The Story of a Book

Critical Focus Second Edition

Here it is 2023 and I find myself going back to the beginning of Estuary Press in 1987. That was the year I published the first edition of Critical Focus, the Black and White Photographs of Harvey Wilson Richards.

The Story of a Book starts with the 1987 first edition

The Story of a Book Begins

I was working as a carpenter in those days when my father, Harvey Richards, decided to give his photo collection to me. He was a movement photographer who used photography to lend support to the causes he held dear, which included the anti-Vietnam war protests, the Bay Area and Mississippi civil rights movements, California farm workers’ union movement, and the environmentalist movement to Save the Bay. Handing his historic collection over to me set me off on a new path as a publisher in the digital age, a path I have followed in all the decades since.

One of my carpentry jobs in the mid 1980’s was building closets in the studio space of Rene Castro, a Chilean exile from Pinochet’’s coup, in San Francisco. Rene is a poster artists and a founder of Misson Graphica in the San Francisco Mission Cultural Center devoted to print making and the wonderful and innovative poster art coming out of the Latinx community. He was collaborating with Deborah Netsky on art projects at the time so I asked him and Debbie to make the book. They generously donated their time and talents to the project.

It was before the computer age and so they laid out the book the old fashion way, page by page using all the tools that book designers used in those days, which included sharp knives and thick carboard pages with cut outs for the photos, and pieces of paper with the print on them glued in place. The pages were then sent to a printer to create the book. This laborious process died along with the linotype printing business as the digital age dawned. I never made another book like that since. I still have all these pages along with a few boxes of the original books in my files.

When I retired from the building trades in 2011, I took a deep dive into desk top publishing. During the years from 1987 to 2011, I also cataloged all of my fathers photo collection which consists of 22 documentary films and thousand of still photos. My first step as a desk top publisher was digitizing everything for licensing through the Harvey Richards Media Archive in my Estuary Press website and on my YouTube channel. I also published print and eBooks of my wife’s poetry using my new digital tools, first Nina Serrano’s Heart Suite trilogy, and then other books.

When I came to Critical Focus in my on going review of Estuary Press Books, I decided to create a second edition that would link to the larger collection on line. The first edition consists of the photos I picked out from the prints my father had developed in his garage darkroom for the peace marches, labor picket lines, and civil rights demonstrations that he filmed. Little did I realize at the time that I was dealing with the tip of the iceberg. As I unboxed the collection, and cataloged and scanned his work into the computer, I found thousands of photos that he had taken during his 20 years as a documentary film maker.

The second edition of Critical Focus completes the Story of a Book.

Critical Focus Second Edition cover image, Dolores Huerta, Delano, September, 1965
Critical Focus Second Edition cover image, Dolores Huerta, Delano, September, 1965

The second edition of Critical Focus completes the Story of a Book. It comes out many decades after all the protests he photographed took place. Now, the book’s main function, I decided, had to be as an historical document preserving the spirit of those demonstrations and the causes that under laid them. Nothing captured this spirit better than his 1965 photo of Dolores Huerta holding up the “Huelga” sign at a picket line during the grape strike calling workers out of the fields to join the strike. That photo has become the most iconic, well known photo in the collection. So I made it the new cover photo for the second edition.

I decided to preserve the original book text and photo selections in the second edition while adding links to everything in the collection. In the print book, the links are written out as urls which need to be copied and inserted in one’s browser to explore. However, in the eBook version, the links are live connections to all the films and photos that I had cataloged and digitized over the years since 1987. The resulting second edition is the best catalog of the collection I could imagine. For the digital world, the eBook version is an exciting innovative summary of work that took my father two decades to create. It also presents the decades of work I put into his photo and film collection that make up the Harvey Richards Media Archive. More materials from the Archive are coming out in the future as I continue publishing the Critical Focus Series, of which Ordinary Life in the USSR is the first volume of the series.

My final thought here is to lament the terrible drubbing that legacy publishers have heaped upon eBooks in order to protect their print book business. It is no different than the way legacy car makers have held back electric cars in the interest of their ICE vehicle sales and service empire. In the case of publishing, holding back eBook popularity has hidden the tremendous advance that digital books offer readers with the links to the wider world out beyond the confines of the content of the book. No book showed this more clearly to me than the second edition of Critical Focus in its eBook version.

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