Hanjo: Part 3 – The Book

The story of Hanjo was always intended as a graphic novel. When I planned the shoot, I had created storyboards for the entire script. I knew which main shots I needed, how many looks, and the various framings. I knew I needed establishing shots, two-shots, over-the-shoulders, close-ups… I needed textures, cutaways, and empty spaces. My plan was always to let the photographic story unfold like a movie.

I had envisioned Hanjo to be a graphic novel. I’ve read a lot of sophisticated comic books targeted at adult readers, so I knew the genre worked well for story-telling. But I tried to create a conventional book with Hanjo, and it wasn’t perfect. The story is too complex, and requires a more subtle approach. Everything about the project was hand-made, everything was deliberate, and so I didn’t want a simple book. It had to be special.

A good gallery can make or break an emerging artist, and fortunately I signed with GALERIE CAMERA WORK. One of the first things they did after the various project reviews was to introduce to me a number of publishers. One of them was GALERIE VEVAIS, a very high-end publishers of limited edition fine art photobooks. Both Camera Work and Vevais understood exactly what was needed. The final version of Hanjo had to continue the sense of Nippon Floating World beauty, but retain its modern viusal language. I am extremely impressed by Japanese aesthetics, but there is a difference between being influenced by something, and emulating it.

Alexander Scholz is the founder of the Galerie Vevais, and he has created some marvelous projects. To call them books is really doing them an injustice. They are objet d’art in their own right. Once we decided to work together, Camera Work called me into a meeting in February, and issued a deadline: there was a chance to present Hanjo at Tokyo Photo 2013… but that meant getting everything ready by September.

We began kicking around various ideas, materials, and pictures, and decided on the idea of a precious box. We had seen so many beautiful Japanese lacquered and paper-backed boxes. But the idea that finally made Hanjo perfect was presenting the story as leporellos… those endless pages that are folded in a zig-zag design, but can still be flipped through like a book.

This was no small undertaking. The minute we decided to pursue this, we realized it would take a number of highly skilled artisans to print, to bind, and to execute the wooden construction exactly, based on architectural plans and renderings. Alex began making sketches, and they soon became plans as we explored the idea of using every element of the box. Not only were there three distinct leporellos, each bound into their own wooden bookends, but the box itself could be used as a sort of theatrical backdrop.

This is what some of the early back-of-napkin sketches looked like…

In the mean time, we were fine-tuning the graphic layout. Suddenly the images flowed, but when your page is 24cm high, but 4 meters long, you begin thinking about pages in a very different way. We kept printing these long strips of paper, and playing with variations. There were many meetings, but Susanne Weigelt is an extremely talented lay-outer and knew how to move the story through its paces.

Obviously, there  was also a lot of wood-working, sawing, lacquering, and gluing of different woods in various thickness and size. I am not going to pretend I’m any good at using these kinds of precision tools. Alexander has a great team of craftsmen that help him execute these very precise designs.

…and yesterday, I finally got to see the first working prototype. It’s been over three years since I started this project. I am very proud of the photography, but the images alone do not make this project what it was intended to be.

Here are some close-ups of various details. The edges, the printing, and the finishes are all going to change… but we know the dimensions, the process, and what it will take to complete it.

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