Following on from Martin Amis of Photobookstore, today we have another bookseller answering the Photobook Bristol Questionnaire. This time it’s the amazing Andrea Copetti of Tipi Bookshop.
Tipi Bookshop is based in Brussels and is more than just a bookstore. From his base, Andrea also launches books, shows prints and mails out the most amazing photobook parcels. He also finds the time to answer unreasonably long interview questions like these. For that we are very thankful.
There are trade published, self-published, handmade artist’s books and rough dummies covering a range of subjects and approaches. From Matthieu Asselin’s large scale investigation into Monsanto to Mary Hamill’s direct floral renditions of used tampons and Martin Bollati’s ambitious book construction, we recommend you follow the links and discover the work of some of the best books that we have seen this year and beyond.
Mark Power (UK) is a Magnum photographer and Professor of Photography at the University of Brighton. In the run up to his second appearance at Photobook Bristol he talks to Jessa Fairbrother about how he defines success in a photobook…and having the best job in the world.
Over your career you have made several photobooks. Lets start with the easy questions….Can you tell us what led you to make your first?
from The Shipping Forecast
My first book was The Shipping Forecast, published in 1996. Along with the exhibition the book was the culmination of a four-year trek around the coast of Western Europe. Its story is an interesting one… About three-quarters of the way through the project I approached a major publisher, based in London, to show them the pictures and a proposed book design. Their reaction was almost entirely negative: they weren’t interested in publishing because the work was (in their words) too parochial and, it continued, they wouldn’t dream of making a book with a black-and-white photograph of the sea on the cover. If they were to publish it (which they weren’t) they would ask me to go out and photograph, er, let’s see… a man in a yellow souwester taking a weather reading. In colour, of course.
I was extremely depressed at the end of the meeting, but at the same time fervently believed the book-buying public weren’t that stupid. Surely they could appreciate, and understand, a book which demanded just a little more effort to ‘read’ properly. It dawned on me that the only way I could get the book I wanted was to put my own money into it, but I didn’t have much and the little I did have was being put towards making the photographs. I applied to the Arts Council but failed dismally to get a grant; black and white documentary work wasn’t very fashionable in 1995. As a last straw I applied to the Mosaic Foundation in Luxembourg and promptly forgot all about it, until one Monday morning I received a call telling me I’d been awarded a grant of US$25,000. Suddenly everything was possible: I was able to travel to some of the more far-flung places I had yet to visit, produce a rather lavish exhibition and put a considerable amount into publishing a book. I approached Zelda Cheatle, who was representing me for print sales at the time, and she agreed to publish the book under her imprint.
It was made, primarily, as a catalogue for the exhibition, but when The Observer made it their ‘Book of the Week’ the entire first edition of 2,000 copies sold out within ten days. We went to a second printing and then a third, and they sold out as well – a total of 10,000 books altogether, quite remarkable for a first book by a largely unknown photographer. Cleary it had managed to wriggle out of the photo-ghetto to reach another audience altogether – Radio 4 listeners, sailors – and to this day I meet many who tell me they bought the book for their parents. Rarely do I meet anyone who bought it for themselves, but there are plenty of elderly mums and dads out there who must have a copy. You have gone on to make many subsequent photobooks – can you tell us something about the process of working with a designer – how that helps your work breathe as a photobook? Can you tell us, for example, of any particularly stressful episodes – or things you wish you had done differently?
I’m very lucky in that each and every experience I’ve had working with a designer has been very positive. My latest book, Destroying the Laboratory for the Sake of the Experiment, a collaboration with the poet Daniel Cockrill and the designer Dominic Brookman, is enormously complicated, but was a joy to work on. I’ve made eight books now, with four designers. All are/were very different, but in each case I began the process fairly clear about the sort of book I wanted. There’s always a dialogue, and I like to think I remain open to new ideas, but I always start with a kind of picture in my head of what the book should be like.
The process of bringing a book out is time-consuming. Can you tell us about how you manage this?
Yes, it’s time-consuming, but it’s time I love to spend and in the end it’s well worth it. I’ve never shirked on this and I think it’s one of the reasons why I’ve not made a book I’m (in retrospect) embarrassed by. Far be it for me to say, but I think they all stand up as pretty decent books, and I can’t wish for more than that. Managing my time is difficult, what with trying to pursue my own projects, doing the odd commissions, teaching, and everything else (not to mention my family) but somehow or other I manage to get everything done.
Your photobook Mass (2013) is a very interactive high-production value book with fold-outs. How was making that book different in process to other, less physically complex works? Did it take significantly longer to do?
I’m very proud of Mass, although it’s been a difficult book to sell. I worked with Stuart Smith on that one, and from the outset I suggested I wanted a small book with large pictures inside… a tricky conundrum. As luck would have it Stu had a book from his shelf he’d been keeping for just the right moment. As I remember, it was an advertising brochure for a perfume company. Its design principle was the genesis of Mass.
The next problem was trying to find a printer able to make such a thing. Stuart soon realised it was almost impossible to describe what we wanted without sending out a tiny dummy as an example. He made several and posted them out. Most printers either ignored us or told us straight that it was impossible to do. There was one printer in Belgium who wanted an astronomical amount to make each copy by hand. And then, at the very last moment, Graphicom in Verona phoned to say they thought they could do it.
While it may be a complicated book design, it’s surprisingly simple in content; once the folding mechanism had been designed the pictures just slotted into place. We didn’t need to spend time agonising over sequencing or anything like that. There aren’t many pictures in it. The Shipping Forecast (1996) is specifically allied to a well-known written text, spoken twice a day across the world, creating an underpinning narrative structure of the work. The London A-Z – which informed 26 Different Endings also relies on a pre-determined structure to make meaning, while Mass points to the presence of ‘a script’ in which we can project meaning onto the images. Could you maybe discuss your interest in the written / spoken text as a power structure?
Actually I would suggest instead that both The Shipping Forecast and 26 Different Endings take as their starting points (a) a map, and (b) a familiar British institution – a radio broadcast and a popular street atlas. The idea for Mass was born while making my previous book in Poland, The Sound of Two Songs, and has more to do with a reaction to the Catholic Church (I was raised a strict Catholic but have since wandered from the flock). Laboratory is the book which relies most on a spoken and written text because of the collaboration with Dan. The designer, Dom, played with all kinds of innovative ways of using image and text together. We gave him free rein to do whatever he wanted and most ideas he suggested were greeted by us with great excitement.
from Die Mauer ist Weg
You described in a lecture I read that you didn’t know where ideas came from, that you didn’t know how to explain that – it was an intuitive approach. I was interested in reading that and wondered if the serendipity you encountered at the Berlin wall, which became your book Die Mauer ist Weg! was a metaphor for your approach to making work – a chance encounter, a followed path, a drift into form out of chaos.
What I was trying to say was that ideas can come from anywhere and it’s just a matter of being able to recognise one when it’s staring you in the face. While some of my projects have been conceptually tight, like 26 Different Endings, I’m always happiest when I’m allowed to wander and photograph anything I like. I’m very careful to leave enough time at the end of the process to edit and sequence my ‘collection’ of pictures very carefully. Over the years I’ve realised this is at least as important as making the work in the first place. As for my Berlin work, that was just a lucky break. To paraphrase Withnail, I was in Berlin by mistake.
from 26 Different Endings
You incorporate your own soul-searching in your work with essays that reveal a lot about your life; then in one of your books – 26 Different Endings – David Chandler wrote an autobiographical essay. I wonder, then, how you see a ‘self’ as a character in the narratives of others? Does the book form help you do this or is it through the written word that this becomes explicit?
David’s essay in 26 Different Endings is the best autobiographical piece I’ve ever read in a photo book. I’m very fortunate it’s in there and because of it, really, the book is as much David’s as it is mine. We’ve been friends for many years (we lived together as students in the late 1970s) and I think we recognise kindred spirits in each other. Neither of us are afraid to open up emotionally, although in my case (and I think in David’s too) I find it easier to do so through my work than in spoken conversation. You have previously said: “It took me a long time to get to this point. I still don’t have any money because I plough it into new projects, but that’s what I want to spend my money on. That’s the attitude you need to have. You either do it properly or not at all, because if you do it half-heartedly you won’t have success or at least it won’t last – you’ve got to want it right to the core of your bones.” Can you tell us something about this dilemma?
It’s true that for many years I led a hand-to-mouth existence and ploughed everything I had into various projects. But my work is also my pleasure; I can’t imagine not doing it, so it’s never an issue. In every case I’ve managed to get my money back eventually, through books sales, although some titles have taken longer to recoup the ‘investment’ than others. I consider myself extremely fortunate to do what I do. My daughter told me recently she thought I had the best job in the world and I think she might be right. Success means different things to all of us…how do YOU define success of your photobooks?
A successful photobook does justice to the work inside it, and to the time and effort you put into it. It’s not necessarily about sales.
From the outside it could seem that someone who has got to the point you have – part of Magnum, with a successful career in photography – that the financial issues around producing a photobook would be more manageable. Can you explain why this might not be the case?
I can assure you that being a member of Magnum doesn’t come hand-in-hand with great personal wealth! That said, with the exception of Superstructure and The Treasury Project I’ve put my own money into each and every one of my books because I want to maintain a level of control. When I work with publishers they are always small and I trust them implicitly (Zelda Cheatle, Photoworks and GOST) but my two most recent books, Die Mauer ist Weg! and Laboratory, were self-published. This meant I had to pay for everything myself, which wasn’t easy, but Die Mauer actually made a decent profit and it’s that, indirectly, which has gone into making Destroying the Laboratory. But be under no illusions, photobook publishing isn’t a sensible business model. While Die Mauer may have made a profit, the amount of time that goes into self-publishing, not to mention wrapping and posting every single copy myself (I freely admit I’m a control freak) shouldn’t be underestimated. You can forget the minimum wage. You are launching your latest book Destroying the Laboratory for the Sake of the Experiment at Photobook Bristol. What can we expect from the launch – and the book? We hear it’s going to be quite an event!
The project is a collaboration between the poet Daniel Cockrill, designer Dominic Brookman, and myself. Between 2006 and 2010 Dan and I travelled together, whenever time allowed, to different parts of England. The themes of collaboration and experiment were (and still are) important factors. In effect we were two artists using different media sharing the same ‘landscapes’. It soon became clear that each of us had our own hierarchy of what we considered interesting and important, and that’s what the project became about.
In 2010 we had the small show of the work at the Atlas Gallery in London. It was an intentionally messy experiment, but quite successful in spite of the fact that we didn’t sell a single thing! At the same time we made a dummy book, printed on an Indigo Press, in an edition of just five copies. That forms the basis of the so-called ‘trade edition’, which will be launched at the Bristol Photobook Festival in June, although this later incarnation takes even more risks. It’s taken a while to get it published, I know, but the gestation period has been useful. Among other things we made the decision not to date or caption anything in the book because it really didn’t seem important.
The third member of our team is undoubtedly Dominic Brookman who, coincidently, lives in Bristol. He designed the book and created a number of ‘treatments’ of the poems, often integrating these with my photographs. These have, in turn, become images in themselves and form a key part of the book.
We go on press next week (May 2016), so I’m a little nervous about getting too excited until I’ve seen the final product. At the Bristol event the three of us will do a presentation which will of course include a poetry performance by Dan. And this will be the only time we’ll all be together to sign the books…
In the latest of the interviews leading up to Photobook Bristol 2016, Alejandro Acin asked Sonia Berger a few questions about their journey with DALPINE, the situation in Spain re:Photobooks as well as the publishing industry.
In 2010, José Manuel Suarez and you, both students at Blank Paper School in Madrid (Spain), created Dalpine, a publishing house and online bookstore specializing in photobooks. What were the reasons that made you start this new adventure? What are you roles within DALPINE?
The reasons for creating Dalpine were powerful: we couldn’t find anywhere the books we were looking for. We had started collecting the books we were being showed by Fosi Vegue and Ricardo Cases at BlankPaper school and also searching for others, both old and new books. On the other hand, some photographers had started self-publishing their works and needed help with the distribution. We realized that very interesting books were being published in other countries, either by the authors themselves or by small publishing houses. So the idea was simply to make these books accessible to a broader audience. That’s how we contacted some small publishers, self-published authors and some Spanish publishers who had published some of the best photobooks in the past decade and started Dalpine.
In your bookshop, your catalogue seems to be very well thought through, there are very interesting new titles from Spain but also international ones, however you don’t seem to be one of those bookshops that get all the new/trendy titles. How is your selection process?
We continue selecting both Spanish and international books. We have never wanted to have a huge shop, the idea was rather having a small selection but selling a larger number of copies of each title. On the other side, we work with more or less the number of titles I like to read through the year, a moderate quantity. We keep one copy of every book and we build a collection. It’s like we are inviting you to build your collection at the same time. Books can be selected by their beauty, their origin, their design, but most usually by the way they address a certain subject. It’s just a proposal, today one has to do an enormous effort to select contents in the digital era, so here is a tentative.
DALPINE has been evolving since its origins. You started as a very modest online bookshop which became a reference for Spaniards but also internationally for those who wanted to find out new up and coming authors from Spain. But in 2013 you launched your publishing section with KARMA by Oscar Monzon (in conjunction with RVB Books), winner of The Paris Photo-Aperture Foundation First Photobook Award 2013. It seems a very clever approach in order to build up a community of people interested in photobooks, was this part of the reason you started as a bookshop before going into publishing?
The idea of starting a publishing house was there from the beginning, but we didn’t know if there were enough readers, or how it worked. There was a need for distribution, but also for new approaches in publishing photography. Traditional publishing houses were not risking much, on the contrary, the risk was a whole generation of talented people to remain unknown. We just wanted to shake a bit the scene and I think in the end we have successfully contributed to it both by promoting books and publishing our own.
You were a very important part of what it was called ”The Spanish Photobook Revolution” which has had an internationally repercussion. Has this revolution had an impact in how photography or photobooks are perceived today in Spain? What have been the consequences of this revolution if any?
Yes, probably the so called Spanish Photobook Revolution, which I think was basically a number of people from various backgrounds working intensely to produce and disseminate interesting photobooks, has had an impact both in photography and publishing in Spain. There is a lot of people interested in the subject (isn’t Spain the country which counts with more Photobook Clubs?), Photobook Jockeys are celebrated here and there and photobooks are now a fundamental part of the many art book fairs that have flourished. However the number of art bookshops remains still low in this country, and major shops have not opened any corner devoted to them as happened with comic books a decade ago.
One of the very important factors behind this revolution has been the collaborative spirit existing between photographers, editors, designers, curators, publishers from different parts of Spain. Could you tell us a little bit more about this collaborative ethos? and how was your role in this?
The crisis started in 2008, we knew we had nothing to lose, and that’s how we started talking. The time for waiting for an opportunity was over. This is true for photographers as well as for other professionals. I remember a presentation of Dalpine in Madrid that led to a debate, then led to another meeting and finally Bookip (Book In Progress) was created in 2011. It was a platform for sharing information, for meeting photographers, designers, publishers, printers, prepress technicians… Most of the people taking part in those meetings have grown up a bit professionally together. We are all freelancers, but we have created a collaborative net of resources. Almost every member of the studio I work in now, La Troupe, were there at the time. We were all really committed and shared the idea of seeing new photography recognized.
You have been published eight titles so far and five of them are the author’s first book. Is this something you are particularly interested in?
No, we are not particularly interested in first books, but it has a very simple explanation: we have been growing together with that generation, and we think it is worth publishing their works. That’s the reason why we started in the first place. Now that we have a short story, maybe there would be more experienced photographers wanting to work with us, who knows.
What do you think when people say ”the photobook world needs to reach a bigger audience” ?
We have seen the audience grown slowly during the past 10 years and new structures have developed such as fairs and festivals devoted to photobooks, etc. We think the audience can continue growing slowly but at a slower pace than most of us working in the field would like to see.
There are some ”big” publishing houses that take 100% of the money from photographers/authors and the only thing they do/offer as an exchange is promoting and distributing the books, which most of the time means to be put on their Amazon shop. DALPINE has recently announced a series of exhibitions in partnership with TEMPLE, a photography gallery in Paris, with some of the authors you have published. As a small publishing house this is very admirable, as you are actually making a creative effort in promoting your books in new different ways. This seems to be a very different approach to the way publishing houses have been behaved in the past years. Do you think the way the publishing industry works needs to be reconsidered? What do you think are the new challenges for publishers and self-publishers?
We are small and we prefer to work with few photographers but have the best experience. Partnering with Temple is just fantastic because we share similar ideas. In the end is all about defending the work you believe in and trying to meet the audience that also believes in what you believe. Photobook publishing industry is very small compared to the publishing industry at large, and I think there is room to explore other approaches. I think it is important to find collaborators that can add value to the project.
We hear this sentence a lot: ”The photobook world is saturated with new books that no-one buys. The makers are also the consumers”
What do you think about it?
Photobooks are of the interest of a small group around the world, a group composed of photographers, collectors, designers, photography students… and it’s ok. Reaching that audience was easier a few years ago, now there are more books than ever and that the audience is is still more or less the same. But I think every market regulates itself at some point, until the next boom if it ever happens. Maybe there’s too many books but that will create a more mature market and will show new intelligent forms of marketing.
What do you think it makes a photobook successful?
A good work, a committed author and good promotion strategy.
Where would you like to see DALPINE in 10 years?
We would love to continue publishing a few books every year, building a catalogue, and finding new ways of collaboration between photographers, designers, gallerists, etc. Have a space of our own or perhaps also think about publishing essays and literature as well, connect photography to other disciplines, be always on the go, otherwise the project would be death.
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.