Photo Essay

My photo essay initial idea was to take photos of different perspectives that are different from our usual view. I wanted to play with bird’s eye view and also low angle perspectives, like what my dog would see. During my first few rounds of taking pictures, I brought my dog with my and included him in various shots.

Knowing that the photo essay would be later placed in a book; I decided to pay the Center for Book Arts a visit to get some inspiration on possible book layout and ideas. The visit was fun and I was able to see letterpress in action, but I still did not know what kind of binding I would use for my book. I was certain I wanted to bind and not fold an instant book though.

I kept exploring the internet to see what I could do and I came across a scrapbook idea that I really liked. By this point of reviewing and choosing pictures, the photo essay was shaping into a photo essay around Bentley, my bichon frise and poodle mix dog. It was becoming like “A day in the life of Bentley.” Although I love my dog to bits and pieces, reviewing my pictures again the week before it was due, I realized I wasn’t completely happy with what I had. I felt like I was beefing up the book with a lot of craft and that the story and pictures itself were not all that strong. I spoke to Carmile and showed her some of the shots that I really liked and she told me to take the week to go back to taking pictures.

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At this point, I knew I had to work fast and work hard so I wouldn’t fall behind. I narrowed down 600+ pictures to 24 and sent contacts sheets to Carmile for feedback. Coincidentally, in my Typography class that week, we were starting our new project, a fun facts book so our professor actually brought in a bunch of samples of book mockups that she created and I saw the perfect layout for my subject! Remember how I said I really wanted to bind? Guess what, that changed. I opted for a folded instant book instead. I also created a sleeve for it and made the book reversible and can be folded both ways.

I’m actually quite happy with the final product, even though I didn’t get to bind. Production was painful though. It took approximately four 2-hour sessions at the AMT Lab plotter to be able to print the two documents the way I wanted it.

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Manhattan Street Performance: A Photo Essay

The process of developing my photo essay over the course of two months was an interesting one.  For worse or for better, very little of my original idea survived to the final stages of the process.

If this project taught me anything (in fact, it taught me many things), it is that sticking to your original vision of a final product can actually limit its development. As my Digital Layout professor KC Witherell says, “Don’t get married to an idea.”  This project, like all others at Parsons, put me to the test: could I gracefully allow my ideas and my work to change from my original vision?

When we were first assigned the project, I had my heart set on photographing the performers who jump on the subways and dance on the poles; I saw them everywhere I went during my first month in New York, and I thought that the way the performers affected the body language of the subway riders was very interesting.  People immediately cast their eyes to the floor, to the wall, anywhere but at the performers.  By betraying even the slightest hint of amusement or attention, it was as if the subway riders were entering into a contract with the performers: you must tip us.

Alas, the very day I decided to photograph the contrast between the performers’ body language and the subway riders’ body language was the last day I saw the subway performers until–get this–3 days after the final photo essay was due.  I spent the first weekend of the project riding around the city for hours until finally I decided to cast a wider net and photograph performers anywhere I found them, and any form I found them.  I photographed violinists, break dancers, saxophonists, children’s entertainers, bands; everyone I could find.  I tried to get close-ups of the performers’ faces and the spectators’ faces, looking for contrasts.

After the first critique with Michael Durham, former photojournalist at Life Magazine, it was decided that the close-ups weren’t really working, and in fact the most interesting photos were of the breakdancers.  Photos from days of photographing were discarded.

At that point, too, I needed to come up with a concept for the text that would accompany my photos when they were bound into my final book.  Luckily, with inspiration from Michael Durham, the idea to interview the breakdancers for my text came quickly, and the following week I went back to City Hall where I had initially seen the street performers to ask some questions.  After weeks of observing street performers, I had grown very curious about the lives they lead.

When I got to City Hall, I saw that many of the performers I had originally photographed were there again in the same spot, nearly a month later.  I watched a performance, took some photos, and then approached some of the men for an interview.  I am naturally shy, so the thought of choosing people as my subjects in the first place had been a bit nerve-racking; the thought of interviewing my subjects was even more so.  Ultimately, though, I’m so glad I chose to do these things for my work, because the results were so rewarding.  This is the work that I’m most proud of (so far) at Parsons.

With my photos taken and text written, I set about the task of laying out my book and then binding it.  This took some weeks of revision as well.  Some photos of my mock-ups:

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I decided to make my book into a circle accordion.  That way, my book would fit neatly into a cover and could be pages through as an ordinary book, but could also be displayed in a circle to mimic a street performance: photographs of performers in the center; spectators circling around.  I had to scale my book down slightly for practical reasons. Finding reasonably priced and manageable ways to print a document that’s 6.25 inches by 85 inches was unsurprisingly a bit of a mission!

Here are some photos of the (almost) final version (small refinements will be made before the end of the semester):

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Though the process was long, this was a project that I enjoyed from start to finish, and learned many things along the way.  I discovered that I love bookbinding, and that interviewing subjects isn’t half bad either.  I’m looking forward to producing many more photo essays in the future!

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The art of starting over:

Or why Parsons totally owes me a manicure.

My photo book is actually a collection of “records” acting pages and which are bound by an LP sleeve.

My original intent was to create a full sized 33rd record book—a.k.a  12-inch diameter book. However, confronted with design challenges posed by an off line vinyl sticker printer in the Parson’s Art, Media, and Technology lab, I was forced to resize to a paper size accommodated by sticker paper manufacturers. The design was modified again post-critique and goo-goned to Hell and back in order to make refinements and (hopefully) take advantage of the AMT lab vinyl printer.

unnamed-1At the moment my pages are soaking in a bucket of 1-part water to 2-parts isopropyl alcohol in the hope that someday they won’t smell and feel like orange goo-gone. They soak while I blog and file down the finger stumps I am left with after picking off 18 stickers!

unnamedAs much as I was less than enthusiastic about starting over I did learn a lot about my process as a designer.  I suffer from a tendency to plow ahead without thinking fully about the final product.  Or rather, I know what the ideal final product would be in my head but occasionally fail to think through the steps to get there.  I believe that, having worked out in the ‘real world’ for a number of years before returning to school I have been trained to work to completion, if not perfection–and I am seeing this across all my classes.

Definitely a habit that is…almost broken by this class.

BUT, now that the Parsons AMT lab vinyl printer is back in business,  I am thrilled to refine the project!

A Reminder: The Grolier Club

The Grolier Club

You are missing another NYC gem for those of you that have not visited The Grolier Club on the upper Eastside especially if you are a lover of books, printing, collecting…and more. It is a treat to walk through an exhibit in this Club established in 1884.

Here is a quote from The Grolier Club Constitution that can describe this “to foster the study, collecting, and appreciation of books and works on paper, their art, history, production, and commerce. It shall pursue this mission through the maintenance of a library devoted to all aspects of the book and graphic arts and especially bibliography; through the occasional publication of books designed to illustrate, promote and encourage the book and graphic arts; through exhibitions and educational programs for its members and the general public; and through the maintenance of a Club building for the safekeeping of its property, and otherwise suitable for the purposes of the Club.”

Cover Design from Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling
Cover Design from Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling

Here is a list of their exhibitions (now through 2016).

Go to their web site for more information.

Admission: Exhibitions are open to the public free of charge


• Now until February 7, 2016 | One Hundred Books Famous In Children’s Literature


  • December 9, 2015-February 6, 2016  |“The Grolier Club Collects II.” Curated by Eric Holzenberg and Arthur Schwarz
  • February 24-May 14, 2016 | “The Royal Game of the Goose: Four Hundred Years of Printed Board Games.”
  • June 1-July 30, 2016 | “Artists & Others: The Imaginative French Book, 2000-2015.”


  • November 19, 2015-January 16, 2016 | “Illustrated by Lynd Ward,” From the Collection of Robert Dance.
  • January 28-March 12, 2016 | “Blooks: The Art of Books That Aren’t,” from the Collection of Mindell Dubansky.
  • March 24-May 28, 2016 | “‘Brush Up Your Shakespeare’,” Miniature Bindings from the Collection of Neale A. and Margaret Albert.

Location & Gallery Hours 

The Grolier Club
47 East 60th Street
New York, New York 10022

Call to Confirm the Hours: Monday-Saturday, 10 am-5 pm.


A few weeks ago we started working on a new project. We had to create the design of a book and think of a theme to research on.
Many of us came up with beautiful and creative ideas.
Here are some photos took in class of the different projects.

Juri’s very stylish and playful book – 5 sheets of paper with different styles and patterns to exchange the mannequin’s dress.
Juri’s book – “Le petit closet”
Sarah’s book – it has been extremely interesting to see her work in progress throughout the weeks. Her determination has over come all the struggles. This is the incredible result!
Sarah’s book on the designer Iris Apfel

Continue reading Books


This is my semester post about one of my favorite places, The Center for Book Arts.

The Center is dedicated to exploring and cultivating contemporary aesthetic interpretations of the book as an art object, while preserving the traditional practices of the art of the book.

I like to remind everyone about this small NYC gem that is tucked away at 28 West 27th St on the 3rd floor as we embark on developing our photo essay books. The Center is a wonderful place for research and information from their exhibits they mount to the printing workshops to bookbinding classes.

See whats going on at The Center.  Hopefully it will be added to your own FAV list.

28 West 27th St, 3rd Fl., New York, NY 10001 | 212-481-0295

GALLERY HOURS: Mon-Fri 11am-6pm | Sat 10am-5pm

Bookbinding Workshop Process & Experience

Last week our Process and Skills class was in a workshop format, where we all learned the actual process of creating a book. This Bookbinding workshop was run by the experimented Mary Ellen Buxton, who patiently and passionately shared her knowledge on the subject.

Before class, I went to go to Talas in Brooklyn, to get all of my supplies. However, I ended up going and it was closed :/ However, I found another shop about a stones throw from the Graham stop, called “Artist & Craftsman Supply” (761 Metropolitan Ave), that had everything I needed.


The first part of class Ms. Buxton showed us the way to properly detect the direction of the grain in a piece of paper, by gently bending both sides of the paper just slightly enough to detect which side has a harder bounce. She then explained how it is very important to fold along the grain, otherwise the paper (most often when it’s a slightly thicker stock) will end up buckling, or ripping over some time. It is also important to correctly use the bone folder to achieve the cleanest fold possible. When looking for the grain, it is best write in pencil little arrows and numbers to help you remember and ease the process when you are finally ready to trim the paper.

She also emphasized the fact that when composing different books, she often makes cheat sheets, with her notes all over the test booklet, so she can make a bunch of mistakes and create several versions sometimes of a book before producing the perfect final product. This was reassuring to know that she doesn’t always get it right the first time! This is all in part of the process it takes to get the best end result.

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For this first book, we chose to have the cover paper in a color and the inside in white. I started with various paper at 12×18 and trimmed 4 pieces down to 4”x 18”. I folded the outside sheet in half, along the grain, and the white interior sheets were folded in three parts. One piece of each was taken off and then folded again in half – this part was then used to create the mini pamphlet inside the larger part of the book, where the bigger white pieces were stitched into create a French fold.


When stitching, it was important to use the bulldog clips to hold the book together, so all the pieces stay perfectly in place while putting holes and string through the book. In order to stich, you needed to use an awl (not the one I bought, which was very flimsy, I don’t recommend you get it) to poke three holes, and mark up inside numbers for each hole so you don’t confuse yourself when stitching. Luckily my thread was already coated in wax so it was easy to set up the thread and needle.



We ended up doing a Japanese stiching on the outside of the cover. Unfortunately, at the very end I realized that I had stitched incorrectly, and accidentally left one flap outside the book. However, throughout the workshop I realized that the entire process is a planning, trying and testing  game – if something ends up not working, or going as plan – you find a solution. So, we analyzed my book and found out how I could re-stich in order to make the book work. Success! I will be sure to think of this when creating my next book.

processandskills2 processandskills3

Another thing I thought was really interesting about the class was how we talked about how each book is created in a certain way to reflect its content. It was really great to see some of the complex bindings that Ms. Buxton brought in and hear and see how well they were thought through to reflect the authors message/the meaning and purpose of the book. To be honest, this was not always something that I considered whenever picking up a book, but it is now something that I am definitely going to think of when browsing the stocks and when creating my own books in the future.


(Amy Staropoli)