Thebaid Book Update: AAC News, Text Deadline, Pre-Press image proofing

The Thebaid Display at the OCA All American Council in Baltimore, July 18-22

Dear Friends and Supporters, Fellow Pilgrims All,

Much news to share since mid-July, so let’s get to it:

The OCA’s All American Council, July 18-22, was a great opportunity to put The North American Thebaid Book Project in front of people for a whole week. I was invited by St. Tikhon’s Monastery Press to join their large vendor’s booth, and was given an entire table to anchor my display. STM Press had printed some handsome Thebaid Sample Booklets to share, and I brought my large (20″x 30″) canvas prints of some of the very best images to anchor the display. Two easels enabled us to have these large images facing both directions of the main aisle, and it was genuinely rewarding to talk with interested visitors about the project. We took some pre-orders for the book, and some folks donated directly to STM Press to help underwrite the printing costs, all of which helps us to the goal line. Thank you to everyone who stopped by the booth!

The new statue of St. Tikhon, Patriarch of Moscow, carved on site from a tree which had recently died.

Following the AAC, I spent a week at St. Tikhon’s Monastery working on the book, and this daily interaction between myself and press manager Fr. Mikel Hill was very productive. In addition to my week at St. Tikhon’s I made a couple of stops at other regional monasteries and in general had a very productive mid-summer as we continued to prep the book for going to print.

My weekly production calls with STM Press resumed after my week-long working visit, and I’m very pleased to announce we are on track to complete all the text by September 15, and will be having the text files proof-read after that date. This is a major milestone, which will be followed immediately by our review of the image sequencing and layout decisions. This will be our final review of the entire book to optimize the flow of the photographs and make the visual narrative as strong as it can possibly be.

There are other steps also on the agenda, including final design elements, special graphic additions, and especially generating physical pre-press proofs to ensure proper reproduction of the images, many of which have a broad dynamic range, deep shadow detail, specific color gamuts, or heightened Black & White contrast and tonality.

My thanks to all who have recently pre-ordered the Thebaid Book. (I just received notice of another pre-order this morning!) Please note that we will stop taking pre-orders for the Deluxe Limited Edition once we send the book to print. 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 to learn more, head over to the Thebaid Store to check out the options, which include quantity discounts.

As always, my heartfelt thanks to all our many supporters and those who have pre-ordered. Many of you have been waiting patiently for the fulfillment of this project since we launched this epic photographic pilgrimage six years ago, in September 2016! We are absolutely thrilled to be seeing the publication of the book getting closer every week, and are dedicated to getting it into your hands as quickly as possible. Please pray for us as we labor to get the Thebaid Book over the finish line.

Watch for more updates soon as we check off these various pre-press deadlines!

PS – Also in my summer travels were trips to Jordanville and St. Gregory Palamas in Hayesville, Ohio. Here are some examples of the images I made at these two monasteries. Click to enlarge, as these thumbnails are cropped to fit into the gallery format:

NEWS UPDATE: Thebaid Book Preview at the OCA All American Conference

Dear Friends and Supporters, Fellow Pilgrims all!

Much news to share as our pre-press work on The North American Thebaid Book continues:

If you’re going to be at the Orthodox Church in America’s All American Council next week (July 18-22) in Baltimore MD, I hope to see you there!

I’ve been invited to join St Tikhon’s Monastery Press at their display where we will have a special section just for The North American Thebaid Book, featuring an advance look at the book design and some actual page spreads, as well as some large display prints of some of my best images from the project. I’d love to meet you so please stop by and visit!

Our pre-press work on text and image layout continues to proceed very well, with our weekly production meetings often running to an hour or an hour and a half as we fine-tune the details at all levels of the book design. Last month we moved a couple of the main articles around to improve the flow of images and written word sections. There are whole sequences now which are virtually complete and are an absolute joy to page through, inviting the viewer to linger over images before eagerly moving on to see what’s next. As you may recall from my earlier posts, our design has taken the form of a sequential pilgrimage through the great regions of our continent, and we are seeing that approach come to fruition as our work nears its end, the alternating images and texts creating an engaging narrative for the viewer.

Happily, I have had a few opportunities to make new photographs at some of the monasteries, which greatly improve the overall collection, and help make sure the book will be as up to date as possible. Plus it has been a joy to visit again at some of these holy places where I now feel strong connections from my prior pilgrimages.

STILL OPEN FOR PRE-ORDERING: My sincere thanks for all of our new pre-orders of the Thebaid Book since my last update. (We have even had our first pre-order from Australia!) We 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 an added perk, effective immediately 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.) *

Most importantly, the only way to secure a copy of the Deluxe Limited Edition with leather cover and ribbon marker is through pre-order. Each Deluxe Limited Edition copy will be signed and numbered, and will feature a special insert page with the names of all our supporters and pre-orders who selected this special edition. All Deluxe Limited Edition pre-orders will also include a matted print, signed on the mat. Once we close the portal for pre-orders and send the files to the printer, the offer for the Deluxe Limited Edition will cease; this version will not be available through ordinary retail or online stores. You can learn more about the Deluxe Limited Edition (with discounts for multiple copies) and place your pre-orders here.

Perhaps the biggest news I have to share on the publishing end concerns a special trip I am making right after the OCA All American Council, as I will be staying at St Tikhon’s Monastery from July 25-29 for a week-long working session on the Thebaid Book. The STM Press offices are on site at the Bookstore, and we’ll be able to spend hours together each day fine tuning the details. I’m really looking forward to this intensive on-site session which should really move the ball down the field.

Needless to say, this is an exhilarating time for me with the AAC event and our special week-long working session bringing the goal of publication ever closer into view. I can’t wait to complete the book and get it into your hands.

In the meantime, feel free to browse around the many articles about the Thebaid Project, and explore the galleries to learn about or visit anew this amazing and unique multi-year journey. Thank you all again for your support and prayers, and I look forward to sharing the next round of news with you!

* Please note: The Standard Edition is no longer available by itself for preorder, unsigned and without the signed/matted print.

Pre-Press Updates, and Thoughts on Printing

Dear Friends and Supporters, Fellow Pilgrims All!

Before starting my update, as we enter into Great Lent, as is our Orthodox praxis and holy tradition, I ask your forgiveness… God forgives!

Monastery of the Transfiguration, the Sisterhood exchanges forgiveness.
Photo © Ralph H. Sidway

The main thing to ask your forgiveness for is the lack of recent updates. It’s not for lack of news, which is significantly more than the recent steady progress (which we are happy for!) we have been making through Autumn and into the Nativity and holiday season. (But I’ll get to that in a moment.) Rather, it’s been a tumultuous couple of months, from coming down with Covid at the end of the year (only mild-to-moderate symptoms, thankfully), to having to pack and move (a process which is nearing its conclusion).

During this same period, St Tikhon’s Press has been seeding their communications with the publishing world equivalent of “teaser trailers” for The North American Thebaid book. Their brief mentions of the Thebaid book in blog posts and emails underscore their commitment and dedication to making it a significant contribution to the life of Orthodoxy in America.

Much of our recent progress has involved setting the introductory texts for each monastery. It has been a joy to revisit my notes and blog posts from my travels as I prepare these brief descriptions, and I hope and trust my reflections on my pilgrimage will resonate with you and others.

I have also been contacting the monasteries to confirm image usage, an especially important process as a couple of the communities were initially somewhat reserved about their inclusion in the Thebaid book. Though I was given their blessing to photograph, the final decision to publish was withheld, so I am most grateful for the positive reception the images and page mockups we sent these monasteries have been embraced, and permission warmly granted for inclusion in the finished book.

One of the biggest “signs” that we are tracking towards publication is the process of securing revised quotes for the printing. This makes it real, and adds a sense of urgency to all our labors in finalizing the texts and formatting, and working through the remaining pre-press photo edits, not to mention the detailed editing, proofreading, spell-checking, etc., which involves bringing in “fresh eyes” to notice what our core team, in our daily familiarity, may have missed.

Lastly (for today), I want to share with you a brief but marvelous post by Fr Mikel Hill, manager of St Tikhon’s Press, in which he raises and answers the question, “Why Print?” His approach is clearly concentrating on the value of printed books of text, but the principles he puts forth can just as powerfully be applied to photographic books. Consider this passage:

The very inconvenience itself of books leads to the formation of a different relationship than one has with digital forms media, which are “conjured forth, then disappear. We consume them.” Books, by contrast, “are embodied. They live in history. They have their own biographies.” They demand commitment, space, and respect. We approach a book with a certain sense of awe and humility, mindful of the many lives this particular volume, this specific paper and ink, this impression by real type upon this page, has shaped and will continue to shape, long after our death.

This reaffirms what I wrote five and six years ago when first launching this project, that “by committing up-front to the finest book printing, image reproduction, archival materials, and state-of-the-art publishing, pre-press and proofing technologies, we have attained a clear vision of our goal and methods, and have great confidence in our ability to create a worthy volume which we hope will be a lasting gift to Orthodox Christians and the Church for many years to come.”

Fr Mikel goes on to describe the virtues of a printed book, which seem to be uncannily appropriate when applied to a photographic book about Orthodox monasticism in North America:

A permanence transcending generations, a rootedness and immobility, and a refusal to reconfigure are each elements that not only shape the experience of reading a book but shape the reader himself. The medium by which we interact with ideas will influence the formation of the ideas themselves. (Emphasis added.)

Elsewhere I have posted about the devaluation of images in a culture where 1.8 billion images are shared each day via social media. Yet in spite of all these images we remain malnourished for the most part. We are left longing for the Image that might Fill us, Move us, Call to us, Change us, Direct us to the Way. In spite of having posted hundreds of my images here in my galleries, I was and am still convinced of the necessity of presenting fine images — photographs — in print form, and particularly, in a large book format. This appreciation for and dedication to The Photographic Book as providing a “permanence transcending generations,” that “not only shapes the experience” of viewing the images, “but shapes the [viewer] himself” is the underlying philosophy of publishing which imbues and propels our work on The North American Thebaid Book as we prepare it for print.

Fr Mikel Hill closes out his article, “Why Print?” with the following:

It is for these reasons that STM Press is committed to promulgating the value of carefully printed and quality bound texts. We are convinced that our efforts to promote the worth of physical books contains a potential to re-shape and transform the way we think and act, that books are in themselves a spiritual tool for the renewing of our minds in an age that has forgotten how to read...

…and forgotten how to see. Do click over and read the full article.

With my recent move (and covid) behind me, watch for not only more frequent progress updates, but a series of posts looking back at the course of this photographic pilgrimage, which has proven also to be an inner pilgrimage. Unsurprisingly.

Thank you for following along on this journey. A good lent to you all.

Thebaid Book Layout Reaches Key First Goal

Dear Friends and Supporters, Fellow Pilgrims All!

After several weeks of layout and design work since my last post, I’m happy to tell you we have reached a real milestone now, with significant progress being made each week.

Early Prototype Thebaid Book Cover,
Entrance to St Herman of Alaska Monastery, Platina, Calfornia

Also, before I get started, I wish to thank our new supporters who have pre-ordered the book. Interest continues to grow in the forthcoming Thebaid coffee table book, and we are deeply appreciative of each of you who have committed up front and pre-ordered your copy (or copies). I should mention that we will continue to accept pre-orders at The Thebaid Store up until the book goes to print. This is especially critical for the Deluxe Limited Edition in Bonded Leather, which will not be available through retail outlets, but only through pre-ordering using the link above. Of course the standard hardcover edition will be available through St. Tikhon’s Monastery Press, and a range of Orthodox and other resellers.

Back to today’s update!

The heart of the pre-press process has been our weekly production meetings, and with only a couple of exceptions, St. Tikhon’s Press (STMP) and I have been locked in for our Thursday afternoon sessions since early August now, and wow, they have become increasingly substantial over the last several weeks. Even on those couple of occasions when we haven’t been able to hold our weekly meeting, we have still been communicating in detail by email, sending notes and work lists back and forth, and sharing our files by Dropbox and Google Drive. By mid-September we were getting into precise questions of image placement, layout, sizing and sequencing, specific photo edits and text edits, so that our meetings have been ranging from 60 to 90 minutes on average! Which brings me to the big news for this update.

As of the latest batch of page mockups, STMP has completed about 90% of the initial page mockups, which nearly completes the basic layout. This is really the first major pre-press goal, and enables us now to go back through each regional section and monastery to confirm everything and complete any final image editing, etc. There are some special texts to be added and other features, but the heart of the book is firming up quite nicely.

It is important to note that our design and layout work is not merely about the details, the “nuts and bolts” of setting up a photo book. We have approached the book in a way similar to “composers” of a musical piece, seeking to present the photographs in a lyrical, poetic way, with movement, rhythm, harmony, dynamics. And this is the part of the process that I look forward to entering more deeply into, as it marks a return to the start, to the heart of the original vision I had for this project.

Watch for more frequent updates as we now move into the next stages, which will include the proofing process.

Thank you for your support and prayers, and for accompanying me on this pilgrimage!

Real Thebaid News, and a Real Path to Publication

Dear Friends and Supporters, Fellow Pilgrims All ~

First, my apologies for no updates during the year of covid. As for many of us it was a strange and challenging year, and brought all progress on the Thebaid book to a standstill.

As I recently found out, the covid lockdown hit St Tikhon’s Monastery Press hard also, but in different ways. My time for the book evaporated overnight, as everything became ruled by the “tyranny of the urgent.” Part time day job became full time, and my modest volunteer ministry at my home parish became a greatly expanded role (like a second job, truly): facilitating live-streaming of services, signups, heightened communications, and much more.

In contrast, St Tikhon’s lost their volunteer staff (largely students from the seminary) for the Press and Bookstore, the reduced manpower affecting their publishing capacity, and requiring real dedication to hold to their existing printing schedule.

So it was with a great sense of relief and actually joy, that we linked up by phone a few weeks ago and set in place our Path to Publication.

Visual Pilgrimage by Region

Because I had already done so much file prep and image editing, and had provided an abundance of image files to the Press in late 2019, Fr. Mikel Hill at STM Press has swiftly resumed his organization of the book and general sequencing of the photographs, which will follow my actual travels, leading the viewer on a visual pilgrimage through the major regions of America. I will be providing detailed layout and image placement instructions each week, with Fr. Mikel sending back PDF galley proofs for me to approve or tweak.

The groups of images will be punctuated by special articles, contributed by American monastics. Select quotes and information about the monasteries will be highlighted in text boxes overlaying full-page-bleed images and 2-page spreads. There will be a rhythm, a cadence, a flow to the book. And I’ll be sharing some of the galley proofs here for you to keep you informed on the progress.

Weekly Production Meetings

To effect all this, we will be conducting weekly production meetings by phone and Skype, and have already begun these “Thebaid Thursday” sessions.

All of this is invigorating enough, and I get the clear sense from Fr. Mikel that he (and Abbot Sergius) are very enthusiastic about completing our work and getting the book to print. There is a joyful energy around this resumption of our shared work, testimony to our shared purpose, the advancement of Orthodoxy and Orthodox monasticism in America, through the beauty and mystery of these images.

‘Time’ to Finish

For me personally, the ability to take an extended sabbatical from work and devote myself 100% to The North American Thebaid Book, is the “critical mass” of the publishing process. This is actually how the entire project began, with a convergence of time, vision and inspiration, followed by scheduling, travel and photography. Now, it seems the fullness of time for the Thebaid Book has come, and with that elusive element of Time opened back up for me, and with it the renewed vision, collaboration, and activity leading to the finished book, in your hands.

Thanksgiving, and a Teaser

Thank you all, for your patience and trust, and for your continuing prayers for this project. And my thanks to those of you who took a few minutes to reach out and see how I have been and where things stand. I am so gratified to be able to report this solid, real news, and our Real Path to Publication.

Rather than post one of my images today, I felt it most appropriate to post a “teaser” of sorts, the galley proof of the prototype Copyright page from the early design work at St Tikhon’s done towards the end of 2020. I look forward to sharing more pages and spreads in the weeks ahead.

January 2019 Thebaid Update

On to publication of the Thebaid Book in Spring 2019!

This update serves as a special ‘Thank you’ to our dozens of dear supporters, for propelling the North American Thebaid Project to the threshold of its goal, the publication of the large-format, photographic coffee table book, due in Spring 2019 from St Tikhon’s Monastery Press, South Canaan PA.

In the coming weeks and months I’ll be deeply engaged in photo editing and book design, sending files back and forth with the design team at St. Tikhon’s Press, and working closely with our pre-press partners at Four Colour Print Group in Louisville and FCI Digital in Dayton, as we work to fulfill our goal of creating an inspiring, museum-quality photo book. We can’t wait to get it into your hands!

St Tikhon’s Press announces the Thebaid Book to over 20,000 readers

St Tikhon’s 2019 Liturgical Calendar, featuring photographs from the North American Thebaid.

St Tikhon’s Monastery Press chose to announce their role as publisher of the Thebaid book through a statement in their 2019 Liturgical Calendar, which features fourteen full-color images from the Thebaid Project.

Covering over a dozen Orthodox monasteries across America, from several of the canonical Orthodox jurisdictions and archdioceses here, this beautiful calendar has now been distributed to hundreds of parish churches, reaching an audience of over 20,000, who began using this unique liturgical calendar on January 1 of the New Year.

We are deeply grateful for St. Tikhon’s Press and their public endorsement of the Thebaid Project. You can order the St Tikhon’s 2019 Liturgical Calendar direct from STM Press…

Continue reading “January 2019 Thebaid Update”

Thebaid Store returns online! – Now accepting pre-orders for the Thebaid Photo Book

After a period of technical difficulties following the launch of our new Thebaid Online Store, we are officially back up and running, and accepting pre-orders.

Holy Trinity Monastery, Jordanville NY, one of several prototype cover designs you can view at the Thebaid Store.

 

This large-format, fine-art “coffee table” book represents the culmination of a unique multi-year project, which has combined crowdfunding, social media, and an unprecedented photographic pilgrimage to over thirty Orthodox monasteries across the American continent, to help raise awareness of and interest in the Orthodox Church and its ancient monastic traditions, and thus contribute to the “churching” of America.

Full specifications are provided for all products. Signed copies are offered, with signed & matted fine art prints. Quantity discounts for signed bundles are also available. At a glance:

  • Quantity discounts available for signed book & print bundles.
  • Additional info and answers to frequently asked questions are provided.

Proceed to the Thebaid Store…

 

Thebaid Images featured on covers of STM Press 2019 Liturgical Rubrics Book, Pocket Planner

The close relationship between the North American Thebaid Project and St. Tikhon’s Monastery Press continues to bear fruit, with the publication of the STM Press 2019 Liturgical Rubrics & Calendar, and their 2019 Pocket Planner, each of which feature a stunning photograph from The North American Thebaid on the cover.

These are in addition to the publication of the 2019 St Tikhon’s Monastery Press Liturgical Calendar, which features fourteen photographs from the Thebaid Project. More info, with images from this large-format wall-calendar and links to order from STM Press are provided here.

I continue to feel deeply thankful and honored that St. Tikhon’s Monastery Press has so embraced the North American Thebaid Project, and is using more of the images for their outstanding line of liturgical calendars, books and resources, which will go out to many hundreds of Orthodox parishes and thousands of believers across the United States and Canada.

Specifications for the STM Press 2019 Liturgical Rubrics & Calendar, and 2019 Pocket Planner follow:

Continue reading “Thebaid Images featured on covers of STM Press 2019 Liturgical Rubrics Book, Pocket Planner”

Thebaid Project awarded 2018 Ganister Foundation Grant

The Ganister Foundation recognizes the North American Thebaid for its “innovative approach to advancing the mission of Orthodoxy in the United States.”

The Ganister Orthodox Foundation recently announced its grant recipients for 2018, which included the North American Thebaid Project, a two-year photographic pilgrimage covering over thirty Orthodox Christian monasteries across the continent from several jurisdictions, including over a dozen monasteries of the Orthodox Church in America.

Founded in 2001, the Ganister Orthodox Foundation:

Provides financial assistance for organizations and parishes with innovative approaches to advancing the mission of Orthodoxy in the United States…

Favor is given to proposals that address priority needs of the Orthodox Church in America, especially those that do so in catalytic ways.

The selection process also weighs leadership experience, clarity of goals, the presence of a stable funding base, and faithfulness to the teachings and ministry of the OCA. (Emphasis added.)

Continue reading “Thebaid Project awarded 2018 Ganister Foundation Grant”

Looking Ahead to the Finished Book

A word about the quality of the North American Thebaid book, which we plan to publish in 2018:

One of the earliest and most important decisions I made when forming the North American Thebaid Project was to learn about the printing of fine photographic books, so that I could ensure an excellent finished product.

FCIlogo2012-horiz

That search led me to a world-class printer with over thirty years in the trade, Four Colour Print Group, and its pre-press subsidiary, FCI Digital.

I should mention that Four Colour Print Group and George Dick came personally recommended by journalist Genevieve Lacer, who has done two fine art coffee table books with them, which I have personally inspected and found to be of the highest quality. (They were also the lowest of three book printing quotes I received!)

When I met with George Dick, President & CEO of Four Colour in February 2016, I took with me examples of award-winning coffee table books by photographers I admire and follow, as well as my own 2014 retrospective photography book, Pursuing the Light, and George and I analyzed and critiqued them.

One edition, a little over twenty years old now, by one of America’s finest landscape photographers, showed definite signs of the pages yellowing around the edges, and to George Dick’s trained eye, it was clear the paper choice was the cause, perhaps because this was still at the dawn of printing from recycled materials, and the paper had acid and/or lignin content, which causes it to lose its pure white lustre as it ages.

With that warning example, and many stand-out features of some premium volumes used as benchmarks, we outlined the specifications required to create a finished book of the highest quality and image reproduction, with archival longevity, and identified the following:*

Continue reading “Looking Ahead to the Finished Book”