I’m so happy to finally announce my new Steidl book: Broken Manual. Four years in the making (2006-2010), this book represents a significant departure from my previous publications. Working with the writer Lester B. Morrison, we’ve created an underground instruction manual for men looking to escape their lives.

It is common to follow up the publication of a book with a ‘Special Edition,’ but in the case of Broken Manual, this edition is being presented first. I think of this as the ‘Ideal Edition’ of Broken Manual. Each of the 300 copies of the book is housed inside of another, one-of-a-kind book. These signed and numbered ‘shell’ books are unique and cut by hand. Inside the shell, there is also a small booklet entitled ‘Liberation Billfold Manifest’ and an 8×10” print signed and numbered by myself and Lester B. Morrison.

The book can only be purchased at Steidlville (UK) or Little Brown Mushroom (US).

Note: This special edition will be installed as a part of my survey exhibition at the Walker Art Center (September 12 – January 2, 2011). They will be shipped to buyers in January 2011.

More info here.

45 Replies to “** BROKEN MANUAL **”

  1. Is there an instruction manual on how to get a job or a raise to afford all these great photography books?

  2. While this looks amazing, at $600 it’s a bit over the rainbow for those ‘really’ interested in your work. I know that producing 300 copies of this special edition is particularly taxing, it just feels like these editions are fodder for the secondary book market!

  3. Miller – the heart and soul of the book is the special edition. It is an object that I care a lot about and not just ‘fodder for the secondary market.’

    I understand that a lot of people can’t afford this book, but I don’t see why that is in and of itself worthy of criticism. I mean, I like Ed Ruscha. But I don’t have a million dollars for one of his paintings (or $50,000 for his prints). But that doesn’t mean I turn around and criticize his work. I enjoy it however I can – In my case, the $60 Ed Ruscha and Photography book. Though I really wish I could get my hands on the $11,000 On The Road Book (that bastard!).

    There will always be cynics. Look at the reaction these people made to Bedknobs and Broomsticks. This was a book that Trent, Hans (designer) and I made out of total love. I intentionally made it as cheap as I possibly could – but people still complained that it was too expensive.

    If you like my work but can’t afford Broken Manual, I encourage you to pick up the new Walker catalog, From Here To There. It shows a fair amount of this new work (and comes with a bonus zine).

    1. Hey Alec,

      Is one of the ideas behind a special edition to make others feel inadequate? I’m thinking of that special edition truck that passes my on my bicycle. So jealous!

      It seems that a lot of the personal value for you in your work is that it has high value in the market. Why is that bumming me out right now? Maybe it’s because of all the buying here recently has shown how gross we are. I like art that exists as a gift. We need more of that.

  4. “It seems that a lot of the personal value for you in your work is that it has high value in the market.”

    You figured me out Theron (he says whilst rubbing his hands together…).

    Seriously, on what basis did you deduce that this where I derive personal value in my work?

  5. My comment wasn’t really about harsh criticism, and I’m sorry if my words seem to speak towards that (the Internet is always a poor substitute for conversation). In relation to those Bedknobs and Broomsticks comments, those are obviously very ridiculous, not only for that of an affordable publication, but also in terms of it relating to Broken Manuel.

    You’re obviously offended by my ‘fodder’ comment (understandably, and I apologize) so perhaps I should rephrase my comment/question: What I’m getting at here is this idea of releaseing something beyond a general audience.

    I follow your blog and have noted your own disappointment with high book prices so my cynicism is not without some irony here. As a viewer I find books to be very democratic and this special edition seems, at least in relation to your own publishing house (the idea of affordable books), both out of character and very much a product of the values imbued within the art market.

    Again, my comments are ‘issue-based’ over anything negative – isn’t this what a blog is about?

  6. Thanks Miller. I much prefer having a conversation rather than having someone like Theron explain to me my motivation for making work. I can understand why you think something expensive would be out of character with Little Brown Mushroom. Fair enough. But it isn’t out of character for me. I’m interested in distributing my work in different ways and to different audiences. So I might do a series of free slideshows for the New York Times in which I lose thousands of dollars but enjoy thousands of viewers. And I might make an expensive print that can only be owned by a handful of collectors but might also be eventually exhibited in a museum or public collection.

    As to the supposed irony of ‘my disappointment with high book prices,’ I’m not sure what you are referring to. Like everyone else, I’m frustrated that the cost of paper and shipping has gone up. And, yes, the fact that photobooks have become more collectible has made many titles too expensive for me to afford. But it has also brought tons of work to light that I’d never have seen otherwise.

    Just today I was in the Walker Art Center library looking at American Monument by Lee Friedlander. Beautiful book. I doubt I’ll ever own it, but I’m glad it exists.

    Broken Manual is my baby. I’ve worked for years on this thing and am really happy with it. So forgive me when I’m a little defensive about comments speculating on my motivation for making it.

    1. Alec,


      I like your blog and your work a lot Alec. It does bum me out you took my statement in the wrong light. Because I literally wrote it ‘seems’, that isn’t an explanation and even you wrote that it was “speculation”, which oddly enough is a contradiction to your first sentence. I didn’t write “These are your motivations for making work”. That felt like an awesome opportunity for you to have the conversation you said you enjoy, maybe even a chance to state towards me what you did in your response above to Miller.

      Why is it absurd for us to feel blown away by a book that was $300, then $600, from an artist we love? It seems reasonable to feel that you are driven by monetary desires for the book, especially since the $600 edition is the legit real dealzzzzz and the $75 dolla one is for peasants. Right? No? Clearly I’m not funny in e-mails.

      I’m going to mail you a book!

  7. Ya’ll are crazy. If you want this edition buy it, if you can’t afford it then get the less expensive one. Personally I’m real close to pulling the trigger on this one and make it the first limited edition of anything that I own……hummm, what can I ebay….

  8. Hey Alec,

    I went to take a look at the price but ran into a problem

    My google chrome browser is saying that you littlebrownmushrooms.com site is subtly trying to hack into visitors computers. You might want to have someone check if your site has been hacked.

    You can read google’s diagnosis here:

    1. Same here David, the site says it’s trying to take over the world or something.
      On a more positive note keep it up Alec, you continue to push and pull me and I hope that from where I started taking images I end up at least where you are today, tomorrow and yesterday.


  9. ok, well maybe ill be the first. brilliant work Alec! It’s a beauty! Congratulations.

    Naturally I am not surprised at your desire to push the envelope of book as book/object/work of art. This is a natural progression for anyone with a love of photography and books. I am always delighted with those seeking new ways of expression and the desire to push the medium forward, either in content or construction. And this seems to be both which is very exciting.

    So once again. Congratulations. It looks fantastic.

  10. Dear Alec,

    Like David, I think this new publication of yours looks fantastic and I hope it sells out very, very quickly. I say this because it gives you and your publisher, Steidl, incentive to release more together in the future. I also wonder why the fuss when nearly every monograph by Steidl is released in such a special edition. Presumably, as your entry implies, there is also a “standard edition” on the way?

    When will the images be live on your web site to check out?

    Sincerely (from the heart of earthquake central, Christchurch, NZ,)


  11. Theron: The original price was $500, not $300, and was set by Steidl.

    David D: Thanks, we recently switched servers, so the problem should’ve been cleared up. We’ll look into it today.

    David S: Thanks.

    Tim: Yes, the trade edition is being release in Spring 2011. We wanted it out sooner but didn’t make it into the Fall catalog. However, Steidlville.com has some advance copies: http://www.steidlville.com/books/1156-Broken-Manual.html

  12. Alec:

    Congrats on the book, it’s a great idea and looks beautiful. I’m excited to see it (at my local University’s Fine Arts Library).
    However, I feel your criticism of Blake Andrew’s “B” blog post isn’t factual. I didn’t read through the entire HCSP post it’s referencing (if that’s the “these people” you’re referring to, I guess the link should lead there?), but nowhere in the comments or Blake’s post itself does anyone complain that is was too expensive. One guy mentions that it’s “not really a deal on face value”, which I’d say is a fair critiscm for a 40 page book at $18.50, and at any rate is not the same as “but people still complained that it was too expensive.”
    I’ve read through the post a couple times and it seems to be just one man’s take on the excitement surrounding B + B on HCSP, and not much more. He’s talking about the “commoditization” of photobooks, something that anyone who enjoys photobooks and felt the sting of their cost has done themselves. I guess that first “Anonymous” commenter is pretty harsh in his conclusion, but he’s the one missing out on Trent Parke’s work while the rest of us will continue to enjoy it.
    I’m not bias either way, i enjoy your photography and check the LBM sites/blogs regularly and have stumbled across Blake’s “B” a couple times. Reading your posts I’ve noticed you expect a level of fairness and factual-ness from your commenters, so I thought this was worth pointing out.
    Keep up the good work!

  13. Alec.
    interesting, although it makes me a bit sad that it says that it can be only be purchased from 2 english speaking countries, UK and US. looks extremely interesting, saw glimpses of the images in the vimeo part, but i really want to READ the book. makes me wonder what Lester and you are writing about.
    it also, strangely as i haven’t even seen the book, reminds me of william t. vollmanns 3300 page behemoth http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rising_Up_and_Rising_Down

    anyway, coungratulations.
    i hope one day you make a version that is a bit cheaper (like graham made of possibilities)

  14. Yes! :)))))….

    sorry, be ‘off the grid’ for last 2 1/2 weeks (sniffing around the glorious silence and sea of Cape Breton), so god damn, this feels like my kind of book!…..

    Alec, though, at the moment, it’s out of my price range, i love the Matrushka/cave design and MORE deliciously, i love that part of the show will made up entirely of this book/object….been working on a long term project for an exhibition where the ‘photographs’ for the show are just that, books i’ve made stuffed into tins of aluminum from Ikea….(will show you a book i did for an exhibition 2 years ago, if we’ve time in October)…either way, i think the ‘pricing’ has been misunderstood above…

    shit, $600 for a photograph is a fucking steal folks (shit, i even sell my pics for $500+ and i’m a nowbody, generally speaking)…and this isn’t a book, it is an object,…ok, a book within a book within a library/shell/cave of a book within an idea inside the palm of your hands and head….

    this is an object, which is the embodiment of a gesture and an idea and at 4 years in the making, $600 for something created is pretty insignificant…for fuck’s sake, it’s cheaper than half the damn iphones + pda’s + playstation boxes that most folk have tucked away….

    listen folks, let’s price this baby out….in truth, for the sweat and time and effort that goes into creating something over the haul (ass) of 4 years, $600 x 300 copies equals $18.000 (plus the additional cost over 50, which since i’m an artist and writer, i wont embarrass myself to calculate the full net worth would be), or let’s say, Alec gets $25,000….minus the divide with the publisher and the Lester, that’s pretty thin coin for 4 years worth of work…..and i guarantee more than $5,000/year worth of materials/time/effort (beer too) went into this….and yet, people never think of this shit, they simply say: damn, another artist cooping out for coin…..

    well, honestly, as a working artist raising a family, i say: great, this should be an inspiration to all, not only for, once again, thinking of an ingenious way to get a more-than-1-artist-book-copy made to sell/promote, but to tickle (i hope) the inspiration of photographers/publishers who simply look at photo books as staid, quiet flat things ….the book is alive and cooking and let that beauty soar….

    I love these shell books (funny, i’m reading Verne at the moment, and damn, it’s like a Verne story, really: Journey to the Center of the Book: off grid!)…..and most importantly, i love the concept of this beauty…..

    and yea, i’ll pick up the trade copy….and maybe someday will do a swap or buy one outright….

    but i think once folk re-think this as an object, as a project, it will make much more sense….

    alec, looking forward to seeing y’all in october….hats off too to Lester B…can’t wait to see what he’s written :)))

    little brother Jukka, i cant wait to read what lester’s dug up from both the mountain and the cave….but…screw vollmann’s 3300 page behmouth, he’s over long-windedness is overvalued….but he has balls…

    Congrats Alec and big congras on the show too! :)))



  15. “but people still complained that it was too expensive”

    People complained that $18.00 was too expensive for B&B?? Are you shitting me?

    What would they describe as a fair price?

  16. Ordered my trade edition, now off to abebooks to order the book shell of my choice, that is if I can make my mind up between ‘The Complete Book of Sport Fishing’, ‘Yonder Comes the Train’ and ‘Cities of Destiny’…

  17. Hi Alec,

    I think the book lokks fab, and although it is to much money for me right now, I certainly don’t agree with the criticism over the price. I suppose if you look at it a just a book, paper and ink, then it is a lot of money, but the real value goes way beyond that. I think sometimes people forget the amount of time, effort, money…..etc. that goes into producing something like this. And, if this sort of limited edition allows artist to keep on producing great work, why shouldn’t that sort of price be attached. I should also include great publishers here too, steidl being the top of the tree for me. Okay so I’ll have to wait for the trade edition, well that suits me fine.

    Alec, I have the “From here to there” catalogue on pre order with Amazon. Any idea when it’ll be available?



  18. Oh I forgot to mention that if $600 is to much for a book, what do those people make of Luc Delahaye’s “History” (Chris Boot Publishing), that was $1000, for 32 pages, 13 colour photos, I think only 100 were produced. It sold out.


  19. A total deviation from topic, but since someone else mentioned it first:

    Delahaye’s “History” was / is an intriguing book. I got to handle it in Amsterdam back in ’04 during his exhibition at Huis Marseille and was taken back. The work itself is impressive and ambitious, and in many ways I preferred the images in book form compared to huge and on the wall. I find his images very, very compelling. The book itself was pretty traditional in design from memory and I think the plates were actual prints? I’ve since tried very hard to find out what Delahaye is now up to but can’t find any information on his projects progress or his where abouts. Anyone know?

  20. I suppose I should respond since I am the “these People” (I’m actually just one person) referred to by Alec in the comment above. My post about B & B has sparked so many misunderstandings and knee-jerk negative reactions –from HCSP members, Anonymous sources, and from LBM which called it “inane”, among others– that it’s almost amusing.

    If you take the time to carefully read the post you’ll see that it is not a complaint about the $18 price. Nor is it a critique of the book. I wrote it as an honest (and admittedly cynical) reaction to the photobook business. I found it disturbing that people were buying multiple copies of B & B with the intention of selling them on eBay at inflated prices. The commodification and speculative flipping of photobooks seems to me like a microcosm of the broader art world, the financial mechanics of which are so absurd at times that one can hardly help poking fun at it. So that’s what the post did. It’s a sarcastic reaction, not a complaint, not an attack. Sorry if it rubbed LBM or anyone else the wrong way.

    1. Blake, by ‘these people’ I’m referring to the comments in response to your post. And by ‘inane’ I’m referring to comments like this:

      “18 dollars might not be much to others, but it is to me. It’s about 9 rolls of film for a start. Each to their own. At least someone is making money from their photography.”

  21. Hi Alec,

    If you have already talked about this, maybe you an direct me there. I was interested in your thoughts about the uniqueness of each book. You’ve carved into these old books, that have a history, with maybe an exacto knife of sorts, and transformed them into your work. My comparison would be to James Castle who took magazines and excess mailings from his parent’s business to create hand made drawings and books. What was your motivation to make a shell book cover as opposed to a limited edition of hand made books or zines like those that are for sale on the blog?

  22. It’s a sad world when people begrudge an artist for working bloody hard and hopefully/ usually not / finally, making some money back from their art.

    I seem to be a little late on all this but I would like to set the record straight re B&B.
    I feel saddened by this whole exchange but unlike the amount of suggested speculation will stick to the facts.
    First of all in relation to a limited edition, the simple reason for this was NOT to create inflated prices down the track, but because I/we honestly thought there would be 500 of them still sitting in the shed in ten years time.
    I was completely shocked that they all sold out.
    Dream/life and The Seventh Wave were two books that took up my parents entire shed for many many years and I certainly would not have wished that on Alec.
    I am sure many people who have self published know the feeling, and those who don’t write crazy things about producing thousands upon thousands of copies.

    When Alec broached the children’s book idea idea it was with the thought of making something cheap and affordable for most people.
    It was supposed to be a fun project to make, with none of the usual pressures attached.
    Alec only covered his costs to sell it at this price. (And that was only if they ever did sell out.)
    None of the labour/parts or time taken to make it was even taken into consideration from both our parts.
    Hans also gave his time and expertise to design and look after the production of the book.
    ( And not to forget Charlie who had to send them all out!)

    So I would ask that when it comes to Alec’s lemonade stand, you should maybe give the guy a break…..
    Do people want the option of seeing new things in print or not.
    Without people like Alec most of these things would remain under desks, on hard drives, or stuffed in ones shed, never to see the light of day.
    Personally I prefer to have a choice, rather than none at all.

    1. Hi Trent,

      I think its even sadder when the artists involved feel obliged to justify what they do to a few cretins. I bought B&B, I couldn’t believe how cheap it was! I’d have happily paid double. I don’t have a lot of money and I didn’t buy it as an investment. I’m glad that Alec has started LBM and I look forward to future offerings, however much they cost. As for the morons who want to complain, let them. I think one of the downsides of a blog , if it isn’t moderated, is that you have people being critical for the sake of it. I’m sure the more intelligent participants here are more than capable of seeing these people for what they are.

      Anyway moving on: you don’t happen to have anymore copies of The Seventh Wave or even Minutes to Midnight knocking about in the shed do you?



  23. “One guy mentions that it’s “not really a deal on face value”, which I’d say is a fair critiscm for a 40 page book at $18.50, and at any rate is not the same as “but people still complained that it was too expensive.”

    Having just had my own POD book printed, I’d say $18.50 for B&B is actually bloody good value. Especially so considering the quality of the materials, design and photography.

  24. I’ll tell ya. he shot 100+ shots of me alone with the big camera. i think he said the plates alone cost $25 each or was it $75 each? either way when you consider all the ancilliary costs I don’t think he’s getting rich doing this. it’s more a endeavor of love. IMHO his mistake was such a low printing. I understand the misgivings about quantities sitting around a long time but they don’t take up much space and are like money in the bank. His adviser or agent or whomever advises him should take into consideration his popularity next time.
    I am a self-published author myself. I had my first book printed 5000 copies, the cheapest way. It took my 10 years to sell them all @$30ea. but so what, they all got sold. Great risidual income.
    know whatta mean vern?

  25. Charge what you want to charge Alec. But I am still confused about why I should pay $700 and going up for the same thing that John Doe paid $500 for the other day…

  26. Artie, you should direct your question to Steidl as they are in charge of pricing. But it is common to have this kind of price structure for editioned artwork.

  27. I think the price is fine! Only if I can get Alec to leave his finger prints on it. Maybe he has, if he has but the book stack together.

    @Artie Ziff, I think because of the “other day”. Art is temporal like us, with age it gets more valuable :)

  28. Dear Jason, i am afraid we lost all the remaining copies of Seventh Wave and Dream/life in a flood several years back. The whole shed went under.
    As for Minutes to Midnight i have never published it.( A very small catalogue was made by Magnum for Paris Photo one year but thats it. )
    I am currently working on MTM along with the Christmas Tree Bucket with Steidl at the moment.

  29. “I am currently working on MTM along with the Christmas Tree Bucket with Steidl at the moment.”

    Trent, you just totally made my day!!!
    Thanks …

  30. Hi Trent,

    Wow, you lost the lot! Bad times! Although the water reclaiming 7th Wave has a certain something about it. I’m lucky enough to have a signed copy of Dream/Life and that little catalogue, both of which my girlfirend brought me as gifts. I’m very, very happy to hear about MTm and Christmas Tree Bucket, they’re now at the top of my book list. Have you got any plans for exhhibitions? Especially in England.



  31. @Aron,

    But it was a matter of minutes or hours at the most before the price jumped. This tiered pricing plan rewards the OCD compulsives and the deep pocket dealers who are like hawks on this stuff and scoop up the lower priced copies and exploit them for more money as the edition sells out. Yes I know some artists use this pricing method. But it really gets my goat every time I see it and I just can’t ever play ball under these rules.

  32. @Artie and viewers

    I thought long and hard about your last comment. It is hard to strike the right balance for an artist between “make money/pay bills” and “reach out and inspire”. It is a tough game to play, but is it not what our society has become. Just pick a spot in a crowded space and observe, people obsessively tweet, text, facebook, email and that is just on their way to work. At work, they design rockets, bake a pie and look at porn while holding a conference on lunar soil chemistry. Our society rewards obsessive compulsives. That is why pay and worry about calming down and taking a vacation and obsess about having fun. May be the rules have to change may be not.

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