Self-publishing is an expanding phenomenon in the world of photography. The current year has seen a remarkable spreading of activities in the field, with new publishing houses, festivals, workshops and new online platforms opening very fast. I felt it was time to try to examine some of the issues related with self-publishing and photography, and thought that a good start could have been a conversation with Yannick Bouillis, creator of the upcoming Offprint event, "a project space for contemporary photography and a book fair for independent publishers".
Offprint will be from November 18 to November 21, 2010, at Espace Kiron, 10 rue de la Vacquerie, 75011 Paris, France.
Enjoy the read.
FABIO SEVERO: What is the genesis of the Offprint project?
YANNICK BOUILLIS: Strangely, I don’t remember the genesis of Offprint... One morning I got up and realised that the day before I had started Offprint. No hangover, no psychological disorders, so I had to conclude I did it for a good reason, but which one I can’t tell: I just don’t remember.
One of the contextual reasons is that at the time I was trying to determine which is the best scene for photography, crossing out multiple criteria and factors (documentary photography / fashion photography / non documentary photography / graphic design scene / best schools / best museums / best magazines... etc).
While trying to set a hierarchy, I also realised I had a nice list of publishing companies, a sort of "best publishers’ list" in the world - and thought I could do a fair showing what they do.
Uta Eisenreich, Wonderyears, 2008
FS: Self-publishing in photograpy seems to have grown exponentially during the last year, or maybe it is the visibility of several activities in this field that gained an increased reception. What do you think really happened?
YB: You are right that it is difficult to know if self publishing has really increased over the last few years or it was just his visibility (speed of information is impressive since the Internet) but fulfilling a prophecy is always a good concept to explain reality: the more you see things being published, the more you believe it is the reality of photography, the more you want to join - the more you join!
Photobooks have always been around in photography, like Martin Parr and Gerry Badger have shown - one of the reasons being probably the historical lack of institutions to show photo works: photography museums are something very recent - and still rare. In a way, photobooks have always played a substitute to the lack of spaces for photography - and photobooks keep being the best exhibition photographers can get. Or at least, one very much complementary with museum spaces.
If you compare the situation with the artist books scene, you definitely see the publication as this substitute to exhibitions: it is nowadays almost impossible for artists to show their works the way they would want to show them in a museum. They have to deal systematically with the Contemporary Art curatorial obsession to replace your work into a theory, a trend, a school, their own view on your works... But few artists can claim to see their work shown in his full integrity and meaning in an art space nowadays. Artist books are probably for artists a way to keep the meaning of their work intact – and the same happens in photography, too: photobooks show the work of photographers. This happens in contemporary art because of the theoretical obsession, but in photography it is just because of the historical lack of museums spaces. Even the relationship between curators and photographers is pretty sane compared to the one in the contemporary art field.
Hans Gremmen, Jaap Scheeren, Fake Flowers, 2008
FS: How do you think mainstream or widely diffused publishing houses are reacting to this? Is there any kind of interaction between the independent world and the large scale editorial projects?
YB: When people will have enough of the self publishing trend (rough, badly printed, using a 2 colors printing system, risograph etc...which I love like the hell), they will get back to more established publishing houses with beautifully printed books....if everyone keeps doing the self publishing stuff, within 2 years, classical publishing houses will be super hot!
FS: Which are the main tendencies in the self publishing world today? Is it mostly focused on experimenting on book designing or do you also see new tendencies in the photographic languages, styles and subject matters developed in the books?
YB: I don’t see any new tendencies in the photographic languages that can be specifically linked to the self-publishing scene.
As a general trend, non documentary photography is getting very strong of course (Germany, The Netherlands, USA), but I would say that the self-publishing scene is more experimenting the link between "publication" and "photography", than leading a formal investigation in the photographic language. I am even sometimes very disappointed by some works - but not by the publications that feature them. I have seen enough great photobooks published by average photographers to be sure of that. In that sense, the contemporary dialogue between photography and publishing process that you are mentioning, well in the self publishing scene it is probably more about the emergence of a new person (or at least, the acknowledgement of this figure), and that is the graphic designer, than something really, formally new. In the role of "confident", publishers tend to be replaced by graphic designers. That's why Offprint is not only for photographers but also for graphic designers: I really believe in their fructuous collaboration. Besides the technical aspects of Offprint - organising a fair - it is also a statement that I want to make.
Jaap Scheeren, 3 Roses, 9 Ravens, 12 Months, 2009
FS: You’re also behind Shashin Books.
YB: Shashin is a bookshop for Dutch publications (art, graphic design, photography...). In November 2010, we have Offprint. Next year a contemporary art book fair in Amsterdam (2011). And the year after, a mix of galleries / publishers / project spaces.
FS: What made you choose to set up Offprint in Paris during the same days of Paris Photo? Is it just a matter of convenience to draw that audience to your fair or is it also a way to send a message to the established photographic world?
YB: Without Paris photo, Offprint would not be possible. Year after year they have been able to make Paris one of the photo event of the year - Paris Photo is crowded and it is my responsibility to make Offprint crowded for the publishers who have accepted to join. Paris Photo is priceless in that sense.
Contentwise, Paris Photo is what it is, very much average. This is also an interesting issue for photography: while leading Contemporary Art fairs like Art Basel, Armory Show, Frieze are very much succeeding in showing established artists, photo fairs are not able to do it at all: if you make a list with the 50 best photographers in the world, you would hardly find more than 5 photographers represented at Paris Photo; while almost all the established artists are represented in leading Art fairs. And it is worse when you list 50 emerging talents in photography, you won’t find probably any at Paris photo, while you would find probably 30-40 emerging artists at Art Basel, Frieze or the Armory Show. The worst of the worst is that major photographers (with few exceptions, of course) are actually not shown in photo fairs anymore, but in Contemporary Art Fairs! Of course, Paris Photo itself is not responsible for this - they know what’s going on very well - but it shows how the photography world is still very immature.
Eric van der Weijde, Obersalzberg, 2008
FS: And why Paris Photo would miss this goal of showcasing a wide choice of leading and emerging photographers?
YB: Paris Photo simply follows the average taste of the photo crowd. Photography world is very much dogmatic and conservative - probably because it is a recent art, and still insecure about its forces. I am also working in contemporary art and I see how people dare to lead formal investigations.
The last couple of years have seemed to show that there might be no real need of photographs anymore, but a growing need for videos – we have witnessed a shift from the paper format to an online format. Online publishers need videos, not photographs; if you add this very big problem to the fact that contemporary art spaces and fairs are more and more willing to show photographs, then you can imagine that the photo crowd will deal more and more with left-over photographers, Sunday photographers. I don’t know a single photo-student from the Netherlands who wants to be in a photography gallery, they only want to be in art galleries... slowly photography is becoming a 20th century thing.
There is of course something strange in the fact that the some of the best photographers in the world meet up in a country with a great history in photography, but a very poor contemporary photo scene: in that sense, that Offprint is organised during Paris photo, and by a French, can give the wrong signal about Offprint and its intentions. Offprint does not want to be considered as "French", because honesty obliges to say that photography is nowadays very strong in Germany, Swiss, Netherlands, UK, USA... but not in France anymore. Paris is the location, not an influence for me.
Make a selection of the best museums / best photographers / best photobooks every year and count... Germany, Swiss, Netherlands, UK, USA... I think those countries are leading countries for photography.
But Paris is an illusion, isn’t it?
Uta Eisenreich, Network, Teamwork, 2002