Here, we always see the method of self-publishing as an act of putting the artist's self out there -- a sign of devotion to one's craft. Nearly a year after we got familiar with the artist through an interview, Melissa Schriek is back with Lomography to share her first experience on self-publishing with her poetic series that combined photography and performance. The City is a Choreography. The book was conceived during the peaks of the Coronavirus-19 and worldwide lockdown, and yet, she was able to achieve a milestone that spoke volumes of her tenacity, passion, and dedication to her art. Melissa revisits the process of bringing her book to life, why it's worth it and why everyone should try it.
First Time Experiences & Challenges
With every fresh endeavor and uncharted territory comes challenges.
Melissa shares a few things she's learned in this project during a tough and strange time. As someone new to the world of publishing learning the ropes could be daunting, overwhelming -- but a rewarding and enriching experience. She collaborated with graphic designer Sam Reith for the design and concept.
"I had to learn everything about it for the first time. To me, it felt very natural to self-publish my first book. I see it as a way to understand every single step in the process, which I found very important. But as I didn't know much about book publishing I also went in it quite unconcerned and didn't understand the difficulties yet."
Some of these difficulties came when she was learning how to finance and promote her book. At first, she had no idea how much it would cost to publish her book until she talked to printers.
"A struggle not many people talk about is financing. It is expensive to publish a book and when it is your first book, or you don't have a massive audience yet, it can feel like a gamble. But I think it is worth the gamble as the result of having your work in a book is so fulfilling, and the process is hard work but also a lot of fun."
In the end, half of the publishing cost was financed by pre-sale due to her own audience who follow and believe in her artistry.
Promoting one's work is proven a struggle too, especially during the more urgent times of the Coronavirus. This meant no book launch, event, or exhibition to promote her book, which is how art and photography publication releases are being celebrated. For this, Melissa advises anyone interested in self-publishing to create their own webshop -- through it, people were able to contact her and gain visibility.
She also took the guts to contact bookshops and stores, and eventually, they were the ones that started calling her.
"It is good to know that bookshops sometimes only work with distributors which means that your book will not be the best fit for them. Also, I didn't get replies by many bookshops, they are often busy and get offered a lot of books," said Melissa. But all her hard work and enthusiasm to push through her very first book eventually paid off. "My book now only has 1/3th of stock left which makes me really happy! I'm already starting to feel excited to start thinking about a new book."
Numerous gifted and talented artists swarm the creative world. Everyone strives to get noticed by curators of galleries and museums for that 'big break'. But there's also something many underestimate about printing and distributing one's work: a difference between getting your work in an exhibition or event versus printing your own book. The print is physical, tangible, something that can last forever and can belong to others who have the book.
For Melissa, The City is a Choreography was meant to be eternalized and owned by her audience:
"From the beginning, I have been aware of the fact that this book will stay. It will be a physical object that will belong to others, and after years they will still see it in this form. A decision made now is forever lasting. It really made me work very consciously. With an exhibition for instance it does not feel that permanent. There is a beginning and an end-date to that. But I felt that I couldn't 'let go' of the project until I made a book as then it would be presented as a whole and finished project. It was a very important process and I'm happy that in this way the work can be owned and seen by so many others in the comfort of their own space."
The Art of Representing One's Self
The City is a Choreography book was conceptualized and materialized during the difficult times of the pandemic. Not even the virus could stop her in achieving what she wanted as she took advantage of the lockdown to examine all her work from the past years, archive, edit and scan them. Certainly, not even the inequality in the art world will keep her from growing.
Melissa's highly aware that even in the realm of photography there come some disadvantages and crutches as a woman artist.
"Even though there are many amazing female artists nowadays, the opportunities still seem to favor men. The work of women has still valued less and male artists earn more than female artists. Women are not shown as often in museums as men. It is such a huge problem."
Perhaps the louder the voices, the more visible women artists work, and talents are, the more the way to equality will be paved. Melissa taught herself to be more confident and to believe in herself and her work. Overcome the fear of judgment.
"This may seem like an open door but when I studied at the art academy, and when I was a fresh graduate, I was so afraid to make the work that I wanted. It did not quite fit the boxes that I was taught, so I felt lost. I always had a voice in my head that wanted to please others, to make what someone else wanted to see. I was limiting myself tremendously. When I'm unsure or afraid to make, share or do something, I always ask myself, Why shouldn't I do it? A quote I like by Diane von Fürstenberg is: 'Fear is not an option' and for me, this translates to pushing me to do things that I am initially afraid or feel uncomfortable doing."
A Productive Present for the Finest Future
The 'dance' found in The City is a Choreography does not stop with this book as Melissa plans to push her series further and give it new spins -- new faces, places and more pictures of choreographed poses, shapes of models contextualized in the urban environment. "I have an idea where to pick it up and it will probably be focussed on a specific city that I never been too. That would create a chance to also investigate the relationship between people and that specific city in more depth."
Currently, Melissa is working on a couple of projects, but one she especially highlighted an upcoming series that explores the dynamic of female friendship, named ODE:
"It captures couples of best friends with portraits and images of them in positions that represent aspects of friendship. A 'common' relationship like friendship is captured in a very unusual way. It is not yet finished as I would like to also photograph best friends in other countries than The Netherlands, so until I can travel again, the project is on hold."
As we've seen in Melissa, the best life stories captured in life are perfectly told through the love for their craft and artistic integrity.
Many thanks to Melissa for sharing the process and behind-the-scenes story of this achievement! We hope her efforts have inspired many artists to further to -- #ChooseToChallenge and promote their own work! Visit her Instagram and website for more updates.