This week we had a chance to catch up with M Styborski, author of “the lower ninth: K+36.” This book is a collection of photographs documenting New Orleans for three years after Hurricane Katrina hit. Aside from the stunning photographs, what really caught our eye was M Styborski’s use of video to preview and promote his book.
Why do you do what you do and where do you find inspiration?
I’m a voyeur at heart. I think everyone is, but no one wants to admit it. Everyone wants to be that fly on the wall, watching from a distance, taking everything in. That’s sometimes a large part of a photographers job, to move through an event as invisibly as possible, recording what happens while not affecting the event itself, then reassembling it in order to tell a story which makes the viewer feel as if they were there.
I took up photography in high school then moved into art and graphic design, but I always knew I’d come back to the camera. Hurricane Katrina wiped a lot of slates clean and it felt right to make the change just after the storm. There’s something about the way my brain processes what my eyes see that makes photography natural for me. You can take 100 different shots of a house and about 10 of those will be very good, but only one will be the definitive shot that conveys the essence and history of that house. To me, photography isn’t about shooting the right shot, it’s about learning how to avoid the other ninety-nine.
As to finding inspiration, I just open up my eyes and look around.
What was your favorite book as a child?
Well, you’re talking to a serious bibliophile, so that’s a hard question. My mother taught me to read very early. I’d have to narrow it down to two Dr. Seuss books though: Green Eggs and Ham & The Cat In The Hat. Those books went wherever I went for a number of years. School, vacations, or just out for a walk. I still have them on a shelf and read them at least once a year.
Why did you decide to make a movie to promote your book?
I joked to my friends that I was going to run late-night infomercials to sell my book. Then I remembered making a short video just after the storm to help work out some frustrations and really just to see if I could do it. It was made up of images I found on the web and backed by Randy Newman’s song ‘Louisiana 1927′ and was featured on the website for PBS’s Frontline series.
So I figured, why not? I can show a small sampling of what’s inside the book and entertain people for ninety seconds, and that might just get them to buy it. It ends abruptly because of Flickr’s time constraints on video, but I might make a longer one if I can find the time.
What was your favorite part about making a Blurb book?
Well, since it’s my first book, I’d have to say opening the first copy for the very first time. It was definitely a huge high to actually see and feel it after nursing it along over the last year. It’s one thing to hit that upload button and say, “Whew! It’s done!” but quite another to actually hold it in your hands!
While I was shooting in the Lower Ninth, my favorite part was finding new construction to shoot. So much time has passed since Hurricane Katrina and three years later we can finally point to some progress being made there. I wanted to do this book so badly, but I simply couldn’t fill it with sorrow. There had to be hope and progress at the end and I knew there would be. I just didn’t know it would take so long. I’m going to continue shooting the Lower Ninth and in another three years I hope to have a very different set of images for a sequel.
If you could bestow one bookmaking tip on the world, what would it be?
Wow. So many good answers to this question. The best tip I can give is not to chain yourself to one design. A photography book is a strange beast. Your initial vision may work well at first but somewhere along the line, you’ll find images that don’t fit with the others or with the design and flow, and sometimes you’ll need to redesign the entire book. I think I redesigned mine three times. Be open to change…it’s inevitable.
It’s so true. While we’re always encouraging all of you to make books, we make them for ourselves all the time too and it’s a rarity that we don’t see our idea morph as the book progresses. If you decide to make a video promoting your book, or just want everyone to know about it, join and post to our Flickr group. In the meantime, pick up your own copy of “the lower ninth: K+36” here, or check out more amazing photos of the Lower Ninth Ward here.