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March 6, 2007

Interview with John Michael Cooper…

Filed under: Interview — jackie @ 7:14 pm

Photographer John Michael Cooper has been making his own custom boxes and albums for over 8 years. John started making his own boxes because he liked the boxes that some of the album companies were producing at the time but wanted something a little more custom designed. John says that he liked the boxes with mats that were being offered by one company but liked the cover materials that were being offered by another.  When he approached the companies about making boxes and mats to his specifications, they either told him it wasn’t possible or they couldn’t do it. So John bought a box that was closest to what he was looking for from one of the companies and remade the mats to go inside.

John says that after he made the mats he figured that he could make his own boxes. Although his first attempt wasn’t beautiful, it was functional.  John figured with a little tweaking he could make his boxes exactly as he wanted. This got him to thinking that if he could make his own boxes “how hard could albums be?�

John’s first albums were Japanese stab bindings.

JMC1

From there he graduated to flush mount style albums and has been exclusively offering his own books and boxes to his clients since 2001.

JMC Box

John is often asked, “with so many album companies out there why would you want to make your own books?� John says that there are “three reasons why he makes his own�. One is that  “Printing, laminating and binding take less than a day.� He also says that it allows him to offer something unique and different to his clients and that he “is only limited by his creativity�. Last but not least is the album order form. He says they are complicated and he never seems to get them filled out properly the first time and they get sent back to him.

Custon 2 album boxed album set 1

John’s style of album making is straightforward and simple. He likes to keep his process streamlined. He says that he is a bit of a procrastinator and if he tried to do more complicated books, they would never get done. He also says that to keep his interest, his process is always evolving.

 Box album set 2

He might make about 10 or 15 books and then will change his style. He gets tired of doing the same thing all the time. A big pet peeve of his is complacency. Whether it’s his albums or his photography, to keep from getting comfortable and complacent, he is constantly changing his process of doing them.

Album box with secret DVD compartment

Recently, John was inspired to create a unique book modeled after a children’s board book he found tucked away in his wife’s storage chest. John says “ these have to be the original flush mount books…while looking at this book I was inspiredâ€? and “at the same time I was in awe about the simplicity of Apples IPOD packagingâ€?. He says he loves boxes.

JMC7

IPOD book 1

Relating to his idea for this book he says, “Don’t you just hate it when you get inspired by some vague idea and it prevents you from sleeping, keeps you restless, and then forces you to wake up early and pace all the while ignoring your normally backed up work flow? Well, in the past I’ve only acted on a small percentage of my ideas (very small).

IPOD book 2

IPOD book 3

Most of the inspiration, be it for a photograph or a project, seems to get put off until the time is right or when the workflow is light… which means it will get done just after the garage gets cleaned out… when you get inspired, or get an idea, instead of letting it pass through you like a “bad fast food mealâ€?, just pull out that old Nike t-shirt from the 90’s and re-read it….â€? He says that “you might as well just act on the ideas and inspiration you get right away unless you want to face the pain of regret laterâ€?
 
John does not consider himself a book artist. On the Digital Wedding Forum (a professional photographers resource), John is considered a guru of sorts when it comes to being a DIY album binder. John says he’s not an expert; he’s just good at reverse engineering and likes to experiment with new ideas. John encourages others to experiment as well. John says he likes to be helpful and answer questions whenever possible but that he’s not good at writing long explanations of things and that it is hard to answer questions that deserve long well thought out answers in a quick email. He says if you think about what you are trying to do and physically work through the process, a lot of your questions will be answered.

Album detail

Because of the overwhelming response by photographers to his handmade albums, John offered the first of his album making workshops on his process last summer. His workshop titled “Combo #2� was highly successful and sold out quickly. His second workshop, titled Combo Three, will be offered in a few weeks and has already sold out as well. John says of his workshops “It’s a very hands-on, non-rocket science approach to handmade, high quality, fine art albums.�

When asked what advice he would give to someone just starting to make their own albums, John says “to invest minimally and experiment a lot. Try to do it in the cheapest fashion first to see if you even enjoy making something.� He says album making is not for everyone. “It’s a craft that takes repetitive skill and some people may not like that process so don’t invest in big gear. You can do everything with a very minimal amount of gear.�

***

John resides, with his wife and business partner Dalisa Cooper, in Las Vegas where he likes to get his brides to roll around in the mud and occasionally needs the fire dept. to help him on a shoot. You can see John’s photographic work at http://www.altf.com/

For a fun look into the John’s album making style, check out this little video over on the Simple Photo Minute site.

All photographs presented in this article are copyright John Michael Cooper

• • •

4 Comments

  1. Hi, Jackie! How are you?

    I was away for a while due a big fashion catalog Im working on (the photos were made on sunday) so now Im on the tossing/keeping files with clients…

    That heat n’bond alike product arrived last week (it worked like a charm) and its very affordable/cheap. Problem solved about fabric covers. I also found the binders board (a dark grey / almost black) one. Havent tried yet… When I put something toghether I will send you photos of it…

    I saw your compilation of Altf words, nice! I noticed you grabbed his words from here and there, and made it everything in one text.

    Lets see if you can help me one more time: Do you see that last picture (the one with headband on detail)? We can notice the first and the last page is thicker. Is that pages that are glued with the hard book cover? why is it thiker that the others, any reason? And what material is that?

    Thanks!

    Ricardo

    Comment by Ricardo — March 7, 2007 @ 9:27 am
  2. I’m glad some things are working for you with the binding. It really is important to have the right supplies.
    I’m glad you liked the interview. I did pull some text from diff. sources but the bulk of it came from a phone interview that I had with John last week.

    As far as the thickness of the endsheets. It looks like he used a thick card/board as the liner for his endsheet. I’m not sure exactly what he used. Poss. a lightweight matboard?

    Def. email or, even better, post some photos over on the Flickr site when you get your books done.

    Jackie

    Comment by jackie — March 7, 2007 @ 9:46 am
  3. Great interview! looooove his “boxes”. Is the red one a clamshell? I am trying to get a handle on some bsic box forms.

    Comment by Kristin — March 7, 2007 @ 12:33 pm
  4. Hello! Good Site! Thanks you! prwnaiagyz

    Comment by cphmsexjju — June 21, 2007 @ 12:39 pm

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