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
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
Thursday, October 21, 2010
Wikipedia reports the following facts about the town of St. Charles, Virginia:
"St. Charles is located at 36°48′14″N 83°3′26″W / 36.80389°N 83.05722°W / 36.80389; -83.05722 (36.803858, -83.057208).
According to the United States Census Bureau, the town has a total area of 0.2 square miles (0.4 km²), all of it land. [...]
As of the census of 2000, there were 159 people, 61 households, and 43 families residing in the town. The population density was 962.3 people per square mile (361.1/km²). There were 72 housing units at an average density of 435.8/sq mi (163.5/km²).
The racial makeup of the town was 99.37% White and 0.63% Asian."
On top of this, an extended use of Oxycontin is reported, the heroin surrogate also known as Hillbilly Heroin.
Swedish photographer Hanna Modigh spent two months in St Charles and photographed the lives inhabiting this bitter corner of rural America. Her work Hillbilly Heroin Honey adds indeed a touch of sweetness to their stories and their faces, bathing almost everything and everybody in a soft and gentle light in which the eyes of those people still shine, and it feels like they can still smile, and maybe they can still love.
All images taken from Hillbilly Heroin Honey © Hanna Modigh
Tuesday, October 19, 2010
"What we need to question is bricks, concrete, glass, our table manners, our utensils, our tools, the way we spend our time, our rhythms. To question that which seems to have ceased forever to astonish us. We live, true, we breathe, true; we walk, we go downstairs, we sit at a table in order to eat, we lie down on a bed on order to sleep. How? Where? When? Why?
Describe your street. Describe another. Compare."
— Georges Perec, L'Infra-ordinaire
From a certain perspective, Perec sounds like the patron saint of all photographers. Arturo Soto would be a devoted of his cult for sure, especially with his latest work Some Windows Later, a small ode to all the interstitial worlds inside the ordinariness of daily life.
"Ciò che dobbiamo interrogare, sono i mattoni, il cemento, il vetro, le nostre maniere a tavola, i nostri utensili, i nostri strumenti, i nostri orari, i nostri ritmi. Interrogare ciò che sembra aver smesso per sempre di stupirci. Viviamo, certo, respiriamo, certo; camminiamo, apriamo porte, scendiamo scale, ci sediamo intorno a un tavolo per mangiare, ci corichiamo in un letto per dormire. Come? Dove? Quando? Perché?
Descrivete la vostra strada. Descrivetene un’altra. Fate il confronto."
— Georges Perec, L'Infra-ordinaire
Da un certo punto di vista Perec è un po' il santo protettore dei fotografi, e sicuramente Arturo Soto ne è un devoto, specialmente con il suo ultimo lavoro Some Windows Later, una piccola ode ai micro-mondi nascosti tra le fessure della nostra vita quotidiana.
All images © Arturo Soto
Monday, October 18, 2010
How we see, how we represent the world we live in, how this world is experienced (and shaped) according to paradigms: all this and lots more meta-linguistic musings inspire multimedia artist Alexandre Maubert, or as he introduces his own work, "photography - video - interactive system - electronic music".
Il modo in cui vediamo, come rappresentiamo il mondo in cui viviamo, come questo mondo viene vissuto (e modellato) sulla base di paradigmi: tutto questo e molte altre riflessioni metalinguistiche ispirano il lavoro di Alexandre Maubert, artista multimediale che, come lui stesso descrive, spazia tra "fotografia - video - sistemi interattivi - musica elettronica".
All images © Alexandre Maubert
"My name is Alec Soth. I live in Minnesota. I like to take pictures and make books. I have a Labradoodle. I also have a business called Little Brown Mushroom."
With the usual understatement, Alec Soth introduces himself on his brand new website, where, among other things, presents his latest body of work Broken Manual, which at first glance feels exactly like what you would expect from an accomplished photographer still in love with what he does: fresh, rich and restless.
Image taken from Broken Manual © Alec Soth
Thursday, October 14, 2010
New Eagle Garage, Rotterdam, 2009
Garage, by Jan Adriaans:
"My project started in Cairo (Egypt) where I was fascinated by the enormous amount of cars in the city. In contrast with the Netherlands, cars, often old and full of scratches, are repaired outside the garages in the street. Significant is that all car-workshops are very small and very specialised. The upholstery of car seats is situated next to the car mechanic and the car radio specialist. This way the car can stay outside and the mechanics move from one car to the other, until the whole car is fixed."
Prestige Garage, Rotterdam, 2010
"The metamorphosis of the damaged car into one as good as new is like a healing process, an almost physical sensation. Inside in the garages, the spaces look like installations where the repaired product is hung on the wall like it has special powers. In my photography the adoration of the shining car material is the main subject."
Downtown Garage, Cairo, 2008
All images © Jan Adriaans
Wednesday, October 13, 2010
With 33 people slowly rising from the deep underground in these very hours, I guess there is no better moment to introduce Vera Schoepe and her work La Montagne qui dévore les Hommes:
"J'ai voulu montrer ce territoire d'une façon descriptive, tout en retraçant quelques moments dans le parcours des mineurs, des gardiennes des mines. Je propose ici une échantillon de leurs confrontations quotidiennes avec une nature dévastée, usée par l'exploitation humaine."
"I wanted to show this territory in a descriptive way, tracing back some moments of the miners' path, the guardians of the mines. What I present here is a selection from their daily confrontation with a devastated nature, worn out by human exploitation."
(my translation from French)
All images taken from La Montagne qui dévore les Hommes © Vera Schoepe
Tuesday, October 12, 2010
Introducing here two works by a photographer I just discovered, Arianna Arcara, from the collective CESURALAB:
"672 km long.
A catchment basin of 70,000 sq km.
From West to East in the North.
One of the most complex deltas in Europe.
More than 16 million people‚ nearly a third of all Italians‚ live in this fertile expanse, some of the most heavily cultivated land in Europe. The Po
As seen through the eyes of Cesuralab."
"'There are people who are rooted in the Po, so that even if he hits you, you turn the other cheek.'
This passion for the river is the story."
When you talk about Detroit and photography these days, there seems to be a dominant trend commonly denominated 'disaster porn', with an excess of deserted and decaying buildings, rolling over and over on the same theme. Arcaro surely gave us something different from that with Woodward Silence, a sympathetic look at the roads, the houses and the lives of the Motor City.
"Since 30 years Detroit has symbolized the American crisis, the defeat of capitalism and its ghosts, it still represents all of this. But, it's not just that. The people and the stories that prosper in that silence offer unforgettable impressions."
She also created with Luca Santese Detroit: a Self-portrait/Found Photos 2009-2010, "an informal archive of hundreds of found images from the 1980s and 1990s, made when the decline of Detroit was beginning."
"CESURALAB is a photographer’s collective aiming to create an online community for artists to share their projects. [...] At its core, the collective is bound together by a fundamental passion for photography, and through CESURALAB, participating artists will be able to join forces and work creatively and collaboratively on a variety of visual projects without the constraints of commercial pressures and compromises. Photographers in the collective routinely work closely with one another, constructing a creative cohesion that allows for skill sharing, constructive criticism and artistic growth for members. The space and equipment offered through CESURALAB also allows photographers to be independent, providing them the tools and resources to pursue individual, partner and group projects.
CESURALAB is not affiliated with other journalistic or artistic organizations. Instead it exists as its own entity, affording members the opportunity to explore, experiment and grow crea- tively, artistically and collaboratively, as both individual artists and collective members. [...]
The group uses different forms of expression to show and promote their work, including photography exhibitions, video installations and self-published publications."
All images taken from PO/RIVER and Woodward Silence © Arianna Arcara
Monday, October 11, 2010
Last saturday Rome finally had a close encounter with independent publishing and the new trends in photobooks thanks to Little Big Press, an exhibition curated by 3/3 (Chiara Capodici and Fiorenza Pinna), currently on show at Officine Fotografiche as part of the photographic festival Fotoleggendo.
Tables, shelves and a plexiglass safe were full of treasures secured with tiny ropes: large or small, refined or raw, complex or extremely simple, one thing all the books and magazines I saw were not: pretentious.
Maybe this is just what happens when you do something with love and dedication, but what impressed me most was how anything I flipped through, beyond any difference of style and content, was telling me the same thing: get curious, have fun, look for more.
Here's a quick photo-report, scroll down in this post for other photos.
Flip, flip, flip
The magazines corner. The zines are probably bitching about them from the other wall
A bunch of books taking a break from all the drunkish hands carrying them around
The plexiglass tower of the big boys: a selection from Marks of Honour 08, or "13 contemporary photographers create a striking library"
A close-up view of one piece from Marks of Honour, Past Remembering Things Passed, by Michael Light, an Ansel Adams' book digsawed along landscape lines, with Light's pigment prints attached to certain Adams images. Simply spectacular
Friday, October 8, 2010
"As per the Orthodox Jewish tradition the Messiah (the Prophet) will arrive riding on a white donkey.
A few years ago, as I was photographing near the Dead Sea a Palestinian man rode past me on his white donkey and I took a picture of him.
It was after having developed this plate that I’ve realized that I had encountered my “Messiah”; it was this chance encounter which brought me to initiate the body of work that carries the name: “The quest for the man on the white donkey”.
The American tradition of the great photographic journeys served as a blueprint for the initial phase of my “quest”: with the definitive difference that in such a small country as Israel the size of the territory in which my hunt was pursued necessarily shaped my proceedings. A condensed experience: what in any other country should have been a photographic journey which spanned over months of continuous traveling was inevitably reduced because no matter what destination I chose it always brought me back home by midnight at the latest.
As my messenger started to reveal the “message”, the search for a deeper understanding of my Country and what defines me as an Israeli became an urge to look for the in-between places, the unexpected situations; suddenly a detail requested my attention as I stood for hours waiting for a meaning to reveal itself: or pushed me away, puzzled. But in the end I had to hold on to it. I could not let go until that detail was made mine, until the elusive and enigmatic found their place in my understanding of what I deemed as authentic, real encounter.
“The quest” is my attempt to relay a personal take on the Israeli reality with a broader sense of belonging to the global human collectivity.
Part of my identity as Israeli is to question everything, not to leave anything for granted: to show the tensions that constantly exist, to convey the truth behind the construction of the reality here and now.
Religious, social aspects filter into everyday life and their meanings are exposed as the journey moves on. Jewish missionaries, lost souls and individuals living on the fringe of society: all blend into this landscape of humanity."
- Yaakov Israel, 2009
Topography and melancholy blends amazingly in Yaakov Israel's images, not only in this work but in all his photography. The eye can embrace wide surfaces and yet preserve the details, all the faint traces of a story so loud and yet so fragile we might crash it with a single glance. It takes time to explore those images, to let them arise from underneath all the thoughts, all the ideas we might think we have about their own subject.
If there is a place where photography makes us feel like we all have been to, then Israel is probaly the first on the list: to see these images we need to try to forget what we know, and start all over again.
All images take from The quest for the man on the white donkey © Yaakov Israel
Wednesday, October 6, 2010
"In my newest body of work The City I have imagined a city of our future, where something either natural or as the result of mankind, has emptied the city of it's human inhabitants. Art museums, Broadway theaters, laundromats and bars no longer function. The walls are deteriorating, the ceilings are falling in, the structures barely stand, yet Mother Nature is slowly taking them over. These spaces are filled with flora, fauna and insects, reclaiming what was theirs before man's encroachment. I am afraid of what the future holds if we do not change our ways regarding the climate, but at the same time I am fascinated by what a changing world can bring."
Map Room, 2010
It's been a long time since I mentioned Accidentally Kansas by Lori Nix - what I did not mention were all the other amazing diomaras she keeps creating year after year.
All images taken from The City © Lori Nix
Tuesday, October 5, 2010
The space between imagining and experiencing a place seems to be the core of Graziella Antonini's photography.
Her work Voyage Imaginaire au Japon is just one example of her passion for the odd feeling of wandering around pretending you know where you are going.
All images taken from Voyage Imaginaire au Japon © Graziella Antonini