Photobook Bristol 2016 is over and was simply wonderful. We are emotionally attached to the event, but it was a truly memorable festival for so many reasons with great talks, great people and so many different perspectives given. And there were quite a few stand out moments!
The weekend started with Amak Mahmoodian talking about her beautiful book, Shenasnameh. Her talk started with a clip of old Iranian movies which cut through the clichés of representation of the country. She went on to describe her working process, for all her projects and then the ways in which the identity photograph of the Iranian Shenasnameh (which is a kind of Iranian Birth Certificate/Domestic Passport) is used. The book is connected very closely to the different ways in which photography is used in formal settings and how those uses reflect politics, culture, violence and power. But above all, it is a book that is personal, autobiographical and filled with a passion and love that transcends the subject matter.
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.