A Photojournalist’s Search for Storytelling Photographs
Project Co-Lead & Designer: Joshua Korenblat, Assistant Professor of Graphic Design, State University of New York at New Paltz
Project Co-Lead: Ted Spiegel, Photographer and Writer
Design Assistant: Nina Guido
Access, by Ted Spiegel: A Photojournalist's Searches for Storytelling Photographs is a 300-page ebook that anthologizes the work of National Geographic Magazine photographer Ted Spiegel from the 1960s to his present work in the Hudson River Valley. The ebook includes a pictorial table of contents and stories about how Spiegel gained access to his vivid photographs. The book is intended for use as a college textbook or resource that can be viewed on-screen, or on-demand via print. We will be testing this platform and book in spring 2021 at SUNY New Paltz in courses taught by the author (Joshua Korenblat, Assistant Professor of Graphic Design, SUNY New Paltz) and Nicola Wilson Clasby (Lecturer, English Composition, SUNY New Paltz) as well as in a course at the University of Missouri.
We are posting the ebook online as an open educational resource, using a password-protected website that students get access to once they enroll in the course.
We will also be creating an accompanying website, through which we will be adding a data visualization approach to some of the more conventional modes of storytelling in the book. Our current plans include locator maps for all of the photojournalism travels by Ted Spiegel, a timeline, and storymaps. This work will be accomplished over winter break 2020 with a student, Nina Guido, with counsel by Ted Spiegel.
At the end of the spring 2021 semester, we will gather feedback from instructors about the ebook and its accompanying resources and use that information to continue improving the website for future classroom use. We intend to make these materials as transparent as possible so that students can learn from our creation process.
When did you begin this project? When did you complete this project?
Time Span: June 1, 2016 - December 2020
Length: 4 years
What is the outcome of the project?
The outcome of this project is a 300-page illustrated ebook, which can also be printed on-demand, as well as an accompanying website with materials to support teaching and learning. I also intend to share what I learned working on this project in collaboration with Ted Spiegel in graphic design, digital media, and journalism, and visual anthropology communities.
What tools, resources, programs, or equipment did you use for this project?
We used film and digital photography, the National Geographic Image Collection, and Adobe Creative Suite (Indesign and Photoshop) on a Mac tower. For the publishing platform, we are using Bookbaby, which allows for the creation of ebooks and print-on-demand. Ted Spiegel is a co-copyright holder on all of the photographs from National Geographic Magazine, so we were able to freely use these photographs in the book. We are finding that Adobe Indesign can handle the high-resolution photographs well, and a smallest file size PDF is high quality on screens and only takes up about 13 MB of space. The print quality PDF, however, is over 300 MB.
For the web version and accompanying resources, I have explored platforms such as Scalar and Pressbooks that would re-imagine the book format, in excerpts, for web use. As of the end of 2020, we decided to create the website as a bespoke WordPress site to allow for flexibility. We are investigating the use of the Aesop Story Engine plug-in along with free tools to produce exploratory graphics, including DataWrapper, Tableau, and the Knight Lab product line, and possibly Esri. These are all tools that are well-known in journalism, and through our work we aim to demonstrate to students how they may use these tools in their own work.
Please describe any costs incurred for this project, and (if relevant) how you secured funding for these costs.
The only expenses that we have incurred to date are for printing copies of the ebook for copy editing and gift copies for Ted's family. Our design assistant receives academic credit for her contributions.
We are considering purchasing the Aesop Story Engine Wordpress plug-in to enhance the immersive, photojournalist quality of the web site. This plug-in emulates practices from New York Times online photojournalism stories.
Please give an overview of the workflow or process you followed to execute this project, including time estimates where possible.
The photographs comprise fifty years of Ted Spiegel's work, primarily on assignment with National Geographic Magazine. In one-to-one collaboration with Spiegel, I have helped to assemble, arrange, and edit his photography and written recollections and stories, organized by publication date and theme. This process has been ongoing from June 2016 until December 2020, when version 1.0 was completed. We will begin work on a version 2.0 in February 2021.
I am a former National Geographic Magazine Staff member, in the Art Department (2000—2006), and I met Ted when he was donating his old National Geographic Magazines to our university library. A librarian friend of mine introduced us. When we met, we quickly became friends, and we were also neighbors in the Hudson Valley, enabling one-to-one, in-person weekly sessions to make the book before the pandemic.
The rugby photo in the postscript section is a good metaphor for the emergent process we undertook here. It's also a metaphor development teams use for complex digital products: the rugby scrum. The idea is rather than have one plan, the team works together in small sprints to advance toward the goal, leaving room for conditions to emerge that suggest new possibilities.
Ted and I decided to complete this educational anthology and memoir, which he had composed about his work, and to make this book available to the public as a way of giving back insight and knowledge to students. Ted wrote all of the text and curated the photographs, securing the rights for them. I transformed an initial draft, alongside Ted, into a more cohesive design using Adobe InDesign. We opted for a conservative design approach and called this a 1.0 design. Our constraints were to just use the fonts that come with InDesign, so Ted didn't have to worry about installing new fonts, and to eliminate extra design features that detract from the text. There are no full-bleed photos, though in a 2.0 design, we intend to include more moments of immersion using this technique.
We are also planning on user testing the project in Spring 2021 with students in the photojournalism classes, so we will be soliciting feedback that we can use to improve the learning experience and learn more about how this project can integrate into a learning module.
What, if anything, changed between beginning your project and its current/final form?
The 1.0 design will evolve with a 2.0 design, which will have improved typography and two-column text for readers who have reading disabilities. On the website, we also plan to leverage digital media to offer more pathways into the story through maps and timelines that the user can interact with online. In the end, we aim to achieve a balance between classic storytelling about how every photograph in journalism is the yield of pre-search, and new techniques for engaging readers afforded by digital media. We are making room in traditional photojournalism for complementary new tools and techniques. By using tools students can easily apply too, they can see how the reading experience changes with the new media. We plan to make the web platform a learning experience, not just a host for the reading of the print book. This is an inclusive design approach, allowing more personalization of the experience.
Is there anything specific you wish you had known when beginning your project that might help other people to know?
It can be challenging to manage 5 GB of high-resolution photography: working on large file-sizes at an archival volume is a topic of concern.
One advantage of the ebook format as opposed to print: it's not more expensive to include more pages. This allows for a more all-encompassing approach to curating an archive. Readers are used to searching and scrolling information-rich 'landscapes' online. Also, the tools to produce these archives are becoming easier to use, and they can process large file sizes in a nimble way and allow for web publishing at the click of a button.
That said, it is important to make precise decisions about type size, leading, and margins when designing an ebook. These details are key components when creating a successful reading experience for students and should be considered early on in the design process. It is also imperative to consider how users and readers will be interacting with the content on a web based platform. For instance, the decision to have the option to download the ebook as a PDF allows students to highlight and make notes. The PDF option also allows students to print sections of the document for hand written notes when preferred. Thinking about these details in the beginning of the process are crucial because it allows time for trial and error until a quality layout design is achieved.
While the book can be read in a non-linear way, I would also like to experiment more with leveraging the possibilities afforded by an ebook experience, including interactive experiences. While the stories are chronological, organized into themes of People & Places, History, and the Environment, the lessons are unmoored from time—timeless—and do not need to be delivered according to the book's sequencing. The lessons are about this idea of 'pre-search.' In contrast to research, pre-search is about how to discover how to be in the situation where something meaningful will happen. 'Every photo has in its presentation the yield of pre-search,' as Ted likes to say. To encourage non-chronological readings, at the beginning of the book, we have a gallery—a juxtaposition of photos that tell constrasting stories— that encourages readers to see a photo, and then skip ahead to read about how the photo came to be.
Another lesson is to look for open systems, which can work across platforms. This is for equity purposes, giving more students the ability to access the book. This is one reason we opted to not make a book using Apple's iBooks platform, which does help with producing more interactivity in the book itself. Also, most ebooks have flexible layouts, allowing the reader to customize the number of columns and type size. This is a positive attribute of ebooks, but it presents a tension for archival photographic books because the text can reflow depending on readers’ screen size, text size, and other preferences without regard to the accompanying photos. We designed the book so that the reader focuses on the text and the photos—it is intended on being a reading experience. That's one reason we often do not include captions with the photos, which would encourage readers to overlook the text. Data Ted gathered from National Geographic Magazine stories show this:
100% of pictures are viewed
93% of captions are read
10% will read the text
Do you have any plans to follow up on this project or work on something similar in the future?
I plan on experimenting with ways to diffuse this project to college classrooms and possibly the public, in coordination with Ted Spiegel, as a legacy of his journey as a photographer, visual ethnographer, and storyteller.
We’re intending to allow the instructors to integrate the book and platform in a way that makes sense for their curricula in spring 2021. We are going to observe how they implement Access and look, listen, and learn from their experience. This research is participatory, even action-based, in helping us to codesign the ultimate learning experience based on reader goals, tasks, and feedback.
Along with learning from Ted’s insights into pre-search, another goal of this project is to show how the full sensory experience of photojournalism can be evoked by being attentive to image-making and writing. Students can be prompted to write narratives about their photographs, encouraging the type of long-form essay writing, accompanied by photography, that has been revived in recent years by organizations like the New York Times.
For future projects, Ted and I are also discussing the possibility of making an ebook about the Italian Renaissance. Along with working with collection of photographs and texts, for example, I can imagine including interactive maps and 3D models of the Duomo to create an integrative learning experience.