and contrast in Lightroom and published to Blurb through the Blurb plug-in.
An important issue in any political documentary is how to avoid over-sensationalisation and ‘compassion fatigue’. This applies to documentary photography, but particularly artistic impressions. I was struggling with these questions for Assignment 5. I could have put a full background explanation page at the beginning or the end.
But I did not want the reader to start with an immediately political interpretation. I decided to put minimal text because I did not want to disturb the viewing of the images. So they enjoyed the aesthetics of the images first. I put just a couple of sentences on the first page so the reader had some idea of the underlying origin of what they were looking at:
Story based on a watercolour painting from a journey through Oromia, Ethiopia in November 2016.
Then on the second to last page I put:
Violence in Oromia and Amhara in 2015 and 2016 led to nearly 1,000 dead and 267,000 displaced with minimum coverage in international press.
So the political understanding comes last – hopefully encouraging the reader to read through again with new interest and understanding.
Book pages: first draft
Assessment of this first draft
On the whole I like the general idea, and have had positive feedback from people I have showed the book to. The process of publishing in Blurb from Lightroom is easy – something I have done in my Landscape Photography course and also Book Design. Things generally have to go through a first trial to see how the images work, and are read, as a physical book in a specific format and how what I see on my RGB monitor translates to CMYK print on different types of Blurb paper.
Going forward with this I need to re-photograph the images with my SLR in high resolution, thinking about the direction of lighting on the page. Some of the images are a bit pixellated. I also need to further process and tweak the images in Lightroom – possibly Nik FX where I have more local tonal and sharpening control – with a properly calibrated monitor and in good light. Some images will stay dark and a little blurry. Others I will brighten, sharpen and increase texture and saturation.
I also need to test the book on different readers to find out what different people see in the images, and what they think about the text. Then revise. It might well appeal to a limited market eg some of my artistic NGO colleagues.
There is currently a section on my professional website with these pages and some explanatory text that I can share with people for their comment.