Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Ha! Have you ever seen a sign that says 'no drawing permitted'?

drawing by Craig Atkinson

One of the speakers and stall holders at Photobook Bristol this year is Craig Atkinson of Café Royal Books. Craig has famously published over 250 books in the last 10 years costing around £5 - £8. Mostly in black and white, the books tap into and revive a British photographic tradition dating back to the 1970s. They have become an archive in their own right in other words and have gained recognition as such.

For more information on Café Royal, read this interview with Craig at Photoworks.

In the meantime, we are going all Guardian here with a questionnaire that combines photography with Craig's world view and a little bit of Craig's own art (a possible influence on Grayson Perry and others) -  Point and Stare is a book of his drawings and you can buy it here.

You publish a book a week. How do you sell them?

40% CRB website 20% shops 20% various 20% give away. Ish.

What are the best places to sell a photobook?

It varies. People buy for various reasons, so gift shops, galleries, fairs, book shops, websites...All good.

You sell at both photobook events and artist book events? Where do you sell more books?

Artist book events. But conversation is good too; selling is only a part.

What are the differences between the photobook fair and the artist book fair?

There's an argument to say they're both the same thing, just photobook fairs are more niche. I suppose at photobook fairs there is more talk of the photographic image as a thing, or a sequence of images and their narrative. Art book fairs perhaps more emphasis on the book as a thing, as an art object or multiple. But each of those points could easily cross to 'the other side'.

Could the photobook world be more open in its outlook?

Absolutely. As could every book-world. I think terms are preventative. So, as soon as you say 'photobook', or 'artists' book' to someone, associations get in the way. I've always liked Fine Art, or aspects of it because it's a bit of a catch-all — fewer (perceived)  limits.

Can the photobook world be made any bigger? Does it need to be any bigger?

There needs to be a widely recognised definition of 'photobook' first.

What is the point of a photobook?

If a photobook is an artists book, then the book itself will provide a context within which to read the photographs. The form and function of the book, binding, folding, layout etc will all play a part in the way you read the images. If a photobook is a picture book, then it's a gallery, or a way to disseminate work quickly, affordably, internationally. It can be a collection, a history, a memory.

What is your earliest photobook memory?

National Trust pamphlets, roughly age 5. 

What is your earliest  memory?

Age 3, front room of newly-moved-into house being decorated. 

What is your most treasured photobook?

I've written loads of answers to this and deleted them all. I find it very difficult to treasure photobooks, or anything else material.

If you could be photographed by anybody, who would you choose?

 My kids. They have no baggage to interfere with taking the picture.

What did you want to be when you were growing up?

An architect. 

What is your guiltiest pleasure?

Pizza / chocolate 

Who would you invite to your dream dinner party?

 There are these tunnels in Liverpool. Williamson Tunnels. Williamson was a philanthropist who loved tunnels. He employed hundreds of people to make the tunnels for him. Then he invited them, and many friends and dignitaries to a dinner in the newly finished tunnels. There was a huge table with a vat of porridge in the middle. Lots of people were disgusted that they'd been invited to such a meagre dinner and left. Once they'd gone, he invited those who stayed, into the next tunnel. A huge banquet.

I'd invite the people who stayed.

What words or phrases do you use too much?

That's good.
Be careful. 

If you could edit your past, what would you change?

Nothing. I don't like regrets.

Which is better; photography or drawing?

Ha! Have you ever seen a sign that says 'no drawing permitted'? 

What is the most important lesson life has taught you?

Don't have favourites, or treasure material items, or have regrets, and work hard. And don't use clichés!

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Why the Speakers at Photobook Bristol are Chosen

picture by Ken Grant from No Pain Whatsoever

Somebody asked me the other week how the speakers at Photobook Bristol are chosen? "Do you just look at the best-of lists from the previous year and pick the top 5?" she asked, rather mischievously.

Um, not quite, though we Photobook Bristol does pride itself on launching books that go on to be top of the Best of Lists the following year. These things don't matter, but still, it's nice.

Last year,  Mariela Sancari launched Moises,  Peter Mitchell launched Something Means Everything to Somebody, and Laura El Tantawy launched The People, a newspaper publication that connects to her In the Shadow of the Pyramids (that launched at IC Visual Labs, Photobook Bristol's experimental partner and leading visual lab earlier in the year).

image by Ivars Gravlejs

In 2014, Max Pinckers launched Will they Sing Like Raindrops or Leave me Thirsty and we like to think that Nicolo de Giorgis' superb Hidden Islam really came to prominence at Photobook Bristol 2014.

But the relationships go beyond the book launch. Peter Mitchell has long been admired by just about everybody involved in British documentary photography in the late 1970s and early 1980, and is just getting recognition now. Photobook Bristol and RRB Publishing are really happy to be bringing Peter's work to the public eye by publishing both new work and reworking old classics like Memento Mori,

As mentioned, Laura el Tantawy was talking with Photobook Bristol and IC Visual Labs well before her book was launched, as was Mariela Sancari, while everybody who met Nicolo de Giorgis was bowled over by his energy, enthusiasm and ability to enliven a project through hard work and smartness,. So there are connections and relationships that people have worked on establishing through meeting people, showing their work, and sharing ideas, projects and possibilities. We meet new people every year, and we never know who will be speaking at the following year's event.

So this is why the people were chosen for the line-up for 2016.


Ken Grant has a new book coming out in 2016, published by RRB publishing, and launching at the festival. It's on football, Liverpool and it's kind of autobiographical. Ken is a poet, an artist and is beautiful to listen to. That's why he's coming.


Mark Power spoke last year on the economy of the photobook, with a breakdown of which books made money (Die Mauer ist Weg made him a bundle of money, Mass did not). When Mark talks he cuts to the chase. This year he's going to cut to the chase with a performative launch of his latest book,  Destroying the Laboratory for the Sake of the Experiment. Complete with poetry, performance, design and slideshow, it's going to going to be a different kind of launch. We can't wait.

Here's Mark's Shipping Forecast audio-visual. And below is Lisa Knapp. Both wonderful!


We believe in the pleasure of the festival. That's why it's not just about books, that's why it's not a conference or a symposium and we don't have papers. It's about food, drink, music and meeting people with a shared world view. It's about enjoying yourself. And nobody looks like they're having quite a good a time as David Solo, book collector extraordinaire. His joy brings us joy. This year, David will be channelling happiness our way in a discussion on the photobook (its affordability, its accessibility, its relevance) with a panel of experts who know things nobody else does!


Laura has had a relationship with Bristol since before In the Shadow of the Pyramids was published. And what a book it is. It's political, it's personal and it looks fantastic. At the same time, it is a complex and multi-layered book that does not propose any easy answers to what came during the so-called Arab Spring and what came after. This is what Laura will be talking about; photography that matters, including the project that has developed in the years following the events of Tahrir Square.


Amak is launching her new book (you can pre-order here) Shenasnameh in April. This is a very personal book that links a key event in Amak's childhood (being told she would burn in hell for having a hair strand showing beneath her headscarf) with the functions of passport pictures. Amak has been through the pain barrier on this one, but we think it will be one of the books of the year, with work that looks at censorship, resistance and photography in stripped down form.


Yu: The Lost Country was one of the hits of last year, a beautifully photographed and written account of what it's like to be part of a country that no longer exists, to find that country transformed into something alien and unfamiliar, and how that alienness is experienced in a journey where memory, photography and literature are melded together.


He's local.


Krass Clement is well-known in Denmark and amongst book afficionados, and his books are wonderfully made; purist's photobooks that are beautifully photographed and edited. They tell stories filled with hopes and fears and sorrow and loneliness. This is a rare opportunity to hear Krass speak (he'll be in conversation with Martin Parr) and is reason enough to come to the festival in itself. Seriously, why don't more people know Krass Clement?


Early Works was published last year by Mack and was a brilliant example of the irreverence, wit and subversive qualities of photography. But Early Works is just the tip of the Ivars ouevre (have a look through his website to get an idea of where Ivars is coming from), and we're looking forward to getting a deeper insight into the Gravlejs psyche. We don't know quite what to expect, but we're expecting something!

Here are some of Ivars' tips on photography. If you like 'if your pictures aren't good enough, you're not close enough...' you'll love these.


James Barnor has been active in photography since the 1950s, when he worked in Ghana for publications like Drum. His work reads like a record of post-colonial West Africa, a mix of studio, fashion and reportage that captures the energy and optimism of the time and is just beautifully shot. His first book, Ever Young, was published last year, but it won't be his last, and we can't wait to hear him talk about Ghana, photography, with a little bit of sex and glamour thrown in for good measure.


We know Yumi Goto and her incredible Reminders Photography Stronghold through the work of Kazuma Obara and Yoshikatsu Fuji. This is work that has integrity, energy and an attention to the book form in all its parts that is quite incredible. Yumi mixes the  photobook with the book arts via the highest level of documentary practice. We don't know anyone else who works with that mix, on that level.


Sonia runs the fabulous Dalpine Books. Founded in 2010 in Madrid by Sonia and  José Manuel, Dalpine is part publisher, part bookseller, with inspiration added. Dalpine publications include Karma by Óscar Monzón, AMA LUR by Jon Cazenave, and GRASS by Michele Tagliaferri. This is where design, production and selling come together in gloriously creative form.


Julian has made a mass of photobooks that cut across documentary, archival, and the personal to present a view of Britain that combines football, old age, and declining industry. His Soccer Wonderland is one of surprisingly few photobooks on football around,and will be part of a (small - Saturday afternoon, around 5pm) football subplot in the festival that will also take in Ken Grant and a delirously happy Mark Power (he's a Leicester City fan).


Café Royal Books is the exception that proves the rule, the heart and soul of the British Photobook Publishing industry. Over the last 10 years, Craig Atkinson, the mastermind behind Café Royal has published over 250 books, in small runs, with most Thursdays being the publishing day. So a book a week! And they're cheap. And they're about Britishness, and documentary, and they bring to life old collections that never quite made it, but now have the chance. Craig is an example of somebody creating his own thing out of a latent mass of phenomenal photography that lies untapped. And Café Royal is a phenomenon.


Last year, Mariela launched her wonderful Moises at Photobook Bristol. This year she's going to talk about both this work and the other projects she has made. Mariela has the ability to visualise the personal in both photographic and book form in a manner that combines directness, emotion and the autobiographical in equal measure.


Ania has designed a slew of great photobooks including the brilliant Die Mauer ist Weg by Mark Power, 7 Rooms, Black Sea of Concrete, and The Winners by Rafal Milach, BRUTAL by Michał Łuczak, as well as designing and curating a whole range of publications and exhibitions for the Central European Photography Collective, Sputnik Photos. Her work is the exemplification of simplicity and functionality in design, told in the most accessible way possible. If you're thinking of making a photobook, and you're not a brilliant designer, learn from Ania.

Ania will also be running a one-day workshop on Monday 13th June, details of which will go up in the coming month.

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

James Barnor: "My advice to young photographers : fall in love with books."

pictures from Ever Young by James Barnor

We are delighted that James Barnor, whose book Ever Young details his extraordinary career in Ghana and beyond, will be speaking at Photobook Bristol 2016.  James never shot his own projects. Instead his work demonstrates the power that photojournalism and commercial work can have in the right hands, with pictures that read like a history of post-colonial Ghana as seen through the cultural, political and fashion figures of the day.

James Barnor

Thank you James for appearing on the Photobook Bristol; interview and pictures from Sarah Preston of Neutral Grey.

James Barnor

What was the first book (photography book ideally) that strongly had an impact on you? 

The first thing you need to know is that I don't have the discipline to read, I have lots of books... But I don't have the discipline to sit and read them. So really when it comes to talking about publishing books I am the worse person to ask.

Sarah Preston

The first photo book that captured me? I cannot remember now,

It's a very long time ago! I think of “The road makers” by Willis Bells (American photographer who arrived in Ghana in 1957. he was commissioned to take most of his photographs which covered various aspects of Ghanian life : every day, culture, the industry, etc...) which is a picture book about Ghana. That impressed me, I saw the layout of the book before I left Ghana. Bells was commissioned by the Public Relation Officer. It is a book on life in Ghana... development, culture, people making the road to the next generation.

Sarah Preston

There is also the book "Donovan on Child Portraiture" by Donald J. Donovan (Fountain press, 1950) which I saw in the 50's, in Ghana. I Ordered it in Ghana before I came to England. I have always loved taking photographs of children and babies.

Julius Aikins, a cousin of mine in Ghana, got me into books. He would order books for me (Donovan on Child Portraiture was one of them). He also put me on the road of journalism and introduced me to modern photography.

Sarah Preston

When did you have for the first time the idea of making a book of your work ? 

I never thought of the possibility of doing my own book till very late: a Curator (Nana Oforiatta Ayim) suggested it after going through my photographs.

She discovered my work in 2007, during the Ghana at 50 celebration. During the black cultural archive. She was commissioned to organize an exhibition and she chose my work. She was the first curator/ writer to organized a show of my work, and she is the first one who suggested I should do a book.

James Barnor

But saying that, I had always known that my images would one day be used as illustrations to books, but not as my own books.

Sarah Preston

What does it represent for you to have a book on your work ? 

With a book on my work now, I feel "the sky is the limit"!
We must make books including an autobiography.
And now, I carry a copy everywhere I go!
Believe me this is only a start !

Sarah Preston

What advice would you give young photographers when it comes to books ? 

My advice to young photographers : fall in love with books.
And always think of books when taking photographs.
And most important : think of the book you are about to make so take good care of your images: keeping careful notes to help with easy identification. Keeping proper dates and names of your images, and preserving negatives very safely to me are essential.

Sarah Preston

What is the latest photo book you have seen and which you really like ? 

It's a Munem Wasif book, published by Clémentine de la Féronnière.

Everything that I have done I was asked to do, I was commissioned to do. I never did a project for myself, and looking at that book gave me lots of ideas for books.

But also I'd like to say: who can buy a book that cost £30 in Africa ? It's too expensive for Ghanaian people. Only people from upper class can afford books, so this is a real problem for Ghanaians. The cost of acquiring book is a problem.

Unless it is for school and then you have to buy them.

Sarah Preston

 Can books be made cheaper to extend the global audience to Ghana? If so how? is there a market in Ghana (for example) for cheaper books and should publishers address that market?

Definitely a revision of the cost would greatly help in the purchase of books , and encourage more reading in Ghana, and this will promote book sales.

I cannot tell how much the prices should be reduced but I know that the average income of the Ghanaian household or family does not give room for spending money on books outside normal academic needs. It is only when the cost is low will that money will be spent on books on photography and other hobbies.

There is great appetite for books, in this era of "Education, Education, Education".
The market for books has never been greater, and the habit of reading is now becoming natural to Ghanaians, which opens a wide market for all publishers.

James Barnor

What would you have chosen to photograph if you could go back in time? And what would you photograph now?

This is interesting, because I have this idea of one day going back to photograph games and play things for children: the similarities and differences of what those in the cities and urban dwellers have, and on the other side what those living in the villages have.

Also traditional farming tools or impliments, since all these may change in the next few years; and also I'd like to photograph local handicrafts

Sarah Preston

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Yumi Goto and Beautiful, Beautiful Books

Here at Photobook Bristol, we believe books are a pleasure, something you enjoy, that you take time over, that you take delight in. From the very act of becoming aware of a book and discussing it with friends, wondering how the physical version looks and feels, to the act of buying a book; from that feeling a little bit of virtue making the active choice not to buy from Amazon, to going if at all possible to a bookshop, or a stall at a festival or an independent photobook seller, and browsing shelves and talking to booksellers and photographers and getting an insight into a publication and the how and why it was made; it should all be a pleasure.

(The Pleasure of Books is something that will be talked about at Photobook Bristol 2016.)

And of course, one of the major, major pleasures of photobooks (and something that one cannot get a true sense of online) is their tactile nature, the delight one can take in holding, touching and smelling a book. That, ultimately is why we love books so much; bcause of the physical pleasure they can give us, and the thought that really great bookmakers put into tying that physicality into images and the outside world, and connecting them in ways that make us emotionally, culturally and physically richer. It's quite a thing that books can do, but when they do it right, they really have a hedonistic, sensual quality to them. They are a delight!

Two of the biggest delights we have had the pleasure to get our hands upon, two of the most tactile most beautiful, and smartest are Kazuma Obara's Silent Histories and Yoshikatsu's Fuji's Red String.

Both were originally made in handmade editions of 45 and 35 respectively. Both have now been published in large trade editions - Silent Histories in an edition of 1945 by Editorial RM and Red String in an edition of 500 by Ceiba.

Astonishly, the larger editions have kept the tactile quality and the detail of the original handmade editions. These are wonderfully made books. Silent Histories tells the story of people injured in the American bombing of Tokyo in 1945 (hence the edition number) through a brilliantly put together combination of archive materials, interviews, school photographs and drawings. It is quite stunning. Read a full review by Adam Bell here.

Red String is a wonderful felt-covered book that tells the story of Yoshikatsu's divorced parents. The Red String of the title is the string that is supposed to bind them together in eternal love. In his parents' case, the string broke. But it remains in the book, a fragile thread which symbolises Yoshikatsu as the link that binds. The book is made as two volumes joined beneath the felt cover, a family album, which, like all family albums has multiple readings.

These are amongst the most beautifully conceived and made books of recent years, and it is no accident that both Kazuma and Yoshikatsu's original editions came about through a workshop they both attended at the Reminders Photography Stronghold in Japan.

With that in mind we decided to ask Yumi Goto, Curator of Reminders Photography Stronghold, and an invited speaker of Photobook Bristol 2016 (funding is being sought to fly her over from Tokyo as we speak) a few questions about how these incredible books came into being, and the wider remit of the Reminders Project.

What is Reminders Photography Stronghold?

Reminders Photography Stronghold is a curated membership gallery in Tokyo making multi-photographic activities possible (exhibitions, workshops, events, photobook room, photographers in residence, photography grants, publishing).

How did you get started?

( This is taken from a statement Yumi wrote for the Invisible Photographer before she moved back to Japan from Bangkok)

I left Japan a very long time ago.

At some point, I determined that Japan was no longer my home.

Because of this, I realize that for many years I contributed little to my own country.

I came to this realization following the Great East Japan Earthquake, Tsunami and Nuclear Disaster. This catastrophe caused me to think about my life and my direction. Why do I live my life this way? What is my goal?

But I believe that I now have something to offer to Japan ­ the experience and knowledge gained while working for so long, so far away from home. For a long time, I have wanted to create a place where one can live with photography. A place where one can eat, sleep, see and do photography. A
place not only for myself, but also for anyone who loves and relies on photographs.

To make this possible, I needed a space, and it should be a huge space, big enough to fit my plans. When I started looking for such a location in Tokyo, it seemed unlikely ­ but the fates smiled, and I think I have found a great spot, one with amazing potential.

This place might be my last home ­ I could call it my fortress. It could also be a reliable fortress for those committed people who fight for photography.


The plan is to create a photographic gallery and library that offers programs and events that promote photography. In addition to exhibits and books, I plan for the STRONGHOLD to offer international and domestic photo residencies, photography project grants, events, workshops and publishing

For many years, the Reminders Project has had no physical space in which to settle or act on its many ideas: now it finally can.

There is a strong focus on the handmade photobook at RPS? How did this come about?

In 2013 I came across Jan Rosseel, the author of Belgian Autumn. I was in The Hague to check out a photobook workshop and Jan was there as one of its participants.

We spoke a little and he mentioned his book had just been published and when I heard the story behind the book I got excited.  He told me that there were only 28 copies made and the reason why and brought me the last copy left.

(Belgian Autumn tells the story of a gang of robbers which killed 28 people while committing their crimes - robbing supermarkets was their speciality. One of the 28 victims was Jan's father. And that's why 28 copies were made).

When I saw his book and knew about the concept, I was very moved; this is the best way the photographers can actually work on the project they are working. If they have a story to tell, they really also need to present how to read the story to the audience and in my opinion, I think the book,
particularly the artist-made book, can  do so most accurately.

Since Jan already had a plan to come to Japan so I invited him to do something and we organized very first photobook making workshop in 2014, Kazuma and Yoshikatsu were participants for the first edition and they produced Silent Histories and Red String through the workshop.

Also each little details have meaning, and when you know that, the books become more special.

For me, this was the really the important turning point as I was looking for an alternative  way to present visual story telling,

I was particularly looking into the book format. For Belgian Autumn, Jan used his own photographs, collected paper documents, archive materials and changed the paper type. But the thing I liked most was the meaning of the edition size, the number of copies made: 28, one book for each of the victims.

So our first workshop also required participants to  prepare a personal story. This story could be your own personal story but it might also be a story of someone else, visualized by you or a fictional story. The aim is to create a compelling story in a condensed way. Photography,(found) objects, documents, and letters can all be used.

How do you run the Workshops

We normally accept submissions from the end of year until February for our workshops. After February once we have  fixed the participants, we meet twice before the workshop, so for the first session, I know what they have already and can suggest what more they could do. Then they have something to work on for the 2nd session, In the 2nd session, they come back with new work and new materials they have produced, and if need it, they are given more assignments  and we meet again at the workshop.

During the workshop, at the very least they could finish the very first dummy, and then we schedule the end result showcase after the workshop - normally a few months later. So the participants still need to work on the book project on their own but they could again come back twice to receive our

Anyway, there should be a reason for each detail they include in the book design. Each detail should make more the book work more as and object for the audience, and make them even feel more and interact with the subject more.

We know Red String and Silent Histories. What was the process in making these?

Well I knew both authors already and Yoshikatsu was working on his project about his parents' divorce. I followed his work for almost a year, it was a really great story and though it didn't seem easy to convey the story just by presenting images it had to be in the format the narrative could best fit in.

Also back then, he  had only  photographed his father and there was less about his mother. If it was going to be about his parents he should make a balance, so he started to shoot more on his mother's side. Also he decided to take the workshop, so he could finally set the goal to make a book with this story. It wasn't difficult to think of making two separate books; one from the father's side and one from the mother's side.

For the cover, white felt was used; it¹s easy to get dirty and you get a really gentle feeling when you touch it, but also it gets aged by people looking at the book,  so it¹s just like a family relationship.

It's a good way but also a sad way of presenting the work. The red string in between the father's side and mother's side, that's also a very important detail. That's Yoshikatsu himself.

For Kazuma, he came to see me as he had been struggling with his photojournalistic approach and he felt that photo itself couldn't do much and look for the change.

As I had a story idea and I wanted to propose someone to do, it was about the victims of the pacific War when US forces massacred 330,000 and left 430,000 Japanese citizens injured. More than 9.7 million citizens were left homeless as 2.23 million houses were destroyed, and over 200 cities were damaged.

This is so little known compared with Hiroshima and Nagasaki, so I proposed him to do a story on the victims living in Osaka since he's based  there. It was December 2013. We had a conversation about this and he started research and he also decided to take the workshop, so the
final format was the book.

During the workshop and after the workshop, he was asked to use his book as evidence to submit to the supreme court so he made two books for them. It's really interesting to see that Kazuma found photos from them and the process to know about each old archives, he also developed the idea for the book.

Why is there such an emphasis on such beautiful and tactile objects?

To get the audience involved in the story, the book has to be a tactile object. Selecting papers, choosing details, those details have reasons why we do so. The latest book I distributed is Julia Mejnertsen's handmade edition "TELL ME, HOW DO YOU PRONOUNCE A HYPHEN?". She is the workshop participants from Denmark in 2015.

She wrote an NB on the design of the book and why particular details were made in the way she made them. "A number of pages stick out from under the protection of the cover, which means the pages may become slightly damaged and/or will bend over time. The paper clip and rubber band that are used to keep the book closed may scratch the surface of the cover over time. All is intentional ­ wear and tear is just as beautiful on a book, as it is in life. Please bear in mind that the book is hand-glued and delicate, just like the human soul, handle with care."

How does touching  a book affect its reading?

Well touching is also interacting  and experiencing the book works. Take Kazuma's Silent Histories, and the photo replica of the school group photo for Ms. Anno. (this is a picture that is folded over to conceal the fact that Ms. Anno is missing a leg - lost when she was injured by a bomb as a newly born baby. It's a heartbreaking testimony to how she sees her own disability).

How she kept that photo is really touching. Also the missing certificate makes the audience wonder why there are only photo corners on the page (in the book, there is a page with a missing disability certificate - to many viewers, including myself, it looks like it's left out by accident, but it's omission is a kind of protest against it not being granted to the bombing victim).

What are the projects you have seen that challenge a particular historical narrative?

For me Jan Rosseell's BELGIAN AUTUMN is the one project. Also Kazuma's silent histories. And Amak Mahmoodian's Shenasnameh.

And what's upcoming for Reminders?

In March we'll have Yoshikatsu Fujii's photobook launch and exhibition for RED STRING trade edition. We also welcome our grantee have the exhibition in April. In May we have the photobook masterclass participants' showcase from the masterclass we did with them last December. all participants' now working for finalize their dummies.

And finally we have the Photobook as Object Workshop coming again with Jan Rosseel.

Buy Silent Histories Here

Buy Red String Here

Thursday, 25 February 2016

Who Buys their Books at a Supermarket?

Love on the Left Bank: Would you buy this book at a supermarket?

We ran this post a week or so back wondering if there might be some ways of expanding the photobook market, namely 

1. Deepen the reach of photobooks, so everybody can buy them, and wants to buy them, so they appear on the shelves of supermarkets, not just at bijou photobook stores.

2.  Open up the definition of photobooks. There are plenty of books with photographs in them that sell in the tens of thousands. Maybe we shouldn't be so picky.

3. Make more interesting books. There are plenty of books with pictures that sell in the millions. There are probably about 40-50 in my home, children's books, manga, graphic novels, all of which were bought to read.

4, Make cheaper books

5. Expand the geographic reach of photobooks. Go to places where there is not a culture of photobooks.

Then the other day, we got this response to Hansgert Lambers of Expose Verlag, which rather confirms our suspicions that the photobook market is small for a reason. (But we still think number 2 - opening up the definition of what a photobook is - is a great idea).

'Here are some thoughts of a small and ailing photobook-publisher in reply to advice given on photobookbristol blogspot:

ad 1.   I don‘t believe in selling photobooks in supermarkets. They do have books on offer: DIY-manuals, detective stories and other fiction. Have you ever considered buying your literature there?

ad 2.   New ideas? Fine, so I published a book containing 50% words and 50% pictures, closely linked to each other. Well, the words are poems from a not so known author, also poetry is perhaps worse to sell than photography. Oh, and the poems were in German – who offers to translate them into English to make the book desireable in a wider market? So this didn't work. But if you get Salmon Rushdie to cooperate, things might turn out better.

Also mind: a garish outfit is not modern design!

ad 3.   A narrative is no silver bullet. Except for »Love on the West Bank« how many books with a narrative (in the sense of stories, novels) do you know? Neither Frank‘s »The Americans« nor Avedon's »Observations« have it although they certainly have wonderful sequencing and thus a good rhythm and convincing melodies which most of those books that ”are disconnected to the world“ lack. (I am very much for banning books which only display the ego of the author – but would that enlarge the market for proper photobooks?)

ad 4.   Cheap photobooks are no general solution. Craig Atkinson with his Café Royal Books found a niche, and I admire him for that. These “books” suit perfectly his subject matters. Also Anders Petersen once told me that he prefers his »Café Lehmitz«  in the pocket book version as that is appropriate for the theme. On the other hand I found that people who buy a book for € 20 would also have paid € 30, whereas those who term € 20 as too expensive would not have bought it for € 10 either.

ad 5.   Let‘s wait for the outcome of Dieter Neubert‘s venture to China. I wish him luck but have my doubts whether this will have any lasting effect on photobook distribution.

Aside: The popstar Blondie had in her carreer an interlude as jazz singer Deborah Harry. Do you think the money she earned during that jazz-period amounted to much compared to her pop-income? Poetry, jazz and photography – these genres will never generate big money.

but I have a suggestion:  We need to give photobook-connoisseurs of the world a notice board, a web portal where all relevant photobooks will be listed with brief descriptions and links to further information including outlets. There should be editors to first of all exclude irrelevant contributions (censorship? of course!) and then write short (!) evaluations. Existing blogs are mostly too elaborated or in German only or just hidden somewhere.
There would have to be a PR-task to begin with, making this site natural and even obligatory reading for photobook devotees in Auckland, Osaka, Montevideo, Bielefeld or Sheffield. Or is there any other way to make someone in Belfast or Montreal aware of a new and unusual photobook published in Berlin?'

››› Hansgert Lambers
››› www.expose-verlag.de

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Words and Pictures are not Competitive. They are Complementary

all pictures by Kazuma Obara

We're big fans of Kazuma Obara here at Photobook Bristol. We bought one of the 45 original copies of his brilliant Silent Histories (more of which in an upcoming post), and we were delighted to have him as a guest at Photobook Bristol 2015.

Kazuma is one of the hardest working photographers we know with an attention to detail that is incomparable (he made a total of 16 dummies before finally coming up with something he was happy with for Silent Histories). He is also supremely modest, charming and generous. And he wears a hat far better than any photographer we know. We truly love Kazuma Obara!

So we were delighted when he won The World Press Photo First Prize in the People section. Delighted and a little bit surprised because the project does not look entirely like your typical World Press Photo stories.

But at the same time we were not surprised because the project continues Kazuma's investigations into the material and the way in which they can carry the narrative thread of the story he is photographing.

And in that sense they are perfect pictures for the World Press Photo. This is a photo-essay in the sense in which Harold Evans describes it in his excellent Pictures on A Page (this post by Graham Harrison gives a great overview of Pictures on a Page).

'Further to his call for clear terminology in Pictures on a Page, Harold Evans complains that ‘essay’ and ‘story’, are used interchangeably by newspapers and magazines. A picture story is essentially narrative, the record of a single event. Whereas the essay, unconfined by either time or event, “Will argue and analyse rather than narrate; it will make points,” writes Evans.

We are all very much in favour of World Press Photo here at Photobook Bristol. It still has photojournalism at its heart; heavyweight photography that really matters and that very directly attaches to the world in which we live in. It also actively seeks out and addresses the many, many criticisms it has faced over the years; it has a transparency and an openness to adaptation and change, qualities that are very rare in photography.

In Pictures on a Page (which is still one of the very best books on the concrete function and ethics of photography -  Evans was the Sunday Times editor who employed Don McCullin and helped define photojournalism at its very best - and most campaigning) Evans talks about different uses of the photograph, how it can be used to complement a story, how an editor can see a picture in a text, and how the photograph can can take a story beyond the image.

Kazuma's essay (and it is an essay) does argue and does analyze and does take the story beyond the surface of the image, and he does it in a very low-key and charming manner in which the material nature of the chemistry combines with history, text and indeed the trails of Kazuma's own practice.

It's a story that is told in multiple layers in other words - through images that reference a kind of idealised dream-like life, through the distance created by this radiation-infused film, and through the text that accompanies each image. And that is what is being recognised by World Press Photo, that the telling of a story can take place in multiple ways that create eddies and counter-currents of understanding. The story lies beyond the image in other words.

This idea of the photograph not being a unique and self contained thing is another element addressed by Evans, who questions the Cartier-Bresson notion...

 'that if a photograph is really evocative it carries its own message. The only information required is the when and the where'

“That,” Evans counters, is “a piece of intellectual debris from the early idea that photography was an art or it was nothing”

Words and photography are not competitive, they are complementary, says the newspaperman. “They explain relationships. They fix the time. They may elaborate on what is happening. They can point to an elusive detail. They can attempt to counter our irritating perversity in each drawing different, even contradictory, meanings from the same image. They can confirm mood. And with a single photograph only words can explain how the event occurred or what its effect might be.” He also points out that “photography is limited in its power of analysis”.'

Anyway, in celebration of Kazuma Obara, here are some images from his World Press Photo Prize Winning Entry.

See the full entry here. 

Read Graham Morrison on Harold Evans' Pictures on a Page here. 

'The world’s worst nuclear accident happened on 26 April 1986 at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Just 5 months after the disaster, a girl was born in Kiev just 100 km south from Chernobyl. The wind included a great amount of radioactive elements, and the girl became one of the victims of the tragedy. This series of pictures represent the last 30 years of the life of that invisible girl. All pictures taken on old Ukrainian color negative films, which were found in the city of Pripyat, located 5 km from the Chernobyl nuclear power plant.'

"My mother said that it was a typically quiet day, warm and windy. She and my father opened the window and they felt completely safe on the day of the explosion, the 26th of April 1986."

"I was born just five months after the day of the explosion. I was a very sickly child and I remember feeling like something was wrong, not growing like a normal child. When I was born I was quickly admitted into the intensive care unit. I had cramps and I was very weak. Half of my childhood, I spent in hospital without receiving a diagnosis. I was treated for bronchitis, then pneumonia, and then neuroses."

"You might think there should be nothing from Chernobyl in my identity because I was not born at the time of the explosion. I was in my mother's belly and I did not yet exist in the outside world."

"I did not have the opportunity to be active. Children who were born in the year of Chernobyl were the most adversely affected. I was lying in the hospital, without my mother all the time. That is, perhaps, reflected in my character today."

"My grandmother became disabled in a very early stage of life. It had nothing to do with the accident, but it was also an autoimmune processes. Then my aunt became disabled. And for me, the word ‘disabled’ is really terrible, full of stigma. That’s what I faced every day, and my family saw it. It's still, for me, a great discomfort, very frightening. It’s significant that the word is placed next to my name. It really bothers me, and caused me to reject having a disabled certificate for a time. I thought, if the word was written next to my name, then I could go no further. I know it's weird, but I had a sort of feeling that the world would bury me."

"Recently, I just realized that I was not guilty. This is nobody's fault. I'm working on it, and everything is much better. I understand that all the worst is over, and now I'm trying to reestablish contact with my parents. They thought that I grew up very strong and independent. But it is not so. Now it’s like I just came back to life and I'm a child again. It’s interesting for me to touch, feel, play, go on a picnic. I just learned how to ride a bike this year."

Read a review of Silent Histories  here.

Monday, 15 February 2016

Five Ways to Make More People Buy Photobooks: Some of them might work?

There is the idea that the photobook market is small and that it should grow, that the current market is just the tip of the pyramid, and that beneath that tip, where books sell in their hundreds, their is this vast body of untapped potential where photobooks will gain a mass audiencee of the tens of thousands.

We at Photobook Bristol don't really share that view. That's why we have such a small festival with only 200 people or so attending.

Buy Tickets for Photobook Bristol 2016 here.

But we do understand the sentiment. It would be great if tens of thousands of people bought great photobooks like Chris Killip's In Flagrante Two for example. In the past people used to buy photobooks in their tens of thousand - why can't it happen again?

Maybe it can. There are various ways of expanding the market.

1. Deepen the reach of photobooks, so everybody can buy them, and wants to buy them, so they appear on the shelves of supermarkets, not just at bijou photobook stores.

2.  Open up the definition of photobooks. There are plenty of books with photographs in them that sell in the tens of thousands. Maybe we shouldn't be so picky.

3. Make more interesting books. There are plenty of books with pictures that sell in the millions. There are probably about 40-50 in my home, children's books, manga, graphic novels, all of which were bought to read.

4, Make cheaper books

5. Expand the geographic reach of photobooks. Go to places where there is not a culture of photobooks.

Of these four options, we remain unconvinced by the Option 1. In Flagrante Two by Chris Killip is a brilliant, brilliant photobook, probably the best photobook that will be published this year, but we see no reason whatsoever why anybody who is not interested in both photography and photobooks would be expected to spend 65 euros on it. Why would you? It's great, but it's a bit grim. There are funner ways to spend your money.

Buy the Errata Editions Books on Books version of In Flagrante here.

Option 2 is a good one. Here at Photobook Bristol we'd love to have Kim Kardashian, Sebastiao Salgado or Ransom Riggs talk. They all sell large numbers of books of differing kinds which, though they have pictures in, are not necessarily counted as photobooks - often for reasons that are both arbitrary, selective and self-serving (in the sense that there are many people out there who really enjoy being a medium-sized fish in a tiny pond, as opposed to a tiny fish in a larger pond).

Option 3 is a great one, but very difficult. Photographers verge towards opaqueness in their dealings with narrative. That's why books like Love on the Left Bank still stand out to this day - because it does have a real narrative. It's a visual story backed up by a pretty sharp complementary text. Most photobooks tend to verge on irrelevance, and are disconnected to the world they are part of. Sometimes that is a good thing, it can be poetic and beautiful, and quiet and contemplative. There's a place for that, but it's a small place. Far, far too many books are wilfully disconnected and deliberately obtuse. And even when they do connect to what is happening in the world, it is often with an excessively earnest voice that runs counter to the immediacy of the visual medium.


The fourth option of making books cheap is all well and good and we love books like the Cafe Royal series and MC Hotel Tokyo (the smartest real budget book of recent years), but we remain sceptical that they are capable of getting a much larger audience. But if more photographers choose to make cheaper books that go beyond the traditional publishing model - we're all in favour of that; small books, zines, newspapers. It's not good for the booksellers among us, but so it goes.

And that leaves Option 5. Expand the geographic reach of photobooks. That's what Dieter Neubert is doing by moving the Kassel Festival to Beijing this year. As Pierre Bessard said, 'it will be not 2500 visitors like in Kassel but 35.000...'

That's a big jump and something that might in the long term translate into a larger market. Surpisingly, Neubert's initiative met with some hostility, some of it perhaps not grasping the point that Kassel needed to do something different this year.

He also got accused of using PR. But maybe that's a good thing. We all need a little PR sometimes, a bit of smart thinking and hype that actually does communicate to people.

There are problems with moving to Beijing though. It's something that publishers like Aperture have experienced when the Self Publish Be Happy DIY Manifesto was censored by the printers in China. The printers effectively had the final say on what went into the book, and more particularly, what didn't (the more erotic pictures got cut).

Making books that are written for the Chinese market is one thing, but having your terms dictated to by a printer in Shenzhen is another. Really? That is definitely a price that is not worth paying.

So there are dangers in going to where the market is, to saving money by offshoring your printing costs, by taking money from sponsors who, whatever they might say, always have an agenda that has some kind of an affect on those who take their money. Some of the usual legal, banking, and corporate suspects are mentioned by Lewis Bush here, and there's a few more geographic photography brokers that could be added to the list. Wherever money is thrown at photography, there is a little whiff of soft power.

Which is the real danger of moving to Beijing. But then if you want to grow the audience, why not? Perhaps you have to make compromises to stay in business? The problem is how to combine that pragmatism with a refusal to self-censor and to keep on bringing truth to power. It's a tricky equation and one that photography, in all its forms, has never managed to negotiate successfully.

Buy Tickets for Photobook Bristol 2016 here.