Aron: When we came of age in the 90s, there was that sort of DIY influence and to certain degrees we all wanted to grab onto it and do our own things instead of work in an office. And that coincided with the music indie labels that came out and a culture that was sort of trying to mingle with mainstream, which I think informed our consciousness, and that merged with technology and blogs coming up and here we could actually build our globally accessible platform.
Damien: For me DIY is really the 80s and a result of the economic recession in America and in England which triggered young people to make their own things. I started because of the internet. I was used to Facebook and I saw that you could do it by yourself. So yes, DIY but thanks to internet’s global reach, I would not have done it otherwise. DIY was part of a movement; an attitude.
Aron: Yes, the DIY philosophy informed us and suddenly the technology came along to support it in the early 2000s. I started by collecting books and I liked young zines. I was especially fascinated by small poetry publishers who put them out by themselves. Then Fragrant by Faber and Faber won an award, absorbed them and took over, but all these small publishers had done the groundwork and hard work.
My first books were tiny poetry books. Also, what fascinated me was the early access of cheap laser printers. I was on tax credits, on housing benefits and bought the first £300 laser printer, and that’s self-publishing. You can scan things and put them out. I still do 99% of things myself.
You didn’t need a team, you didn’t need to outsource, that made it super accessible and also there were people like Emeric Glayse
and his blog Nofound on Tumblr, and Tim Barber
with Tiny Vices. There were all these blogs of young people curating interesting bits of medium and taking hold. And these blogs had identity, they weren’t just content stock hold under Facebook or Instagram.
Damien: Yes, that was a particular time, pre-Facebook and Instagram.
Aron: Yes, 2004, and that’s also the time where people were doing that stuff intelligently and all of them like Emeric and Tim Barber have evolved running their own stuff. Yes it was people embracing something themselves and once again, it was very niche. So yes that DIY inheritance combined with the technological fusion of the internet and being able to reach audiences in Japan.
Damien: Yes it’s that artisan craftsmanship which you use to express yourself and paired with social media, we could reach out to Japan and America.
Maxwell: 2010, is when I started. I was working for Chris Boot Ltd, taking over from Bruno [Ceschel]
, and that’s when I self-published my first book, See You Soon. It was a crossover period with Chris who was moving to New York to join Aperture, and I was left in that limbo of managing Chris Boot Limited but under the contract we were not allowed to do new books, so I missed making books for other people and so I published this book of my own.
Aron: Why didn’t you give it to Chris Boot? Or other publishers?
Maxwell: The project was a very personal project and I knew it was something Chris wouldn’t want to publish anyway.
Hannah: That’s how all people start. You know that nobody wants to do it, so you do it. That’s how Gigi [Gigi Giannuzzi, Trolley Books]
did it for Nan Goldin because no one else wanted to do it.
Damien: Thriving from refusal, you have to do it yourself and even more so than DIY is the status quo that gets you to do it using all the tools available in that particular time period.
Hannah: Yes, why not? Why can’t I do it? I know how to do it.
Damien: Out of passion, like the blog…
Hannah: Yeah, you’re mad!
Aron: If you think of Offprint having 30 to 40 exhibitors in 2010 with now over 300 exhibitors between London and Paris, it’s strange to think we all jump led on this between 2008 and now. At the same time we are starting publishing houses, little bookstores are opening up. Dashwood Books
in New York, Zine’s Mate is happening in Tokyo, Yvon Lambert is opening up to smaller publications in Paris, and Claire de Rouen left Shipley’s to go solo with a focus on artists books; and of course, there is Clément Krauter of Le Plac’art, a shop in a tiny passage in Saint Germain des Près…
Maxwell: If you take on Offprint from 30 to 300, I’m not sure more people are doing it, more people are given the platforms and can go public with it but I’m sure a lot of people are still making zines in their living room.
Hannah: This comes back to Bruno [Self Published Be Happy]
... When I started to work with Trolley Books, it was really depressing. There was no features, everyone was going digital, you just had a handful of publications. That’s when Michael Mack was still at Steidl, Chris at Chris Boot, and it was only when Bruno built his self-publishing platform that we all went that way.
[Bruno is not in yet – yes, he’s late]
Aron: Do you think he recognised there was something to do as such?
Hannah: Yes, this was after the financial crash, and he recognised there was something to do with it. It wasn’t commercial.
Damien: No, it wasn’t driven by the need of change, and people weren’t working, there were no normal jobs anymore. So designers and in short creatives started to do their own things.
Maxwell: It’s interesting that this coincided with the 70s popularity of the Japanese provoc. That was around the same time, and it might have been as such, a form of resonance in practice.
Aron: In the early 2000s, when I saw young photographers working, they were more keen on doing shows, than doing little booklets. For instance, Vyner Street had 20 small galleries and people were trying to make prints and all of a sudden you had people like me trying to do zines and books, when they felt it was validating for them to do little pop-up shows instead.
Maxwell: That’s accessibility as well because I remember my friend had a little independent show in his garage, and another had a show in his living room but then you only get 40 people to see it, when for a zine, with 100 copies…
Aron: Forty people would see it!
Hannah: With much less money, you can do something with a zine - much cooler than doing an exhibition. It’s just how the whole thing works, and it’s not just specific to photography, you can be a painter and do the same thing.
Maxwell: One of the things that got me interested in zines, was this thing called the Greenwich Pirate*, this must have been about fifteen years ago, and that was a mix of photography, poetry and drawings.
*Later note from Maxwell: “The zine I mentioned was Greenwich Pirate. It was a proper little photocopy and staples zine, made in Greenwich in south east London, and distributed mainly in East and South East London. Back in the 00s.”
Aron: There was a huge surge, there was this whole thing in Shoreditch with zines mixed with fashion always, it was photography and young scenes mingled in that geographic era; and people printing out zines and giving them up for free, Vice was huge at that sort of time.
Hannah: Exhibitions will cost you a lot of money to print, to frame, to promote… When the whole zine thing was really low-fi.
Aron: Could you do low-fi exhibitions? I’m curious… McGinley when he did his first show, he took a squat out on Broadway, and made a handmade zine and probably he put a little budget together…
Hannah: Also, it lasts, a zine…
Damien: Yes, it’s a collectable; it’s an item…
Hannah: An addiction
Aron: I have to say one thing that influenced me was that publisher in Switzerland, Nieves. They were just doing really simple photocopies, beautifully made - making use of simple machines but great content - and also reaching out to retailers across the world - zines by Linus Bill to Larry Clark via Nick Haymes and Kim Gordon - I think they might have recently done an Elizabeth Peyton one too. And they had Larry Clark. Every time I see them, I’m like: “You basically started it”. Another influence was Jürgen Teller, the Master Book, where he just simplified everything and made a really small book. I bought one at his exhibition on Modern Art in Vyner Street. It was digitally printed, it wasn’t printed.
Damien: Funny that you mention this because it reminds me how I started. My role model was Trolley Books and Gigi, I went to all the events and he was making the London scene really dynamic and then Nieves, making books, photocopying it, and then with Facebook…
Aron: … Gigi had that punk ethos.
Damien: Yes, because he was punk, I thought it was possible. He was a maverick. Especially his events were incredible, he created a scene. And for me when you talk about Japan, Japan and London have the same similarities, there are no galleries in Japan, and so you’re making books, and in London, there were no galleries for photography, so to make books was even more relevant, and that’s why it started in a big way here because if you go to Paris or Berlin, there are galleries, it’s structured.
[Disruption: Bruno pops in]
Aron: Bruno, strange question, when you started Self Publish Be Happy what was around there that made you think: “yes, there is some energy there, something is going on?”
Bruno: Well, I finished with Chris [Chris Boot]
and then went to New York. It was in 2009 in the aftermath of the Lehman Brothers downfall; digital media were coming in, media were moving to digital and the small publishers were in trouble, you can ask Trolley…
Hannah: We had always been in trouble…
Bruno: There was a general feeling that things weren’t going right. And so I went to New York, I got acquainted with the Printing Matter world, which seems to overlap with the photo world, but actually isn’t the same, they come from the traditional artist books; and the photo book has a separate history, but the artbook had a renaissance in publishing, the fair was growing. At the time it was still in Chelsea, not yet at PS1, with a sense of over-boarding, and so I had a sense that something was going on… When I returned to London, I put up a call for submissions, which had 300 responses, and you, Maxwell, were in the first show?
Maxwell: Yes, you had curated thirty artists to be exhibited at the Photographers’ Gallery in 2011.
Bruno: Yes, and that was done by a call of submissions through friends. I don’t even know who?
Hannah: Who are your friends?
Bruno: People I was in touch with through Chris Boot, selfpublishedbehappy.com and LLC [Where Bruno was teaching]
Aron: Do you think you could curate thirty books today or do you think there is too much content to do something that small in numbers today?
Bruno: You know, effectively, Aperture at Paris Photo this year, that’s what they do. And self-published books are always in the landscape, they won some years, they are always short listed. But at that time, it was quite hard, I think we got more than a hundred submissions. Anyway so last week I was invited by Gucci to Florence and it was the most extraordinary invitation I have ever received; [giggling]
you know luxury hotels, drivers picking me up…
Aron: That’s why you were late…
Bruno: Yes, I was still waiting for the limo outside my house which never showed up.
[Showers of laughter]
Hannah: Tell us about Gucci. Jesus!
Bruno: So anyway, there was the founder of Nero Magazine which was started around 2006 and basically lasted for ten years, and then they made it into a publishing house, and there was flash art, which basically is Italian royalty in terms of publication, etc. And I was talking with a curator who was saying that it was interesting that all these things always had a beginning and an end, as to say, you can map out when something explodes and then progressively fades away. And they were praising the idea that something had a heatwave and then would end somehow in a physiological sense. And I think that self-publishing certainly and also publishing in a way has that cycle. It has happened so many times before in publishing. Another causality is about energy, I think it was David Senior, former curator at MoMA who made that point in one of my interviews, he said: “How long can one actually push things forward, not making enough money?”, and so that generation who pushed self-publishing ahead might simply be exhausted, and so they move to something else… Like Damien who could buy a house and has now a mortgage.
Damien: Yes, but that wasn’t done with books.
Aron: … and actually the increase in independent publishers at Offprint aren't paralleled by an increase in bookshops, we potentially got the same niche market. And as much as this is happening, Mörel is always trying to evolve, I’m actually going back to do zines because it’s less work.
Bruno: Off you go back to the tent…
The Publishing Market
Aron: Yes back to basics. And even the way I fund things, I have always gone against the waves, I don’t publish a book through retailers, I do special editions. I now try to get more funding, and what Damien was saying about Britain’s publishing because of a lack of space, but we also lack any sort of public funding and we lack philanthropy from Brits. In France, they have public funding, the Swiss and the German do, we are the ones who are sort of… left out in the cold, and we don’t have collectors either. The three people I could think of who put money into books are all Americans who come to London and actually engage in that whole independent publishing society. Actually one American gave money to university for bookcases. And it says about this cultural lack of philanthropy in Britain.
Damien: I actually didn’t mind that because you know, I’m French, and that was the reason why I was in England. Because you are on the edge, if you lose a job you have nothing, if you’re in France or other European countries you pay taxes, but if you lose your jobs you have monthly subsidies to stay on your feet, but here I liked the danger and to be out of your comfort zone forces you to be creative / inventive. It’s dynamic, this is why New York is so dynamic and London to a certain extent. Because here we have no choice and that discomfort is really interesting for creativity. I really like it.
Aron: Let’s all vote for Tories for creativity. Maybe, there was a bigger plan behind Brexit.
Damien: Actually, bad politics is good for creativity, look at the outburst of creativity in the wake of the US elections.
Bruno: I don’t know if that’s true. Yes artists are doing their things, there are collectives, but I cannot think of American small publishers.
Aron: I don’t think people can risk it there, here you can risk it and still be on tax credits I suppose. You can still somehow get by. Hustler works for Karma
while he’s publishing his own stuff.
CB: What’s the next city then?
Bruno: Berlin is nothing. I don’t know what’s going on in France?
Damien: France is doing fine. Spain exploded in the last years, there is a lot of publishing coming out from Spain, essentially as the result of the economic crisis which was huge, so people invent a system, invent a job and by doing this, it’s a way to be active; really I think that creativity is flourishing in times of crisis.
Aron: What about Japan? What is happening there? You said they have a very strong niche market.
Damien: I believe the Japanese were very insular and now they are more open to the world and to what is happening in other countries. They are aware of the big interest of Europeans for Japanese publishing and they are really creating these links now. Before you were used to seeing nothing coming out of Japan, and now there’s a lot.
Aron: I’d like to see something coming out of Russia. I don’t know, have you guys seen any work coming out of there?
Bruno: The problem there is the lack of freedom to do something like that, the censorship is a real problem both in printing and distributing. Same thing in China. I’m actually going to Shanghai for a week and for the art fair, and I’m really curious about the publishing context there.
CB: Let’s talk about how Hannah transitioned from Gigi to becoming Hannah?
Aron: I said the other day, that Gigi was doing his own thing and it was very political and when you came along you transformed it and made it very young and very female and very interesting, just with the two artists you represent and are currently showing now, Maisie Cousin and Juno Calypso, you have spearheaded that movement. It sounds horrible to say that on Gigi’s chair but to a certain degree what you’ve done is to give it a fresh new life; you made it very contemporary and very relevant.
Hannah: Yeah. Subconsciously…
Damien: Yes, it was a big task to take over from Gigi, his presence was huge.
Hannah: Yeah. There is definitely an ongoing legacy with what Trolley is doing, but then I’m bringing in what I’m interested in, which is just naturally there with young artists like Maisie or Juno, which I think just fits well with me. And I was saying the other night going to Maisie and Juno, I said to them: “Gigi would have loved you too and you would have loved him”. It’s true they would have got on really well. Although it’s a slightly different dynamic but...
Bruno: And you went from publishing to a gallery.
Hannah: When I started with Gigi, I kind of helped develop the gallery and then we had divided things as Gigi would do more books and I would do spend more time at galleries, but the two of us would always cross over, and Gigi was amazing when going to artists’ studios and talking them into the work anyway, so it wasn’t that defined, it was a loose idea. And then, after he died, I knew that I had to carry on what he did at Trolley anyway, so then it just became this symbiosis between publishing and showing, and that also came around the time I was going to book fairs. When he died the first fair I went to in New York was in 2013. And we wouldn’t do the fairs so much when he was alive. He just missed that or it was just starting, his background was more the Frankfurt Book Fair, when Trolley started that was the only fair that existed. And he didn’t want to pay for the stand then but he would have loved the fairs.
Bruno: When Offprint arrived here in 2015, New York and Paris had already an established scene for fairs. Even though Paris had been always conservative and still is. New York always was the wild one. And in a sense, London sat in between the two. And that was the mandate from Simon Baker to bring some elements of programming.
When Indie Flirts with Mainstream
Aron: Do you think that there is a certain desire, and I certainly had it for Mörel Books, do you think that’s how subculture works as to be part of the mainstream? I constantly nag the MoMA or push The Guardian. I like what Simon did in bringing Offprint into the Tate. Have you guys ever had that desire to have our stuff flirt sort of more with the broadsheets… or more sort of globally mainstream?
Bruno: I do, but the books I do are the limitation; the limitation are the books themselves really. Only few in my career have moved into the mainstream in a considerable way. If I think about Carmen Winant’s My Birth, that book went into realms that weren’t expected as such, and to some extent maybe Lorenzo Vitturi’s books, but other than that by its own nature it’s kind of stuck…
Aron: But if you think of Julien Aschner who used to do the magazines at the Tate, and secretly snuck in a zine section. And it was very successful. So as much as the books can exist in certain spaces, I think if you gave it to the new audiences in new places and you work intelligently, it could have impact. And once again, it’s the Tate that has done it twice with Julien Aschner and Simon Baker; both of them having enemies within it.
Maxwell: There is also Mohara Gill at Foyles on Charing Cross Road. I would never have imagined having books at Foyles because it’s Foyles but she created that space for it, which is really cool.
Hannah: … if we could sell thousands of books we would but we just know that we can’t. When Gigi started making books, having come from a big art book publishers – Allemandi and Rizzoli, 5,000 was not a lot of books, 10,000 was not a lot of books. So basically the market shrank and shrank and shrank… And all of the Trolley books Gigi was publishing were printed in 3, 4 or 5,000 copies, because that was the model, and he didn’t realize at the time because he was being very idealistic, he really thought that the people are going to buy these books about difficult subjects, and they didn’t. Then that crossed over… when the people started to do the zines, it was all about small numbers, and so Trolley started by making thousands of copies, to now where I don’t think I publish more than 1,500 copies of a book.
Aron: You also had agents and international warehouses…
Bruno: I think that Steidl and Michael Mack, and Aperture of course, are the ones who got closer to really moving stock into the mainstream. Partly it’s because of the nature of the books themselves, because you know, how many people are going to engage with Anthony Cairns’s book?
Aron: [Feathers ruffled]
What do you mean, thousands!
CB: Could independent publishers be bought out by major companies, not necessarily tech giants but publishing houses?
Aron: You know what? That actually happens a lot to small literary agents who get bought by Penguin Group and others. And they keep some sort of independence.
Damien: In music, it’s the same. The majors buy the indie labels and feed them with financial and distribution support.