How It All Began: A Book Mockup

Every fruit begins with a seed.

For the book Paradise, the seed was sown in March 2012, when I had the chance to attend book-making workshop by Alex & Rebecca Webb and David Chickey. We were taken through a rather intensive 2.5 days, in which we learnt how the Webbs edited their images for their books, how we can do it for our own projects, and the reality of publishing a book (more on this later).

But what truly inspired me was the experience of laying my hands on a book mockup by Alex Webb himself. It was a weathered stack of pages, printed humbly with inkjet, held together by masking tape. It had pencil marking, obvious marks of wear and tear, and repeated attempts to hold the pages together – evident in the layer after layer of tape in some places. Although it was rather primitive in its handling, it was a life-changing experience for me for two reasons.

Firstly, within the humble-looking pages of this book mockup, were the sublime images of a great photographer, each one carefully captured over a great length of time, then chosen with equally careful consideration.

Secondly, I was holding the very beginnings of a book. In this case, a great book.

It was almost like cradling a newborn baby in my arms. Just as a newborn’s helpless, wordless, incomprehensible wailing held the promise of a great person in the making, the mockup held the promise of a great book within its pages.

I remembered that shortly after that life-changing experience, I began to entertain thoughts of making a mockup myself, but I didn’t know how. I wasn’t good with craft work. So I bought an empty A4 sized hard-bound notebook, printed some images on my Epson inkjet, and started gluing the prints onto the book.

Not knowing how bad my craftsmanship was (or rather, I have chosen to turn a blind eye to that), I brought the book mockup to Visa Pour L’image in Perpignan in Sep 2012. I showed it to everyone. Funnily, almost everyone was too polite to say anything negative about it.

Except Marc Prüst. I had met Marc in Singapore when he brought the World Press Photo exhibition to Singapore in 2005.

“There is no narrative in your layout,” Marc had said. He had a good point. I was editing purely from an aesthetic point of view. If I wanted to tell the story of Swat, I needed a narrative, and that was hidden deep within my head, somewhere. I needed someone to help me flesh it out and give shape to it. In the end, we recruited Marc to be the photo editor and flew him in to help with the narrative of both Paradise and Visage (a book about Cognac, a different kind of paradise).

Thinking back, it all began with a desire to want to create a book – the most lasting imprint of one’s work. Today, the seed that was planted more than a year ago has began to bear fruit.

Here are some pictures of the first book mockup. Despite the poor craftsmanship, I still feel a certain warmth holding it in my hands.

PS: I brought this mockup to the inaugural IPA Books Day in 2012. Here are some notes of encouragement I still keep inside. Thank you!

Notes of encouragement in my first book mockup for Paradise

Notes of encouragement in my first book mockup for Paradise

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