Streettogs gallery Work in Progress: Minh Nghia’s Photobook “In Transit”

Eric’s Note: Streettogs Gallery is an on-going feature and intiative by Manila-based street photographer A.G. De Mesa. Click here for more info.

A.G.: Today’s feature is a bit different than the usual. As I said in the intro post for streettogs gallery, I would also love to see if you have a work in progress. Today is extra special because we have a photo book to analyze, dissect, and share opinions. But first, I want to share what I look for in a photo book.

My Personal Criteria in a good photo book

A Self Published photo book is without a doubt a great medium to show photography. The photographer can form a very intimate connection with every page the viewer lifts that is very different from a gallery setting. So when Minh Nghia asked for help on how he could improve the photobook he is working on, I didn’t hesitate to help. I’ve listed down a few things I like seeing in photobooks in the hopes that this will help Minh Nghia and others out there looking to self publish their own books.

1) A tight edit

The edit is the core of your photo book. This is the main component of the photobook. If this part is weak, then your entire book will not have a strong foundation to work around on. There are a thousand ways of editing and I am of the opinion that there is no “one true edit”. The images that appear has to be a conscious choice made by the photographer. You may ask for feedback from people and trusted photographers but at the end of the day, it has to be up to you.

You know you have a tightly edited work when even without title or words, the viewer can understand what your images are trying to show or what story you are trying to tell. Eric wrote his method on editing here and there are a thousand tips on google as well.

2) A good book design

If I may loosely quote the video game critic Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw, to him a video game’s gameplay is the vehicle to show the storyline of the game. That is what design does in photo books. The design should be able to aid the images in showing your message or story without being a hindrance or a chore. It will answer how you want to present the book, Is it better as a photocopied zine (8.5in by 5.5in)? Should the book be square format like Robert Frank’s The Americans(8.5in x 8.5 in)? or it could be something unconventional altogether? (David Alan Harvey Based on a True Story)?

(based on a true story) – book demo from Bryan Harvey Films on Vimeo.

3) Production Relevant to the theme 

There are certain methods on how you want to publish and produce your work. Here are some of the things you will want to consider:

  • Paper Type (Matte, Glossy, Bond Paper, News paper etc.)
  • Dimensions (8×8, 8×10, 8×5.5 etc.)
  • Paper Thickness (120 GSM,  130 GSM, 170 GSM etc)
  • Type of Printing (4 colors, Xerox, digital printing)
  • Binding Options (Perfect Bind, Ring Bind, Saddle Stitched)
  • Special services (Die Cut,  Spot UV)

All of those has to be relevant to what your photographs and your story is telling. If it is gritty, punk rock, and underground– Go for zines. If you want it to be fine art, go for really nice papers and high production values.

4) Great Photographs

This should be a given. The Photo book is about the photographs. Don’t be so lost in the concept, theme, or design, production or whatever.  The novelist uses words to tell his story, the photo book maker uses his images.

Based on those 4 things that I look for in a photo book, here are some of my thoughts on Minh Nghia’s Book “In Transit”

Personal Comments on In Transit

(click the photos to enlarge them or click here to go through his flickr and see the entirety of the work)

Mingh Nhgia is Vietnamese photographer based in Singapore. Here are his thoughts about his work:

I started a photo project named “In Transit – The intertwined landscape of Singapore” this year to mark my 10th year of staying in Singapore. I decided to put the photos together in a book-layout so that viewers can see it as a whole rather than individual pictures

1) I like your description of your work. It is very intimate and strong, personally, this is what I recommend the reader should see the moment the book is opened. It will set-up the reader on what to expect. It can be like the  “thesis statement” on college papers that will guide you on what you want to show on the book.


2) I personally prefer minimalist layouts. It shows the strength of the image and it makes me focus on the image. If you could look back at my analysis of Jun Abe’s Manila, the lay out is one photo per spread. I believe it gives the reader a breathing room to appreciate and comprehend the image.

3) Rather than post quotes from street photographers, why not put an anecdote or a personal experience from the place where the photograph was taken. I think that will separate your work from other photobooks about Singapore: It is your intimate look at a place that has been your home for the past 10 years.

In closing

Minh Ngia told me in e-mail exchanges that he really wants to learn and get feedback from the community so I do encourage everyone to comment or better yet, why not share your experiences regarding self-publishing or publishing in particular. Tips, Experiences, Stories, DO’s and DONT’s would really help, not just for him but for others looking to have photo books published as well. :)

As for Minh Nghia, I want to thank you for sending your work in and at the same time, I hope the street photography community helped in improving your photo book. Best of luck and cheers! :)

For those who want to follow and know more of Mingh Ngia’s work, here is his tumblr page and while his blog is over here. Don’t forget to check out his Light and Composition Magazine Profile which has his best images!

Keep sending in your works and click here for more information on how to get featured in the #streettogs Gallery.


Since we are talking about photo books and Singapore anyway, the hardworking folks over at Invisible Photographer Asia are putting up a Singapore Photobooks day on October 13!

Click the image to bring you to IPA’s website for more details!

Official Facebook Event Page right here!

I suggest go there and bring a mock-up, maquette, and/or sample pages and discuss 1 on 1 with the photographers there!

If only I could take a bus from Manila to Singapore, I would really go there and make my wallet cry but my heart and brain happy!

Thanks much,

– A.G.