Optiko

Book Review

4 min read by Dmitri.

Optiko is a community project that culminated in a Kickstarter campaign back in 2017. The book is a diverse pool of eighty-seven peoples’ work that spans 276 thick, colourful pages. I have a numbered copy: 10/150.

My book, same with everyone else’s, features a full-page ad for Analog.Cafe as I was one of the “top-tier” backers with a £30 contribution.

Optiko’s content is separated into two sections — same as the Monochrome magazine — the first half is essays, the second half is photography only. Unlike the magazine, however, this book has no overarching theme; instead, it’s presented as a showcase: “Optiko is a collaborative online and print project that showcases the work of amateur photographers who still like to shoot with film.” — from the Kickstarter page.

From the top-left, clockwise: Nacho Armentera, Gabriela Gleizer, Gil Barez, Quinn Milton, Andrew Mellor, Ludovico Poggioli.

As per Optiko’s Kickstarter page and the book’s website, the content is curated; however, the selections seem somewhat variable in quality. I took a couple of hours on a Sunday afternoon to figure out what this book is about and identify pieces that make it worthwhile. After some reading, page-flipping, and bookmarking, I’ve decided that my favourites were the series Edgelands by Matthew Thompson, Rescued Film Project interview with Adam King, Yesterdays series by Andrew Mellor. And the photographs: A Couple of Trees by Ludovico Poggioli, Essaouria by Gil Barez, The Ethiopian Church, Jerusalem by Gabriela Gleizer, Abandoned auditorium in Madrid by Nacho Armentera, Untitled by Alexandros Granavos, and Chicago Skyline/Blurry Chicago by Quinn Milton.

There were no “bad” works in the book. Even with a few unremarkable images and stories with typos in print, the book is a lot of fun and is a pleasure to keep on the shelf. Given the amount of content within its pages and presumably zero money for its creators — other than for ink and paper — Optiko is an impressive accomplishment.

Publisher’s burnout.

Despite the criticism crowdfunding projects sometimes receive on delivery and quality, I still enjoy contributing to grassroots campaigns, especially when it involves film photography.

Got my money’s worth in ink alone!

That being said, Optiko’s Kickstarter project led to the apparent and unfortunate decline of the group that created it. The website no longer works. There are no new publications. And despite new images still being added to the Flickr group, there have been no new discussions since March 2017.

I can speak neither for the team who created the book nor the artists who have contributed their creativity. However, as Optiko’s campaign backer and a small-time publisher, I feel the urge to point out a mistake, avoiding which may save someone a huge headache:

Editing is hard work — it should be priced appropriately. For photographic publications, this involves photo editing, layout, and copy. Some pieces may have an incredible story told by someone with English as a second language, which may still require a complete rewrite. Some images may not fit, others do but the sequence needs constant adjustments. The more authors there are, the harder it is to keep it all together.

Optiko’s eighty-seven-author editorial compilation sounds like a colossal amount of work. I doubt that any of the money raised went towards paying for the editors’ time, which feels like an unfair amount of pressure with no freedom to get help. Everyone involved in this project also had to earn money, which, as we all know, fills the day hours pretty quickly.

It may have been more prudent to raise more funds, enough to let at least one person take on this project full-time for a few months. Or to drastically reduce the contribution volume.

It’s impossible to please everyone. Unfortunately, it seems that’s exactly what Optiko set out to do: affordable books, with tons of material, on an expensive stock. The paper is so thick that it’s almost impossible to keep the book open — a sad metaphor for the misplaced, excessive efforts.

Still, knowing how much trouble it must have taken, I am immensely grateful to Optiko’s founder and editor, Steve King, for pushing through and delivering on the promise. I’m sure it mattered to Steve, and it certainly means a lot to me. I’m glad I have this book.