As my next book is going into press, I'm reflecting on the elephantine, circuitous, painful, yet perfect path to the final book. There's no doubt. A book has its own internal intelligence. And birthing it, is a community effort.
The seed for this book was sown in 2010. Having photographed women at Lolo's Boudoir for 7 years, I'd begun to understand the therapeutic power of the photographic process and that most women who came to me, was longing to be seen, but terrified of seeing themselves. Each woman in her own way were on a quest for a 'normal' relationship to her body, sexuality and strength. I wanted to make an empowering book to help women find at home of accept, love, wholeness in their bodies.
Three years later, after finishing and publishing my memoir Seeing Red, I picked up this seed again and made a booklet with an essay and 25 photos. I called it Unveiled. I tested it amongst women and shared it with a folks in the book business.
An interested Danish publisher encouraged me to expand upon the idea. I elaborated on my essay and wrote short scenes and stories from the studio. I ensconced myself at a friend's house with all the boxes of negatives, and began the arduous task of sorting through the thousands of photos I’d taken. Beholding my entire body of work was overwhelming. The looking and scrolling made me dizzy; surely I overdosed on this visual intake.
But perhaps there was more? These photos held so many stories – of self-doubt, shame, longings, and dreams. Because we did the shoots privately, I knew asking the women for permission to show photos would touch the very question we'd examined together: how willing am I to see myself and let myself be seen?
Hundreds of conversations ensued. Some women were inspired to participate, others could not because of their or their husband’s public position, others again felt their photos too private. Many months later, I (still) arrived at a generous collection of 800 images to choose from.
How to even Look at this body of work?
My experience of taking the photos, the women and stories attached to them, were so embedded in my psyche, that I could not see with neutral eyes.
Listening to their reasoning helped me begin to see the images, separate from the experience of taking them, separate from the women.
The Mock Up
The book must stay close to the photographic experience itself, I decided. I designed a 'mock up' in Indesign. 240 pages. 160 some photos. As many women as I could fit in. An author wrote a beautiful foreword for the book and helped me understand the veiling and unveiling aspect of my work.
Expectant, I wrote a big book proposal, researched agents and publishers, and queried those I thought would be interested.
Meanwhile, the Danish publisher, I'd met a couple of times throughout the year, returned with a vague response: his team were less excited about my project than himself. Deflated, disappointed, I felt like giving up. Friends said, do it yourself, do a kickstarter. Reluctantly, I researched crowdfunding, printing costs, and did the math: an elegant art book, offset printed, 800 copies, would cost me at least 30K.
While working on the campaign page and creating a video about my work, I dreaded having to spend the next 6 months crowdfunding. Inside I felt this book deserved a 'real' publisher behind it. Someone who could believe in it with me. Unexpectedly, I was invited to a writers’ conference and there, 4 literary agents requested to see my work. Joyously, I pushed the kickstarter aside and another 4 - 6 months went by waiting for their rejections.
Back in Denmark, while supporting a performance theater through a transition process, I got my eyes opened to the many grants available for Danish artists. I hired an independent publisher to help me fundraise. Wrote the applications. Send them out. After seven months and 50 some no's, summer had snuck up upon me.
Hunches and Hopes
I'd finally arrived at the crossroads: either I do it myself, or I let it go. Oh, how often had I not toyed with the idea of dropping this crazy project? And tried to start a new one? Each time though, this book would rise from the ground swell, and sit right in front my gaze, demanding attention.
So this was mine to do. Mine alone to validate and deem worthy. Yes then.
After 1.5 years of not looking at the actual project, I dove back in. To my surprise, I felt oddly unmoved. Something was amiss, but I had no idea what was missing, let alone how to 'fix it'.
The work of the Danish fine art photographer Trine Sondergaard caught 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 printouts under my arm, I went to see her. I spread them across her floors like tiles, while 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. She encouraged me to pick more mysterious and 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 and showing only the photos I knew they loved the most. As a result, the book had become a big personal-to-us book with little universal appeal and 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 the women beyond the need to please and seek external validation through their photos, and instead explore their beauty, sensuality, strength, vulnerability, wildness and joy on more personal terms.
Once I let go of the need to please, the book I’d first felt in my bones could finally come into form and focus.
When an image is not more than a 1000 words.
The process of editing photos and texts isn't that dissimilar. I got a binder and 100 plastic pockets to be able to move images and texts around for fit and flow. I narrowed it down to 110 photos, which, when put together, would express my vision of a woman's many facets and the complexities she'd encounter in her search for the freedom to be (seen as) herself.
With the help of Erin Byrne and art writer Trine Rytter Andersen, I was able to also cut to the core of the emotions I wanted the texts to convey, letting the prose be as wild and poignant as the photos. Trine also helped give my Mother Tongue a swirl, so that the book could integrate and represent both my worlds and languages, American and Danish.
Together, the photos and texts now weave a red thread around the aesthetic, psychological and emotional aspects the women and I have encountered in our intimate photographic collaboration, and, I hope, offer the possibility of freedom, wholeness, transformation.
The Final Push
Set yourself a deadline, designer Jørgen Smidstrup said. And so I did. February 14, 2018.
Early December I met with my book producer Søren Hørdum and Marianne and Signe from Velvet Studio in Aarhus. The past 8 weeks we've looked at cover fabrics, colors, paper types, and sat together for hours, working photo and text flow into a wholesome, organic mix.
Being so hands-on in the design process has been fabulous. At once, exciting and daunting, with a few (too many) sleepless night mulling over strange details. (The Velvet women have been very patient with me).
What's in a Color?
Cover colors matter. First we fell for the violet and orange. Together they felt naughty and fresh. Like the colors I wore that day.
We considered red. Red as deep, seductive, rebellious. Red is so familiar to me, a color many people associate with the palette of Lolo's Boudoir and my memoir Seeing Red.
What about green, Søren said. Then green and golden came on the table as the unlikely wild card. Who makes green books. Aside from loving the greenery of the great outdoors, it wasn't a color in my personal palette.
Violet tasted to me like candy floss. Spoke to spiritual transcendence. If anything, I thought, this book is about embodiment, not ecstatic escapes.
Red. Bold. Heavy. Seductive. Demanding attention. What if the red phase of my life has come to an end? I asked. What if I don't need red or hot pinks to get attention?
Green. It smelled like summer, zap, bare feet in the forest. Earthy. Raw. Grounded. Mature. Elemental.
The green grew on me, but when I tested amongst friends, most of them voted for the voilet or red. It made me nervous. Would green, esp. in Denmark, where fashion and media engulfs women in soft rose and pinks, be off-putting? Would I shoot myself in the foot in terms of 'matching' the market.
But an art book isn't made to match a market. I imagined myself walk into a gallery bookstore, scan the books on display and see my book. Would the cover entice me to pick it up? Yes. I would pick it up. Because it was classy, elegant, unusual and intriguing.
The more I slept on it, the more the green came to signify the change I've been looking for: in the women, in myself, and now, in the book.
Help! The Title is Missing.
For 5 years Unveiled has been the working title for this book. But because I'm now publishing the book both in Denmark and the U.S. the title no longer feels fitting. For one, Unveiled doesn't quite translate the same way in Danish as the word is understood in American. Worse, due to the heated religious and political debate in Europe about the veil, I felt queasy about alluding to the veil in the title. But what then?
Revealed. Uncovered. Seeing Women. Nothing felt right.
One morning, one of the designers said, Embody. That's the title. The book is about the body, coming into the body, finding home inside the body.
Green. Grounded. In the Body. Embody.
Everything began to make sense.
January 31st. I've gone through the book a million times now. Letter by letter, image by image, page by page. Each time finding just one little more misspelling or adjustment.
Around Christmas my friend Barry suggested: right about now is a good time to start a new project. I thought, right, as if I had time, let alone bandwidth for that.
What he meant was: don't let the details consume you. They don't really matter to others than you, your designers, and the few nerds who'd notice paper type. A year from now, no one will think about the color of your book.
He was right.
This baby was now out of my heart, out of my head, out of my hands, on its own journey.
Narayana Press (and monastery!) treats my book as if it's my heart-blood (it is) and with utmost care. We've met several times to choose paper, go over photo format and each time, I've had to 'taste' and 'feel' the book against their expertise and advice.
Together with Birthe, I've gone through each photo, prepping them for print. The blue print of the book has been checked for last corrections.
Last Friday I pressed START on the press! Amazing machinery. We proofed the book's pages and then I collapsed at my parents' floor for 3 days. In less tha 2 weeks the books arrive from the bindery in Germany.
Voila! Welcome Embody!
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.
The book is available for pre-sale in my web shop by March 1.
I launch the book first in Denmark, then USA with readings & salons.
Thank you to the women, my production team, and everyone whose been supporting, giving input and loving me through these years. We did it!
Update February 27th
The 700 books have arrived !!
Wow !! Come see for yourself at the upcoming book release parties:
Release parties in Denmark:
Copenhagen March 2, kl. 16:30, Design Werck
Aarhus March 7, kl. 17 Kvindemuseet.
SF Bay Area and beyond.
Book Passages Friday May 4th, 7pm.
Why there Are Words, May 10th, 7pm
Booksmith, May 24, 7pm, Author Panel
You can now order the book in my webshop.
Worldwide shipping is available. Shipping estimates given for outside Europe and America.