Bookbinders in the Wild: Jana’s story

Jana has attended two of my online bookbinding workshops now and it has been a pleasure getting to know her work. She is on a mission to create a plastic free edition of her book – ‘Sensibility and sense – Nature Photography’, which has led her to discovering the joy of making books by hand. Read on to hear about her unique approach to nature photography, her bookbinding journey and plans for her book. And do check out the gallery at the bottom of this page for images of her beautiful books! 

Date: July 2021
Name: Jana Mänz
Location: Grimma, Saxony, Eastern Germany
Age: 45
Occupation: Artist, Photographer, Author, Editor, Publisher, Geographer 

What drew you to bookbinding?
I am working on producing a plastic-free book of my nature photography. I’ve been working on this for 3 years – for over a year I was looking for a printer and bookbinder that would work with me to produce the plastic-free book on an industrial scale. But that was the horror – nobody is interested or I’ve been lied to.

With modern machines to produce editions of books without plastics. Everything is made of plastic: bookbinding linen, glue, bookbinding thread, ribbon bookmark. I’ve researched all over Europe to get plastic-free bookbinding materials. I found what I was looking for in other industries: mercery, rope making, etc.

Last summer, when I was about to give up the project, I met a colleague in Switzerland. He had published a video on Coptic Binding. I got in touch with him and he asked me why I wasn’t making my book myself. I answered because I am not a bookbinder. And he said ‘So
what, I taught myself’. He helped get me started by introducing me to Coptic Binding via a Zoom workshop.

Can you tell us a bit more about your nature photography and the book you are looking to publish? I have been working as a freelance artistic photographer and book author for 10 years. My main focus is nature photography. As a trained geographer with an interest in the natural sciences and environmental protection, it was obvious that nature photography and landscape photography should be my genre. 

My first non-fiction book was on the subject of nature photography. In more recent years I have been asked repeatedly whether I could write a second part but I didn’t want to, there are already too many books on this subject. Because photography is so much more than just photo technology and image processing I have titled my current book ‘Sensibility and sense – Nature Photography’ – it deals very personally with philosophical, social and artistic topics, inspired by Japanese themes like Wabi Sabi, Yugen, Kintsugi and Mono no aware. It’s about creativity, inspiration, everyday things and impermanence, melancholy, aesthetics of imperfection, synaesthetic perceptions and high sensitivity (HSP). These are really personal themes for me that have influenced my style of photography a lot.

Why is making the book plastic-free important to you? You probably know the sentence: ‘What should I, as an individual, do against environmental pollution and climate change?’ I felt powerless in the face of all of the earth’s environmental problems. After watching the movie ‘Plastic Planet’ I felt very horrible. I wasn’t aware of the extent of plastic everywhere. Whether in 10km depth of the world’s oceans, at the North Pole in the ice layer or in our human body. 

Did you know that we unconsciously consume up to 5 grams of microplastic per week through food? This is the same weight as a mastercard! After the film, I started changing the kitchen and bathroom, swapped shampoo bottles for solid soap or plastic sponges for the natural loofah scrubbing sponge. I tried to change everything that was possible. Nevertheless, the weekly plastic waste did not decrease. 

One day I was in the bookstore. A table full of books about a plastic-free life. And I found that all of the books on the subject contained plastics and I started researching. I now know that there are hardly any books you can buy that don’t contain plastic. And everyone still thinks that books are only made of paper (wood), thread and glue but that’s not true!

Can you share a bit about your experience of learning to make books over the past year? Around the same time as I made my first Coptic bound book, last autumn, I found a notice in my city announcing – ‘Opening of the bookbindery’. I went along and that’s where I met my master bookbinder – he’s 80 years old, very nice, but also very strict and looks closely. Because of Corona, we couldn’t meet for a long time. I’ve been back with him since February and he’s teaching me the traditional craft of booikbinding. He has machines from the beginning of the 1900 century.

He gave me some leather (very, very old) to use in the course I did with you (Cass) and was thrilled when I showed him the book I made. He has no idea about Japanese bookbinding as he  did his bookbinding apprenticeship in the 1950s, and his master in the 80s. He is very strict and pays close attention to the position of the tools and posture. Many machines like the large board cutter are quite heavy physically.

I’ve never learned a trade and almost always work on the computer. This is very new to me and it is a lot of fun to work with my hands.

What Bookbinding with Cass workshops have you taken? My first course was the online Mother’s Day workshop which saw us making leather book with exposed long stitch and currently I am attending the Cyanotype bookbinding course. I found Cass on Instagram and have really enjoyed the workshops – see some photos of the books I made with Cass in the first workshop below.

What is your favourite bookbinding technique from what you have learnt so far? I am still learning, I have practiced adhesive binding with my bookbinder master. I bound different covers: leather, half linen, we embossed with gold and I learned to sew the headband by hand. I really like the artistic bindings and love to make Japanese and Coptic books – it’s wonderful contemplative work.

What are the next steps in your project / what are you working on at the moment? At the moment I go to my master bookbinder once a week and keep learning. At the same time, I am working on my nature photography home workshop – a mixture of creative seasonal boxes with lots of materials, creative exercises and online meetings via zoom. The workshop lasts 12 months and is a continuation and addition to my book ‘Sensibility and sense – Nature Photography’. 

And yes, I’m working on the book too. The sample book has just been finished. At the moment I’m ordering the materials and tools because I can’t do everything by hand. A circulation of 300-500 books is currently planned and that requires a professional workflow. The book is expected to be handcrafted and plastic-free in autumn 2021.

Fortunately, my master bookbinder is at my side with help and advise. Currently, the book and workshop are only available in German.

How can people find out more about your photography and book project? 
My Instagram Account:

Thank you Cass, for your interest in my book project. In Germany there is little interest in my plastic-free book project (it’s very inconvenient, I know) and this is my first interview on the subject. So I’m all the more pleased that I was able to answer your questions. The subject of plastic is a global problem and not a German one. I would be very happy if I can alert publishers, printers and bookbinders to the problem.

Thank you so much Jana – I love that teaching bookbinding online allows me to connect with interesting people like you from other parts of the word! It is fascinating to hear about your bookbinding journey and your mission to create an edition of plastic free books. I love following your Instagram account and seeing your beautiful nature photography and books! Keep fighting the good fight and I wish you all the best with your project!

>I have recently partnered up with Lorna Brown to run an in-person Cyanotype & Bookbinding workshop at her studio INK on MESH in Edinburgh and will be scheduling more later in the year – see my in-person workshops page for details. I also cover a range of long stitch exposed bindings like Jana has experimented (red books below) in in my online workshop offering so check this out if you fancy getting to grips with this most satisfying bookbinding method.

Scroll down to see more of Jana’s work…