Tipi: Buy a Book, Create a Community, Turn a Parcel into Art

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.


What is your earliest  memory?
A family slide projection. I remember someone was putting the images in a certain order, because he wanted to tell a story. We were in the living room, projecting on the wall.


What is your earliest book memory?

Unreachable books on a bookshelf, holding back my desire.


What is the first book you bought?

The first one that comes to  mind is a book about self-portraits by Elina Brotherus that I bought when I was studying photography. In the end I only opened it months after buying it because it was too close to my own practice.

I have a hard time recalling any books before that.


What is the first book you sold?

Interesting question. I really forget which were the first titles. Those were books from my own collection that I used to start up the shop. There also were some Belgian photographers that gave me their trust from the start, like Vincent Delbrouck and Olivier Cornil, and I sold copies from their self-published work. The book selection grew as people started to know the shop existed – as people started to get used to the idea of selling their books in a concrete shop, not only through the internet.


Massao Mascaro from Tipi Bookshop on Vimeo.



What did you do before you started Tipi?

I studied photography. When I graduated, my photo teacher offered me his publishing house, because he could see I was more interested in photography sequenced in books rather than in exhibitions. I left ARP editions after five years when I realized it was not possible to publish everyone, but there was a much wider possibility in promoting a larger range of editions. After that I worked at the workshop of a Fine art framer for a few years, at Mertens lijstenmakerij, working with original prints, where I learned to recognize different print qualities, and the difference between images meant for exhibitions and others meant for books – how the two different spaces have their own grammar. And then I decided to start the Tipi Bookshop.


When and why did you start Tipi?

I started Tipi in 2013. I felt the urge to create a community, I felt a growing energy in the photo community, among my own friends and internationally – I wanted to help photographers who wanted to make a book but were afraid to do it on their own, I wanted to offer a platform where their self-published work would be shown, and could travel. Until then, self-published projects could be found at the entrance of bookshops in a box, they were not taken seriously. I wanted to give them more credibility and confidence, encourage them to go for bigger projects and take artistic risks.


How do you make a living from selling photobooks?

The bookshop alone is just a portion (99%) of my life. I give advice to photographers who come by the shop, constantly. When their books are published they come back. It’s a community based on loyalty. That’s why I call it a community; you help someone on their project, and afterwards they come back with a stronger result that you can defend and sell. I go to several fairs every year. Those are condensed moments where I meet many people, new artists, spot good work, promote them, and bring them back to Brussels. It surpasses the usual mail conversations. Also with the buyers, I get the chance to build up personal contact, presenting my selection. I like to mix known artists, and titles collectors are looking for, with very unknown, emerging artists that no-one has heard of before. It’s a constant search for balance. I also teach, do portfolio reviews and jury on the side.


Why should people buy from independent booksellers rather than Amazon?

Buying from a bookseller is a political act. You’re cooperating with someone who works like a curator, who is a human being with a personal selection based on content, not based on numbers or ratings. You’re in front of a person, not a machine.


More photobooks are being published. Why is this?

First of all there are the printing possibilities, people can print from their own place.

There’s the knowledge about binding and composing books that grows, people get better at this, then there’s the economic element: there are more fairs and events that give these books and artists visibility. And there is a growing community of passionate people; makers, publishers, collectors, curators who are sharing and exchanging, that are writing reviews; people learn from each other and grow.


Are more people buying photobooks?

Since I started Tipi, I saw that people were used to seeing traditional ways of publishing stories. They discovered alternative publications. I’ve always selected my books based on different pillars of curiosity: binding, printing, how the story is laid out throughout the book, and whether the publication and the artists took any risks. Through the years I have built up an audience for this kind of work. Even the traditional publishers now are mimicking graphic aspects of the self-published scene in order to reach a wider audience.

Yes, I think more people are buying photobooks because they can sense that there are exciting new, more personal, more intimate waves coming and this is speaking to a larger audience.

Kosmos by Marta Bisbal from Tipi Bookshop on Vimeo.


Can the market for photobooks be made bigger?

Complicated question. I think so, yes, if everyone would get access to books that are now stuck in a niche. Therefore we need people who explain the books. If there’s no intermediary person who shares the knowledge, people are excluded from a ‘market’ they don’t understand. We need newspapers, magazines to talk about photobooks for instance.


When and why did you start your special packaging?

It started with the idea to send photos from my city to the people all over the world ordering the packages. The photos I found on the flea market were fragmented stories that I started to put together in a composition, in order to create a kind of new family, it’s the passion of making up stories out of unknown people’s lives. And then there’s the fascination of other people’s photo-albums. It’s a personal passion and it became something I need to do, every time I send parcels. In a way it’s me as an artist adding something more then just my position as a bookseller. I want to give back more. And then there’s also a long history of mail-art, so it’s a bit poor to just send a book parcel and not something personalized with it, when you’re working in this field.

I always did it out of a personal need, never from a commercial purpose. But the parcels are getting really well appreciated.


What is the biggest mistake photographers make when they make a photobook?

There are predefined rules for making a book, like paper, binding, ink.

But within those rules, they don’t play around enough. In an exhibition you can’t change the walls, they’re just there to hold the works. In a book there are no walls, it’s flexible, you can mould the medium. Also, people don’t do enough dummies during their work in progress.

Also, a big aspect in the self-published world is that you don’t have to make it all by yourself. The feedback of a graphic designer or a third eye is always valuable: different points of views, different actors in the field – but you have to balance all the reactions of people, people might find your images pretty but they might not think in sequence or paper or… The far biggest mistake is to make a book for a pre-defined audience. You should just work for the content of your story.


If you had to give a single piece of advice to photographers making a photobook, what would it be?

Visit Tipi, let’s meet 😉


Do you know in advance if a photobook will sell? What are the signs?

I’m very guided by my own guts, whether I get excited over something or not, of course that same emotional dance along  with the physical one, paper, printing, binding, the way the story is put, but it’s a mainly intuitive thing – the best books are sometimes made without a pre-conceived idea of a target, just from the personal urge, the need, to do the book. If this urge is not there the book might fail.




What are some of your favourite photobooks?

Dazai by Daido Moriyama,

Fantasmi by Valentino Barachini

Aralik by various photographers

and a 1/1 copy of a personal book Valentina Abenavoli and Alex Bocchetto did.

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

Yasujirō Ozu, 16mm, 24fps, static shot.


What is your guiltiest pleasure?

Buying books when I don’t have money.


Who would you invite your dream dinner party?

People who don’t know each other but who I know can exchange a lot with interesting results.

Valentino Barachini, Philippe Azoury, Yasujirō Ozu, Raymond Meeks and Stefan Vanthuyne would definitely be there.


What words or phrases do you use too much?

Can I see your dummy.


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

Nothing. Because my past led me to what I am now. I have no time for regrets.


What is the most important lesson life has taught you?

Two lines found in the documentary TRACES OF A DIARY,

“Deceive someone, deceive myself.

Trust someone, trust myself.”

The Castle by Federico Clavarino from Tipi Bookshop on Vimeo.