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Miki Johnson: How did you fund BazanCuba?
Ernesto Bazan: The BazanCuba book is the result of 14 years of life on the island, not just my photography. I think it’s important to underscore this to understand the nature and the depth of the project. I feel very fortunate that I was able to spend so much time there and to stop being an outside observer as with, unfortunately, many photo essays that I see published these days.
I do know of many self-published books, but I only know of one (mine) that was edited with the great creative input of more than 40 of my students and friends. And as if that wasn’t enough, they also helped me raise the money needed to self-publish by pre-acquiring limited edition copies of the book, which come with a numbered and signed gelatin silver print. It was a true honor to be able to go to the printer knowing that I could get the best quality paper, printing, and expertise because of the money I was able to raise.
MJ: You decided to include your students not only in the funding of the book but in the editing. What was that editing process like?
EB: Usually when a photographer edits his or her book, at best he or she has the help of a few trusted friends and some editors working for the publishing house. I strongly felt that I wanted to democratize that process and to get a wider range of opinions. I wanted to put myself on the same level as my students because I felt that making this book was going to be a very educational and humbling experience.
Every workshop I taught, I’d bring a copy of the latest version of the book dummy (we made five different dummies during the whole editing process), and by the seventh day of the workshop, I knew that the time was ripe to get my students’ most creative feedback. It has been an extraordinary experience. We took many pictures out, moved the remaining ones around, tweaked the cover, and worked at the subtle art of sequencing a book.
Then when I went to press, seven of my students came with me, at their own expenses, to help in the different parts of the production process. We also shot some footage about the making of the book, which will be a part of a documentary film on this unique and special relationship that I’ve established with my students.
MJ: You said that this was a really important learning experience because now you know how to produce a book from A to Z. What lessons did you learn?
EB: Indeed, it was a great learning experience. My friend Juan de la Cruz decided that he was going to learn to use Indesign to help me lay out the book. Being at the printer in Verona during the printing was also very important. We finally understood so many of the different aspects of printing a book, including looking at the first signatures in day light while the wind was trying to blow them away. I’m very lucky that we got it all on digital HD video.
I now feel empowered because we know how to put a book together from laying it out with Indesign to going to a New Jersey warehouse with a 16-foot truck to pick up all the boxes and then unload them and store them in my basement in Brooklyn. The biggest lesson I learned from the self-publishing experience was that publishing the book was only the first challenge — selling and promoting the book without the aid of traditional channels has become the new challenge. We feel very proud at BazanPhotos Publishing that in the six months since the book arrived in the United States, 400 copies of the book have been sold thanks to the word of mouth and incredible support of my students and people I don’t know who have bought my book.
MJ: Now you are distributing and selling the books yourself. What has that part of the process been like?
EB: We continue to learn everyday how to use alternative ways to get the book out there. At first, I had no idea that the cost of shipping was going to be so high. I’m lucky that we do not have any storage overhead thanks to the fact that in each country (Italy, Mexico, Spain, and the U.S.) we are using rooms that my students already have at no cost.
I’ve mostly relied on my students and friends to sell the book. I’ve just completed the first book tour in this country. Needless to say, it was all organized by students and friends. We have managed to sell quite a few copies of the book, but the most important thing is that I have reached out to so many people and shared my 14-year experience with them. We have also recorded some of this material and we will use it as part of the ongoing documentary. Some book stores such as PhotoEye and Tim Whelan bookstore have also played a big role in getting the book out there. Through them I’ve been able to reach out to a wider audience. Some more book stores are getting the word and are contacting me to sell my book at their venues. (If you would like to order a copy of BazanCuba, you can also email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
MJ: You established a publishing company when you started this project. What do you plan to print through the company in the future?
EB: I started the publishing company because we want to print more books and not just mine. I would like to print some of the work by my most talented and committed students. It will not happen overnight, but it will happen, and we will continue to break new ground in this very difficult market. Some of my students are working on very personal and powerful projects, applying their vision of the world to the subjects that have chosen. Right now we are also working on the pre-production of my next book on rural life in Cuba. It’s my first color project, and we feel pretty good about it. We have already chosen the layout of the book and we will start the editing sessions soon. Once again, it will be a communal process and many students will be involved.