Nativity Update and New Year News

Dear Friends and Supporters, Fellow Pilgrims All,

Greetings for the Nativity Season, whether you are celebrating this weekend, or in a couple of weeks! I’m thrilled to be able to provide a hefty report on our pre-press progress this past Autumn, and sketch out what the coming weeks look like for the publication of the North American Thebaid book.

My weekly production meetings with St Tikhon’s Monastery Press, publishers of the Thebaid book, have continued throughout the Autumn, and we have made enormous progress perfecting the layout and book design, such that we are very close to ordering our first physical proof of the book. (More on that below!)

The pre-press procedure for us has been analogous to that of a lapidary, woodcarver, or any fine craftsman: we had the basic layout and design in place this time last year, and then began the more detailed work of writing and inserting texts for each monastery, reviewing and refining the image selection and sequencing, and making final decisions on layout parameters such as margins, fonts, and other page styles. Each pass through the book since then has finalized more and more elements, and clarified our fewer and fewer remaining tasks.

Perhaps the most rewarding aspect for me personally has been revisiting the images themselves. The initial photographs which we inserted into the layout last year were, for the most part, “quick edits,” and in no way ready for print. Except for the fourteen or so images included in the 2019 St Tikhon’s Liturgical Calendar, the remainder were only minimally edited, and were intended merely as placeholders for our work on the book design. (Almost all the image galleries posted here on the Thebaid website use versions of these early “quick edits.”)

The process of delving back into these images has been revelatory in many ways. Bringing them up on the computer screen one by one and using the powerful tools in Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop brings back to life my original vision, what I “saw” when originally making the photographs, and it is enormously satisfying to bring out various subtle elements, balance the highlights and shadows, heighten sharpness, color and detail, and generally use these tools to restore the drama, impact and “feeling” the real world scenes originally presented to me, but which were usually hidden in the unedited RAW files captured by my cameras.

For you geeks and photographers out there, this workflow description may sound familiar to you. My practice when doing digital photography since 2008 when I seriously committed to the medium and left film behind, has been to set the camera to save both a RAW file as well as a JPEG. Because of its compression, a JPEG file has only 8-bit depth by which to convey sharpness, detail, color and tonal range from shadows to highlights. The RAW file format saves the maximum amount of image data the camera sensor is capable of rendering. In the camera models I have been using for the Thebaid book, the RAW files provide either 12 or 14 bit depth, gathering from 50% to 75% greater image depth and data than a JPEG file. In a nutshell, this is part of the magic of digital photography, that one can work with those RAW files, and draw out amazing amounts of dynamic range and detail, and then save that in a smaller file for use in publication.

The excitement of seeing these images come alive as I work on these deep edits has been immensely fulfilling, and I can’t wait for you to experience them in the finished book.

What’s Next? — As I hinted above, we are now very close to ordering our first physical proof copy/copies of the book, and have set an internal deadline of January 15 to have all our remaining design, image and text edits completed so we can move forward by that date.

Obviously, this is the major milestone we have been pushing towards, and marks the culmination of the long and detailed process of book design and layout. St Tikhon’s Press and I have literally hundreds if not thousands of hours invested in preparing the Thebaid book, and are excited to be finally reaching the proofing stage. St Tikhon’s Press has been posting their own updates, and we share a growing anticipation as we get ready to go to print that this will be a very special book. Our production call today confirmed all our image edits over the last couple of weeks, and made us realize how close we are to the proofing stage. Watch for more news early in the New Year!

What else?

STILL OPEN FOR PRE-ORDERING: We continue to be deeply thankful for all those who have pre-ordered the Thebaid Book, and are still encouraging pre-orders at the Thebaid Store, as this helps us determine our initial print run, and helps offset the printing costs. 

As I posted this past Summer, all pre-orders made through the Thebaid Store will be signed by me, and will include a matted print, ready for framing, of one of the images from the Thebaid Project, signed on the mat. You can check out the specifications on the Standard Edition (Cloth Bound, Hardcover, with French-fold Dust Jacket) and place your preorders here. (Discounts available for multiple copies.)

An important reminder as we get close to the print deadline, that the Deluxe Limited Edition will only be available by pre-order. This leather-bound version, with ribbon marker, will be signed and numbered, and will be limited in quantity to the number of pre-orders (plus a few extra copies for our Thebaid Team), and will not be available through any retail or online stores. If you’re interested, head over to the Thebaid Store to check out the options, which include substantial discounts for quantity purchases.

SPEAKING ENGAGEMENTS AND BOOK SIGNINGSI am deeply grateful for those who have recently contacted me about scheduling a Thebaid Presentation once the book is finished and in hand. One of the joys of my travels during the project pilgrimage from 2016-2018 was the experience of visiting numerous parishes in between my monastery visits, and giving a digital slide show and talk on Orthodox monasticism in America. I look forward to similar encounters when the book arrives, and my new presentation will of course feature extensive images from my monastery travels. Contact me for details, questions and to schedule.

As always, my heartfelt thanks to all of you, our many supporters and all those who have pre-ordered. It has now been a little over six years since we launched the crowdfunding and travel for this epic photographic pilgrimage to Orthodox monasteries in America, back in September 2016! We are profoundly energized by our progress on the book. Publication draws closer every week, and we are committed to getting it into your hands as quickly as possible. Please pray for us as we finish the Thebaid Book and send the final files to print.

Nativity and Christmas Greetings to you all as we celebrate the Birth in the Flesh of the Son of God and Lord of All, Jesus Christ.


Photo: Cross at St Herman of Alaska Monastery in Platina CA, overlooking the California mountains. © Ralph H. Sidway.

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