It’s been an entire year since we published The Middle of Somewhere by Sam Harris. The year has been a whirlwind for both Sam and ceiba. We were honored to win the Lucie Award for Book Publisher of the Year and the Australian Photobook of the Year 2015 – Peoples Choice Award, among other things. We’re thrilled that at this one year mark we are almost sold out. Our 2nd book has been a long journey for us, but an even longer one for Sam, who has been documenting his family for over 12 years. We spoke with him to catch up one year later.
It’s been a year! Your ‘baby’ is one now. How are you doing?
Doing well – thank you!
How did your family feel about the book when they saw it?
They were very interested and quite excited to see the finished book. They really enjoyed looking through it carefully and seemed to appreciate it. They witnessed so much of the making of it and were involved in certain elements, so it wasn’t all new and it was quite natural for them. However, when close friends and family tell them that they will appreciate the book even more when they’re grown ups they tend to roll their eyes and shrug it off.
Many people think that when a book is finally out, the project is over, yet we know it’s actually just the beginning of things. What happened once the book came out?
All in all I’ve been overwhelmed with the interest in The Middle of Somewhere. We arranged a few book launches at the start that helped create exposure and also allowed us to celebrate our accomplishments, but it just kept on rolling. I’ve been to quite a few photo festivals by now and given talks and run workshops, done portfolio reviews and had exhibitions. I’ve done some radio interviews, book signings and TMoS has also been reviewed in weekend print magazines such as Telegraph Magazine in UK and Australian Weekend Magazine, as well as Wallpaper, Lens Culture, Feature Shoot and others.
All the above does not happen by itself and as I no longer have an agent working for me, it means a lot of office work. Communicating, writing proposals, bouncing ideas, juggling dates and trying to make each trip as cost effective as possible…it’s a full time job!! Make no mistake about it.
Looking back on your journey, from starting this project to making a successful book, what is the biggest lesson you’ve learned?
That’s a long period of time, so I’m sure there are many lessons, so it’s difficult to say… Probably patience and tenacity. That and that you’ve got to be true to yourself and follow your heart.
No, not really, I’m very happy with how the book turned out. I can’t imagine it any other way. I really feel that The Middle of Somewhere is a complete and well-rounded book. I’m very proud of it.
You’re a fulltime photographer. How did you manage to stay creative and not burn out throughout the 12 years you worked on The Middle of Somewhere?
Balance. Time in nature is important for me. Time to just listen to the birds and smell the roses, time to just stop and stare… Walking in the forest or doing some gardening, these are ways I connect with my environment and create balance. Time offline! Quality time with special friends. Listening to good music. All that and the odd museum or decent gallery visit. All this feeds my creativity, gives me vision and the strength to dive into projects wholeheartedly.
Fatherhood and family are two of the central themes of the book. When you had your children, your work changed and went in a new direction. What advice do you have for other men out there who are juggling fatherhood with their photography careers?
It’s a constant juggling act, no doubt about that. The changes I made were quite extreme, which I’m sure is not for everyone, but I really needed time away from city life and daily routine (and consumerism) with my young family. Quality time spent together was important to me/us and we spent it in amazing locations and had a great time. It was a process. I was 100% complete with the choice to abandon my career at that time. I really needed to get back to myself, creatively. I had to undo many of my photographic habits, learn to let go and it took several years. I struggled at times and got lost at some point but I kept going. Photography is all I really know, so I kept on regardless and it came together eventually.
Everyone’s journey is different, but you have to be true to yourself. Perhaps that means making some sort of leap of faith… trust in yourself, think carefully about what you really want, with your photography and your lifestyle.
But I would say I don’t really think about photography as a career. If I did, I’d move to Sydney or New York. I’m a photographer, I like to shoot my diary. I’m lucky my work has got me invited to festivals and I get to travel and meet people, which is wonderful and I’m truly grateful for this.
So, in a nutshell… you need to be open minded and have an open heart, follow your passion, go with the flow and be your authentic self, whatever that is. This, I believe, is the way to make authentic work with authorship. Can’t say about career though, that’s orientated to money, which can be a red herring when it comes to creating good personal work.
What advice do you have for any artist looking to publish a book?
Have a lot of patience and be serious, focused and passionate about the subject you’re dealing with. Go deep. Probably when you think you’ve finished you need to shoot more. Sketch ideas and make your own dummies. Develop a vision. Be open to change. You need to love books.
Be aware of other books dealing with similar subjects and learn about the publishers and their own identities. Most of all understand that it does take time. It’s a process and the fit needs to be right. It’s a bit like a marriage: make sure you go with the right publisher, not just the first one that comes along. Sometimes you’ll need to develop a relationship with a publisher over a few years before all the elements line up.
And finally, what project/s are you working on now, if any?
I’m trying to slow down and get some time in my garden. The past two years have been extra busy and I feel I need to rebalance. It’s important for me to spend some time connecting with my environment. Walking, gardening, chopping wood… We’ve just got hold of a very old caravan, built on a wood frame, 1950’s. I’m renovating it and making it into bedroom for Yali. So that will keep me busy for a while.
Of course I’m also thinking about photography! And of course I continue to photograph Uma and Yali. I have some other ideas too that I’ve been waiting to get into. But first I’m going to spend more time with my family and make sure I’ve got time to just stand and stare.
Thank you Sam!
The Middle of Somewhere is sold out, 2 Special Editions left.