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  • [Behind the Book]: An Elephantine Gestation
This blog was featured on 01/21/2018
[Behind the Book]: An Elephantine Gestation
Contributor
Written by
Lone Morch
January 2018
Publishing
Contributor
Written by
Lone Morch
January 2018
Publishing

In 2013, I began working on my upcoming book Embody: Intimate Photographic Encounters With Women. It was about my photo studio Lolo’s Boudoir and my intimate photographic encounters with hundreds of women of all ages over more than a decade. In photos and prose I wanted to share the transformative impact of my photography and our private search for beauty, acceptance, power and pleasure in our bodies outside of the public eye of media, men, fashion and female competition. I called the book Unveiled and made a booklet with sample photos and an essay to test my idea. Women around me were excited. I shared it with a publisher in Denmark, who encouraged me to expand upon my idea.

Opening Pandora's Box...

I elaborated on the reflections and wrote short scenes and stories from the studio. I began the task of sorting through thousands of negatives and photos I’d taken of the women over the years. It was the first time I’d looked at my entire body of work. It was enormous and impossible to choose. Dizziness set in, and after 24 hours in the bathroom throwing up, I was certain I’d overdosed on visual intake. But perhaps there was more? These photos had so many stories attached to them, of self-doubt, shame, longings, and dreams. Because we did these shoots privately, I knew my request for showing photos would touch the very question we’d examined in our photo sessions: how willing am I to see myself and let myself be seen? With this book, I was asking the women to be seen in a more public manner. I had no idea about the process that awaited me when I sent out my requests for permission from each woman. 

Hundreds of lengthy conversations ensued, some women were inspired to participate, others could not because of their or their husband’s public position, others again felt timid or were very specific about which photos I could use.  Many months later, I had a collection of about 1000 images I was able to use for the book.

This book deserves a 'real' publisher...

Expectant, I researched the market, wrote a big book prosoal and took the entire package to the Danish publisher. He brought it to his next team meeting, and months later returned with a vague response, that they weren’t as excited as him. Deflated, disrespected, I swore I’d never play the publishing game again. 

I did the math, researched crowdfunding, and began to prepare a kickstarter campaign. I learned that an elegant art book, offset printed, would cost me at least 30K for 1000 books. Meanwhile, I dreaded having to now spend a lot of energy running a crowdfunding campaign, rather then finishing the book. And so, I kept sending my queries to agents, publishers, small presses, while writing the kickstarter page, talking to designers, making a video, etc. Unexpectedly, I was invited to a writers’ conference and there, four literary agents requested to see my work. Another 4 - 6 months went by waiting for their solid rejections. 

When validating your own work is the way...

At this point, I doubt I need to tell you how painful it was to wait for others' validation of my work. Often I wished I could let go of the project entirely, and move on with my life. But everytime I worked on something new, this book rose into my awareness from the ground up, demanding attention. Do or don’t, that was the question. Was I finally ready to take it on myself? Yes. I said yes.  This book was for me to validate and make myself. 

After a year and a half of not touching it, I read through the manuscript and found myself oddly unmoved. Something was amiss, but I couldn’t put my finger on what had shifted. From prior projects, I knew that the work goes through several phases and that  usually the fourth version is the final. There was no way around it, I needed to dive back in, pull it all apart, and find the final form. 

Last summer, the work of the Danish fine art photographer Trine Sondergaard came to my attention. On a hunch, I called and asked for her eye on my photos. She generously agreed and a few months later, with about 500 prints under my arm, I went to see her and we spread them on her floor like tiles. She walked amongst them, pointing out the ones she felt were poetically and artistically interesting. She talked to me about the difference between personal and universal photos, and encouraged me to to pick emotionally rich photos that would express what I was trying to say with this book. What was I trying to say? 

When you let go of the need to please...

A penny dropped. I’d tried to make a pleasing book full of beautiful women, smiling, flirting, feeling sexy. I’d wanted to please the women by including everyone who’d contributed photos, showing only their most flattering photos. As a result it had become a huge and very personal-to-us book with little universal appeal and timely power. The irony didn’t escape me either. My own need for approval went against the very essence of this body of work: for the past 14 years I’d tried to move women beyond the need to please and seek external validation through their photos, and instead explore more personal expressions of beauty, sensuality, strength, femininity wildness, joy. 

Once I let go of the need to please, the book I’d felt in my bones those years ago could finally come into form. From 10,000 photos, I’d cut to 1000, then to 500 and now, down to a 110 unique photos, which, when put together, express my vision of women's many facets and passages. Alongside, I've pulled the texts apart and cut to the core of the emotions I wanted them to convey, letting the prose be as wild and expressive as the women in the photos. I found that the process of editing photos and text weren't dissimilar. Each type of content required a red thread, a story arch, a sense of transformation, and in this case, I was able to let photos and texts weave a richer story, in which an image is not more than a 1000 words. 

Today I’m grateful I didn’t push to publish the book 2 years ago. By giving the material, and me, a chance to breathe, the book and I have marinated and matured, and I dare say, we are both better for it. And just weeks before going into press, the right title for it unveiled itself: Embody. 

 

Publishing date: Feb 28th. USA Book Launch Party May 4th, Book Passages in Corte Madera. Come celebrate. 

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