Photo Grants & Funding

Photo Editor Mike Davis and Jason Eskenazi on the Art of Sequencing Photos

March 31, 2017

By Holly Stuart Hughes

Veteran photo editor Mike Davis, who gives advice in the March issue of PDN on how to edit your work, praises Jason Eskenazi’s book Wonderland: A Fairy Tale of the Soviet Monolith for its editing and sequencing. Comprising atmospheric images Eskenazi shot in the 1990s in the former Soviet Union, the 2008 book won Best Photography Book at the 66th annual Pictures of the Year International (POYi) competition.

“Jason uses all of the dynamics that affect sequencing,” Davis says. “Where you leave one frame leads you to the starting point of the next. Complex becomes simple; centered frame moves to edge-driven frame…[T]he mood of each image plays into or against the grain of the subsequent image. There are sets that hold together and then leaps or merely slight diversions to another dynamic subset.”   

Eskenazi chose the 77 photos in the book by first sharing prints with some friends and asking them to initial the ones they liked. Then he began a process that took months, he says. “Generally when I’m sequencing, or trying to formulate a book, I ask myself, What’s the first photo? And then I say, What is the last photo? And then I say, How do I get there? Getting there can take months and months of looking at photos.” He likes to post images on a metal board using magnets, and keeps it in a place where he’ll see the board every day. “You start to dream about your photos. Some idea comes to you while you’re doing something else.”

As he sequenced, he says, he was thinking always of “how you keep the viewer turning the pages.” At times, he says, the similarities or connections between photos in a sequence may be subtle, but they stir the viewer’s imagination and curiosity.

Wonderland was Eskenazi’s first book. It was originally published by deMO, then he republished it under the name Red Hook Editions, the imprint he started with photographers Alan Chin and Peter van Agtmael. Since publishing Wonderland, Eskenazi says he’s learned more of what he calls “the visual tricks” of sequencing. He looks for a “yin yang,” he says: “A dark frame followed by a light frame. Maybe on one page you put something on the left, and in the next you put something on the right. You want the viewer to keep looking around the frame and push the viewer through the book.”

He cites one sequence in the middle of Wonderland: A photo of three boys in a juvenile prison is followed by a photo of a girl standing in a row boat, surrounded by men who are staring at her. The next photo shows a statue of a woman, also surrounded by men, in Gorky Park. Eskenazi notes that each of the three images has a triangular structure in its composition. “The main thing is to not be so obvious” when juxtaposing images, he says.   

To Davis, the editing and sequencing of a photo book “elevates the body of work above a set of images.” By this measure, he says, Wonderland represents “sequencing at its finest.”