3 for Thursday: Michael Eastman

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I've talked before about what makes a good book cover design and how the best covers do more than represent the text, they add another layer of understanding. My poetry collection launch is fast approaching. I discovered this week the manuscript required only minor editing, so it's full steam ahead and now design decisions have to be made.

I asked a few writer friends for their thoughts on cover design and it was poet and writing teacher, Yvonne Cullen, who most beautifully expressed what I hope for in my cover:

"The key in my mind... is a sense that image plus book equal more than the sum of their parts. The reader has to go somewhere, imaginatively... ideally, right into the emotional landscape of the book, to join image and title together."

My first attempts at imagining the book cover focused on constraint: first book by unknown writer, small publisher, limited budget.

When you start with a small idea and then factor in all the practicalities, take it in a pinch, pare it down a smidge - snip, snip, shave, shave - what you are left with are only the crumbs of the original idea.

I committed the original creative sin - I censored myself and forgot to dream.

First, as an architect, then, as a writer, I learned you have to start big; you have to take that idea out to the furthest pastures and give it a good gallop, let it get its feet wet in the long grass, before you ever think of reining it in.

I took a step back and thought about the dream - if I could have any image I wanted on the front cover of this collection, what would it be?

The title of the collection is, 'How to Lose Your Home & Save Your Life'; Ireland, post-boom, bankrupt economy, collapsed housing market and everyone treading water. And still I believe there is hope, something worth enduring for, if we can only let go of the fear.

I remembered a series of images: beautiful, dilapidated interiors of grand, old houses in Cuba. A quick search and I discovered they were the work of Michael Eastman, a self-taught US photographer, who has spent 4 decades documenting architectural interiors and facades around the world. He shoots primarily on film, develops prints by hand and his photographs are in galleries across the US; he has been published in Time, Life and American Photographer.

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The photos were just as I remembered - tall, cracked ceilings, enormous chandeliers, disintegrating plaster, peeling walls and lush, saturated colour, like the buildings had flooded and drowned. Some of the photographs, particularly those in blues and greens, have flatness to the light that make them seem not quite real, remind me of interiors by Hopper and Vermeer.

And there's something more, something that, for me, resonates with the theme of the collection - a sense that these spaces are occupied but not possessed; something essential has been let go and the inhabitants are freer for it, their lives are not tied and bound in these rooms, or by them.

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The green interior is my favourite. Dense in texture and colour - the missing painting, the tiny cameos, an indented cushion someone might have risen from only moments before, an emptiness not quite ready to give up its secrets - this is the emotional landscape I'd love my readers to explore.

I can but dream.

Discover more of Michael Eastman's Cuba interiors, architectural and landscape photography.