CD: When we worked together on my portfolios, it was the first time I had worked with a portfolio binder, where it did not feel like it was a top down management mindset of take it-or-leave it when it came to their portfolios.
I felt that we were working as a team to create something that reflected my work and that you were also proud of the final product.
How did you get started in bookbinding?
Scott Mullenberg: I’m a Midwest boy from Iowa who came east years ago to pursue my dreams, which at that time I had no clue! I had an epiphany one night walking around Portland, Maine, late one night after working another shift behind the line at the West Side Café. I was frustrated and felt I was lacking something that I wanted and yet couldn’t name. I desperately wanted to be working in a field that I felt more passionate about. I wanted to feel engaged, stimulated, challenged and after working an eight hour shift at ‘a job’, wanted to feel like I was contributing and being contributed to. And then it clicked… I had always loved books and had even wanted to write during this period of discovery, but writing wasn’t happening and I still loved books…then the click, ‘books need to be bound’! That was it… I had never thought of binding a book until that night and I never turned back. The next morning I called a commercial binder and that phone call ended quickly and cleanly. My un-formed vision surely had nothing to do at the time with standing behind a machine for 8 hours. Then I called a hand bookbinder living in Portland, Susan Holland, and the rest is history. Nine month’s later I was apprenticing with William Streeter in Northampton, MA where I trained in classic bookbinding with an emphasis on restoration of cloth and leather bindings.
My work in the studio had always involved a mix of the old and the new; it was the new work that won my complete attention about 9 years ago. I believe you could say Mullenberg Designs officially made its debut, I’ve been solely focused on this ‘new’ work ever since and I haven’t looked back. I’m very fortunate to have met an amazing array of creative people around the country and the world as a result, collaborating with them to house their work. It’s been deeply satisfying and I’m very grateful to be able to do the work that I do and work with the people that I do.
CD: You are dedicated to craft and that seems at times to be a dying art. Have you always approached your work with a craftsman’s and artist’s intent?
Scott Mullenberg: I like to think of it not as a dying art so much as an art that is becoming increasingly specialized. This really takes bookbinding out of a manufacturing context and into a custom-housing context. I think there will always be a contingent of people that will be looking for ways to set themselves apart, a custom designed presentation structure suits this mindset exquisitely. It also communicates to the client that you have taken the time and effort to design a structure that communicates your identity through care in the presentation of your work. And I think it’s kind of ironic in 2013, given where technology has taken us, that hand bookbinding is not dying and I believe it’s becoming more vibrant and pronounced in these times as ‘Makers’ of all stripes step up to the line.
CD: What is your ideal client?
Scott Mullenberg: Our ideal client relationship is really about being able to have that one on one consultation, in the context of a relaxed conversation where we can get to know the client and their work. There’s a dialog, and always with dialog it’s about listening. This really helps us design a structure that will support ‘their’ vision and work, and enhance the presentation of ‘their’ work. We’re very lucky and fortunate to work with creatives in a variety of different disciplines.
CD: How do you help a young photographer who may have never understood the importance of branding?
Scott Mullenberg: I think in 2013 one must necessarily realize that ‘you’ are the brand and how you express that outside of your work, for example, a particular font and or icon, works to reinforce you… the brand. Sometimes I see photographers and other creatives so caught up in the story they’re trying to communicate with their branding. It feels like the branding turns into a kind of distraction from the real work at hand… the images… the content, is really the heart of it all. The branding is there to support the work not the other way around.
CD: How do you guide a “newbie” into creating something that truly reflects their work and passion?
Scott Mullenberg: I like to think by asking all of the right questions, and questions that the ‘newby’ may not have considered at this juncture. What size print works best with your images? Does your work lend itself more to a landscape or portrait orientation? Should you consider a square format if you shoot both landscape and portrait? What type of surface shows your work the best, matte or luster? What story are you trying to tell? Will you be shipping out your portfolio? Are you seeking a rep/agent? Are you printing full-bleeds or images across the gutter of the book? What is your color palette? Do you have a branded identity already? All in all whether newby or seasoned the process is collaborative and individual. My work is to listen and ask the right questions and together we’ll actualize a portfolio presentation that reflects you…your ‘brand’.
CD: Harking to craftsmanship, tell me your views on the importance of tactile feel, the smell of cloth, of wood and of leather, and how that makes an impression upon a potential client and how that reflects a photographer’s work?
Scott Mullenberg: When it comes to presenting your work, I can’t help but make the association of how you take care in presenting yourself when you’re meeting a potential client. I think it’s a given that you want to be at your best. It’s no different when presenting your work…you want to present it in the best possible way and make the experience of viewing memorable even seductive… so yes, the tactile feel, the color, the materials, all align themselves to support an impression of who you are and your work…this alignment is and wants to be dynamic.