How photographers joined the self-publishing revolution
please note this post is not by Jay Clapp Photography but from the photography news at the guardian for your viewing pleasure please feel free to use the share buttons at the bottom.
Cristina de Middel’s self-published photobook depicting Zambia’s 1964 space project is one of an increasing number of success stories for photographers going it alone
In 2010, while trawling the internet for ideas, Spanish photographer Cristina de Middel came across a list of the 10 craziest experiments in history. At No 1 was the short-lived Zambian space programme of 1964, which was instigated by a schoolteacher, Edward Makuka Nkoloso, with the goal of sending an African to Mars. Intrigued, De Middel, who had recently decided to reinvent herself as a conceptual artist after eight years as a successful photojournalist in her native Spain, decided to use the forgotten Zambian space adventure to begin her own exploration of “ways to tell stories with my camera”.
Self-published in 2012, The Afronauts is a beautifully low-key book comprising De Middel’s staged photographs of astronauts in training, makeshift spacecraft and “African” landscapes – the actual location was the arid landscape and deserted industrial interiors around her home town, Alicante, and the afronauts are locals. The images are punctuated with inserts containing ephemera from the time, including letters to and from the Zambian ministry of technology and newspaper cuttings – “We’re going to Mars! With a spacegirl, two cats and a missionary.”
De Middel wanted the book to reflect the makeshift nature of the Zambian space dream, but also the peculiar magic of that dream as well. “I made storyboards, researched locations, designed the spacesuits. Then, when I was shooting the model in a space helmet like a giant bubble, I suddenly saw how dreamy it looked and I just went with that. The shot defined the aesthetic for the rest of the images.”
The aesthetic worked. The Afronauts became the word-of-mouth book at last year’s Arles photography festival. Martin Parr, photographer, photobook collector and champion of all things new and interesting in the photobook world, bought 35 copies. Soon after, it began selling rapidly (cover price: €28) through online orders and in the various independent book shops that De Middel had managed to convince to stock a few copies. By the end of last year, it had sold out its print run of 1,000 (it now changes hands on eBay for £750 and is listed on rare book site AbeBooks for £1,052). (On rare book site AbeBooks, it is currently listed at £1,054.28.)
By then, De Middel’s project had been shortlisted for the prestigious Deutsche Börse photography prize, as had Mishka Henner, a Belgian-born, Manchester-based artist who also self-publishes his photobooks, including Less Américains, in which he removed elements from the images in Robert Frank’s iconic book The Americans, and another space-themed project, Astronomical, a 12-volume epic containing images of outer space in which each page represents one million kilometres of the six billion between the sun and Pluto.
The inclusion of De Middel and Henner on the Deutsche Börse shortlist may be a kind of tipping point for photography self-publishing in the UK. Having long since shaken off the kind of stigma that still attaches to, say, self-published fiction, the self-published photobook is currently a mini-phenomenon within the bigger thriving culture of photography book publishing. The wider context for this DIY approach is the availability of relatively cheap digital technology and the attendant rise of social media-led networking, which allows photographers to disseminate, market and sell their own books without recourse to the traditional artist-publisher relationship. “My book cost €8,500 to print,” says De Middel. “At a time when upcoming photographers are increasingly being asked to contribute more than that towards the cost of publishing their book with some mainstream publishers, it seemed like a much more preferable option.”
Photography self-publishing is not a new phenomenon. Back in the 1960s, artist Ed Ruscha published two seminal photobooks: Twentysix Gasoline Stations (1963) and Every Building on the Sunset Strip (1966), which remain touchstones for the book as an art object in itself. Likewise, Japanese photographer Daido Moriyama‘s Another Country in New York from 1974, a homage to American photographer William Klein produced on a Canon photocopier and stapled together. (It was produced in an edition of 100 and no two copies are identical. It will now set you back around £40,000 on the collectors’ market.)
If one were to select two more recent trailblazers, the names Stephen Gill and Alec Soth spring immediately to mind. Gill, a London-based photographer, created a small imprint, Nobody Books, in 2005 “to exercise control over the publication of his books” and “to make the book a finished expression of the photographs, rather than just a shell to house them in”. To this end, his most recent book, Coexistence, is a thing of great beauty: an edition of 1,500 divided into six mini-editions of 250, each housed in a different marbled cover. Soth, a Minneapolis-based Magnum photographer who first published with Steidl, one of the biggest and most respected art-photography publishers, now also has his own imprint, Little Brown Mushroom. Through it, he publishes his own work and that of other like-minded maverick souls in book, magazine and newspaper formats. “I decided to use Little Brown Mushroom as a way to publish narrative photography books that function in a similar way to children’s books,” he said in a recent interview. “We’ve since done four of these books… Little Brown Mushroom isn’t a real business. It is a hobby. My only goal is to satisfy my own particular interest at a given time.”
As a business, though, self-publishing can be precarious. De Middel recalled her “rising sense of panic” when, having spent most of her savings, she found herself surrounded by boxes of as then unsold books in her bedroom. “I was lucky in many ways,” she says. “I had a small production team I could call on from my design contacts with Colors magazine, where I had worked for a while, and I had a grant from a university in a Spain to produce an exhibition and a catalogue. You have to use your contacts but even then it can be a slog. You are the producer, publisher and distributor of the book, as well as the person who has to manage the finances. You have to learn quickly and you have to be prepared to haul it around the bookshops and take the rejections.” (Ironically, the Photographers’ Gallery, which hosts the Deutsche Börse prize exhibition, was one of the places that declined to stock her book when she first made the rounds of London bookshops.) Self-publishing, she says, is “a labour of love – with the accent on labour!”
Enter Bruno Ceschel, who started the Self Publish, Be Happy website in 2010, with the aim of “celebrating, studying and promoting self-published photobooks through events, publications and online exposure”. Since then, SPBH has become a hub for aspiring photographers and artists, organising workshops that show photographers how to make and distribute their own books, posting the results on its daily blog and acting as a kind of repository of information and knowledge. Though they have recently started their own book club and they will soon publish a new book by De Middel, Ceschel is keen to stress that they are not primarily a publisher, more a platform for self-publishing. “People send us their work,” he told me recently, “then we choose what we like and put it up on the site with all the details of how it was made, where it was printed, how much it costs and how to order a copy.”Ceshel also runs the offshoot, Self Publish Be Naughty, dedicated to intimate pictures of girlfriends taken by boyfriends and vice-versa.
For Ceschel and the many, mainly young, photographers whose work he highlights, self-publishing seems like an outgrowth of the ‘zine culture that has long flourished around the indie music and skateboard scenes. It is, says Ceschel, all about “thinking and creating outside the mainstream model of publishing, which most young photographers cannot afford or simply don’t want to get involved with because it doesn’t fit their way of working”. In an age when the alternatives to mainstream publishing are increasingly affordable and creatively liberating, self-published photography in all its different forms may yet become the norm.
via Art and design: Photography | guardian.co.uk http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/2013/apr/14/photography-self-publishing-afronauts-space Sean O’Hagan Thanks for reading Jay
Posted on April 13, 2013, in Photography News and tagged Art and design: Photography | guardian.co.uk, arts, guardian, IFTTT, info, information, journal, news, newspaper, photo, photography, Sean O'Hagan. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.