The Ambiguous Book Project is the brainchild of street photographer and Blurb bookmaker Sean McDonnell. Through the medium of crowdsourcing, Sean has reached out to photographers across the globe to create a truly universal story. The method, centred on street photography, encourages participating photographers to form a chain. A photograph is sent to one contributor who, in turn, chooses an image they feel connects to it and sends it on to the next photographer in the chain.
Sean will be publishing a Blurb book of these images in September. To submit your photos, go to Sean’s blog.
In the meantime, read on for the Blurberati’s interview with Sean:
Blurb: Where did you get the idea for the Ambiguous Book Project?
Sean: I have always loved the democracy of street photography. We all relate to it in our own way and that fascinates me. I wanted to find some way of recording what touches viewers about images.
I am also fascinated by the consequences of digital photography in interpretation, particularly, the compression of time between the taking of a picture and the viewing of it. I still work with film and it can be months before I see an image and, by then, events in my life imbue the image with a meaning or significance beyond the original impulse.
I wanted to set a challenge to my fellow photographers to delve into their own archives and contemplate them with fresh eyes. Instead of following a theme and taking new pictures to fit it, they should find an existing image that, in some way, responds to an image from another photographer in the project. The ‘in some way’ is important as it can be anything from an elemental connection within the image, to the mood that it evokes. We are essentially exploring the ambiguity of our own work.
Blurb: What role did crowdsourcing play in the Ambiguous Book Project?
Sean: The crowdsourcing aspect became the crucial link as the only connection these photographers share is the randomness of signing up for the Ambiguous Book Project from my blog. The participating photographers form a chain so an image from one participant is emailed to the next in line, who then provides an image they feel relates to it. The sequence of those images becomes the sequence presented in the book. The story is the explanation each photographer offers for his or her own selection.
Blurb: What is your background in street photography?
Sean: I’ve been taking photographs on city streets for over 20 years, predominantly in my hometown of London. However, my interest in street photography really intensified in the couple of years I spent living in New York.
Blurb: Where do you see this project going?
Sean: At this point I’m really enjoying the project for what it is right now. It’s a collaboration of citizens from around the world, sharing great images and insight by using the common language of street photography. It is also a real-time window on the evolution of the work through the project’s Facebook page and an opportunity to bring it all together in a wonderful book – that’s enough for me.
Blurb: As a photographer and storyteller, what/who inspires you?
You know you’ve hit on something with the word storyteller. When I think of influences on my work I’m invariably drawn to novelists and lyricists. Paul Auster’s City of Glass had a profound impact on me as did Will Self’s Book of Dave and modernist writers such as Virginia Woolf. In terms of songwriting I have to bow to Shane MacGowan and Tom Waits. To me, these all connected as an articulation of both our inner and outer lives, as individuals and as one of the many in the city.
Blurb: What, do you feel, is the role of bookmaking in displaying photography?
Sean: Bookmaking holds a special place for me. It’s how I came to learn, and continue to learn, about the powerful ideas and emotions expressed in pictures. Despite the ubiquity of the digital image I believe the book, not just the finished printed work but the discipline of edit, sequence and layout, is something to celebrate. I don’t think we can underestimate how precious a book of photographs is.
I love the fact that despite its intrinsic vulnerability a book can survive for centuries. I have to question whether our jpegs, blogs and Flickr accounts will have such longevity.
Blurb: For anyone looking to do something similar, what would your top tips be?
Sean: I’m certainly not anti-digital but for me the most exciting element of this new world isn’t the tools and technology for their own sake but the opportunity we’ve been given to communicate.
Whatever the idea you have, it is important to keep absolute focus on it. A myriad of means to develop and share it are now at your disposal, but use them in such a way that the originality of your vision is not lost.
Thanks, Sean, we look forward to seeing the book!