Ben Huff’s The Last Road North
As a photographer living in Alaska, far removed from nearly all of the museums, galleries and cultural institutions that show photography in the United States, Ben Huff says photo books are “everything” to him.
When he began his series documenting the
northernmost highway in his home state, it was
natural for him to think of it as a book project.
Huff’s The Last Road North will be released
later this year in a trade edition published by
Kehrer Verlag, but Huff also chose to self-publish a handmade artist’s book in an edition
of 12, which he is selling for $700.
As a photographer promoting his first
major project, Huff didn’t know whether
a publisher would offer to release his
monograph, so part of the motivation to
self-publish was simply to finish the project.
“Whether it was one, two or five [copies],
I wanted to have this final thing that I
constructed and that took some physical-ness
to make,” he explains.
He also felt that “the only way that I was
going to work out the sequence and the edit
and the overall feel that I wanted was to put
it on the page and make this object that I
always dreamed of having.” To learn to make
the book, Huff studied Hand Bookbinding: A
Manual of Instruction by Aldren A. Watson,
watched You Tube tutorials, and examined the
photography books in his collection. Looking
at the construction of a favorite book rather than the images “was a
completely different way of considering that object,” he says.
After some fits and starts and experimentation, he settled on a
way of making his books that he was happy with. “These, right down
to the hand-drawn map, are the best objects that I can make as a
photographer, as an artist. I don’t believe that they’re perfect, but
they’re 100 percent unique,” he says.
The materials alone for each book cost him more than $100, and
the process of making the books takes three
days, he says.
At press time, Huff had sold a handful
of copies to collectors and institutions,
including the University of Fairbanks, by
reaching out to them personally. He was
actively promoting the book to rare book
libraries as well. Money from the sales of the
special edition will help cover the investment
Kehrer Verlag asked him to make in the
production of the trade edition of his book.
The self-published version of The Last Road
North also helped Huff secure his deal with
Kehrer. He took one of his hand-made books
to the Photolucida portfolio reviews in 2013,
where he showed it to publishers, including
Alexa Becker, Kehrer’s acquisitions editor.
Having a finished book that he was completely
happy with helped him approach the portfolio
reviews with confidence, he says. During
Photolucida, Huff and Becker connected and
agreed to work together at the reviews.
A photo book collector himself, with a great
appreciation for the physical objects of books,
Huff wanted to make something that would
look at home among the books on his shelf.
“It was exciting to believe that I could make
something that I could slide in between two of my favorite books, that I
put on a pedestal, and say, ‘Those, physically, look similar.’”
OPPOSI TE: An image from Ben Huff’s
self-published book, The Last Road
North. ABOVE: Each of the artist’s
books took Huff three days to make.
Huff taught himself bookbinding by
studying a manual, watching video
tutorials and examining books in his