Posted on July 9, 2010 10:53 am Categorised in: ,

My family has been planning my grandmother’s 80th birthday celebration for about a year now. My family on my mom’s side is a close-knit group of individuals, however logistics is sometimes an issue as we are scattered across the globe from Tokyo to LA to Cleveland to Brazil. We agreed early on to all meet up in Cleveland to surprise my grandmother with a visit.

After I got my travel plans in order, I had to decide what to get my 80 year old grandmother. I had been involved in my scanning project for a few months then and almost immediately decided on producing a photo book as a gift to her.

I’m sure my family is not dissimilar to many in that there are hundreds and hundreds of amazing film images scattered across aunts and uncles and cousins and grandparents, that sadly, sit, unorganized and deteriorating in closets and trunks and attics and basements. Given my (somewhat forced) knowledge on digital archiving and preservation, I took it upon myself to start scanning in some of these legacy images, digitally. It was and has been a time-consuming and tedious process, however it is, in the end, worth every minute as now these digital files are easily accessible and archivable.

After scanning in hundreds if not thousands of weathered prints and negatives, I realized I had only scratched the surface. The images I had scanned thus far were from my own personal stash of images from my childhood and from a few handfuls of unorganized photos that my mother, who currently is living in Brazil, had sent over to me. The scanning in of the images using our Canon CanoScan 8800F flatbed scanner was definitely the most time-consuming and tedious part, from there we could concentrate on the book.

I worked through different concepts and ideas for the book, before ultimately deciding on doing a 7″x7″ book by Blurb using Blurb’s own Booksmart software. We had done several photo book’s with Blurb in the past and had a pretty good experience with them overall. We were coming down to our deadline in getting the book ordered so given the fact that we were familiar with the software and company as a whole, we chose Blurb.

I toyed with the idea of creating 3 or 4 mini-books or creating a really big book with intricate layouts, but in the end decided on a smaller 7″x7″ book that would be filled with full size images from our family’s past. The book was to be hardcover with an ImageWrap cover, meaning there was no dust-jacket and the cover would be printed with my own design. I decided not to mess with the different layout styles and simplify the book by having just 1 image per page, full bleed. There are a few exceptions, such as a few double-trucks, and a few carefully assembled layouts, but for the most part, each page is it’s own photo. This not only simplified the layout process, it would be a lot easier to experience, especially by someone who is 80 years old.

My last rule I self-imposed was that all of the images that would appear in the book would be film images. I have tens of thousands of digital images from more recent family events, however for this project I wanted to focus on the past and concentrate on the amazing archive of film images I had recently acquired. Not only was I scanning in 35mm prints from my childhood, but I had discovered a lot of priceless gems such as a set of prints of my late grandfather during his time in the Air Force as well as images of my grandmother in her 20’s, living in Japan.

Russell Woodward in the US Air Force, Tachikawa Air Base, Japan

The old prints of my grandfather during the war are among my favorite images.

Typically during my own portfolio editing process, I toil with cutting down the number of images into a tightly-edited package of only the best, but for this project I had to change my thought-process. I initially tried to edit some of the images down, but ultimately decided that this was not a portfolio and that my grandmother and family would be thrilled to see as many photos as possible. After checking out the page count limitations on the Blurb website we decided to produce as many pages in the time we had to finish the book. I really wanted to max out the number of pages out at 440 (the Blurb maximum) but due to time constraints I topped out at 400.

Prior to deciding to go for quantity with the page count, I scoured the Internet looking for photos of other large Blurb books, but came up empty. There were a few here and there, but for the most part, there weren’t any real images, which is my inspiration for this blog post and the images that follow.

I tried for days designing different cover ideas for the book. One of my designs included a black cover with “La Familia” in an Old English typeface dipping across the front. After a visit to the local Japanese market I had the idea of doing a parody cover of the packaging of some Japanese rice crackers. I created the entire front and back cover from scratch, mimicking every detail of the original packaging and adding in subtle details as they pertained to the book.


The inspiration for the cover, (right) and the final product, (left)

When we received the book we were excited to flip through all of the pages and see them for the first time. I was pleased overall, but there were a few things I noted for our next Blurb book endeavor. First, the ImageWrap cover needs a pretty significant amount of bleed room to actually wrap around the covers of the book. Blurb warned us about this, and it looks fine, but we would have liked a bit more breathing room for some of the cover elements. Since the book is only 7″x7″ and 400 pages, more of the images get lost in the gutter as opposed to a 12″x12″ book with only 10 pages. This really wasn’t too much of an issue once the book was delivered and started to get worn in, but it was a concern. Other than that, the project was a complete success and my family, especially my grandmother had a great time looking through all of the images and reliving all of the memories.

I also included a tiered-trio of custom made boxes to present the book in along with a few other small gifts. All of the family members were also given a DVD with a similar custom cover layout that had digital copies of all of the images I had scanned in. My goal with the DVD’s and book is to inspire the rest of my family to organize and scan in their weathering prints so that we can properly maintain and archive our family’s history.

If you have any thoughts about the project or have created your own huge Blurb book, I would love to hear your comments and experiences. Please let me know what you think!