A little over a year ago, Beijing-based food photographer, Cherry Li, reached out to me looking for help with a new custom-printed portfolio to take with her to Condé Nast and other client meetings in London. Her previous screw post portfolio needed a major update, and she felt overwhelmed with the number of decisions that needed to be made in coming up with an edit and design for a new one.
We started our dialogue about the direction of the new portfolio via Skype. Cherry was excited to move forward and had lots of ideas about how she wanted the book to function. It needed to be easy to transport and it needed to be interactive. She also wanted it to showcase projects and series of work rather than just specialties. She was also interested in doing a bound book as opposed to a screw post book this time around and knew that finding the right printer and editor was going to be critical in creating something that would be unique and remain fresh for multiple seasons in the industry. At some point during our dialogue, she mentioned that:
Shooting is the ONLY part of photography I like, anything after the shoot is worse than pulling teeth, and there’s hardly anything worse than editing and marketing.
Lucky for Cherry, I was more than happy to help make this process a breeze.
Since we both agreed upon a series of books that worked together for this edit, I decided to break up Cherry’s print edit into a handful of curated project edits that all worked well together. Based on the content she provided and her plans moving forward, we decided on six distinct project galleries: Fishing and Fish, Ingredients and Accidents, and Plates and Places. The goal for the edit was to choose the newest, most commercially viable work for each theme. Furthermore, to compile it into a curated flow without being repetitive of the existing work on her site.
For the design, Cherry had considered a range of options from a Bento box set, to an accordion style format, to a series of softcover books that fit into a slipcase. It wasn’t until she started researching printers in China that she discovered accordion books. Accordion books or “Orihon”, are an old Chinese book format, originating from the Tang dynasty. They also happen to make for an eye catching and versatile document. Once we had decided on the accordion format, as part of a collection of books, we were also able to solidified the goal of her edit.
Now with the edit and concept worked out, it boiled down to logistics. What size is this going to be? How many pages should it have and how many books are going to be in the set? How many projects do we show per book? Do we use all vertical images since we’re using a vertical format? Do we carefully integrate double-page spreads using her horizontal imagery?
After a series of mock-ups and test edits, just about all of our questions were answered. Each book would showcase two projects that were related to each other. The viewer reads one project in its entirety, just like a traditional book, then flips the book over to view the other. Boom! Piece of cake… Each book could also be extended to view the complete edit at once. Do this simply by pulling the front and back covers away from each other. This was a unique option to have, and I was excited to get to work on this in-house. I was even more excited for Cherry to get such a well-designed, unique and interactive piece in front of clients. (Side note: this is what happens when two art school girls completely nerd out on a commercial design project.)
After all the logistics were worked out, and the edits were tested in action, it was Cherry’s task in Beijing to finalize the design, its materials, and the actual printing of the book. After exploring a few different printers, and realizing this project was a bit of a monster to tackle successfully, she eventually settled on the books you see here.
How did you decide which printer to use?
I wanted my inkjet printer in Beijing to do it, but after they told me that inkjet would end up looking tattered in the creases, I decided laser was the only way to go. I went with the first laser printer in Beijing that said they could do it. It turned out to be a slow-simmering, time-sucking disaster that lasted over a year. During the last round of mistakes (mismatched covers), I happened to be shooting in Shanghai, so I got a recommendation for a printer there, sent them the sample from the previous printer, pointed out what mistakes needed to be fixed, and they were able to do it the way I wanted.
Do you feel you met your initial goal for the project?
I do feel I’ve met my initial goal. The very first iteration of the book, printed and bound about 20 days after I first started working with Stacy, didn’t have my logo and was full of mistakes, but I was able to take it on a trip with me and get some feedback. The goals didn’t shift but the execution took many tries to meet those goals.
How was working with Wonderful Machine helpful in preparing your book? Did you find yourself surprised by any advice or feedback from Stacy?
Editing is extremely difficult for me. Stacy just looked at my collection of thousands of images and knew immediately which way to go. She definitely made choices that were not at all what I would’ve thought of on my own but she was able to negotiate and articulate her reasoning. For example, in the Fish/Fishing book, for the Fish side, she chose a tuna shot that was a more “orderly” version of a similar tuna shot on my website, and when I voiced a preference for the messier version on my website, she argued that not only was her choice a better connector to the next shot (I agreed), it would also be valuable not to show the exact same things as on my website. So we kept it. Conversely, on the Fishing side, there was a shot of a tuna butcher missing from her first edit that I was particularly attached to, and really felt was integral to the series, so she worked with me to shuffle things around to work it back in. In the end, I was confident we made the best choices.
What has the reaction been to your book so far? What was some of the feedback you’ve received from viewers?
The book has been getting tons of compliments! People love the double-sided format with the contrasting and complementary themes. They like that they can stretch it out (though I haven’t actually seen anyone do it). The most interesting feedback is that the accordion is a traditional Chinese book format, which I didn’t know before, but makes me wonder if I was influenced by being in China.
To date, this was the most challenging and exciting project to work on. I’m lucky to have been able to work with such a creative photographer during the process.
Here’s a video to see the edit in action:
See more of Cherry’s work on her website!