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Monday, 5 December 2011

The Velvet Cell

I am currently writing a labrynthine feature for the BJP about new publishers and am a little overwhelmed at the response and the range of what is out there. I have talked to so many lovely people and had so many email to-and-fros that I really have too much to talk about - not all have which is coherent. 

I think it's  that fractured sense of creativity, and the openness with which people are approaching publishing and bookmaking that is part of the delight of it;  there is not one way of doing things, there is not one overwhelming authority of what is good, peope are coming at it from all sorts of different angles and there is a sense of a merging and overlapping of different streams of  photography, arts, fashion and design - and that is a good thing. 

I have experienced a diversity of thoughts and ideas and nearly all of it has been life-affirming and mind-expanding - people are opening doors, not closing them. 

So with that in mind, I thought I would run a few longer interviews with individual publishers, starting with Eanna Freeney at The Velvet Cell - who sell beautifully packaged booklets at only £7. See, amongst others,  Urban Satori - Nykoh, On the Plane - Philip Kalantzis Cope  and Brooklyn - Luke Swenson.

So Eanna, why did you start a publishing company?

I started publishing for a number of reasons. For a start I’m passionate about photography, not just my own. I also love books and design. So for me it’s a convergence of all these interests. Its an amazing chance for me to work with amazing artists who inspire me, and I get to work with design and see a finished product. Publishing is great in that it’s so renewable. Every book is a chance to rejuvenate yourself, try a new style, do something bold. I began designing exhibition catalogues before deciding that I wanted to build up a base for different photographers. Around the same time I was becoming disillusioned with the prevalence in mainstream photography and photo books with landscape and portraiture. I love these styles but I felt that photography of an urban nature, of the great Stieglitz tradition, was severely underestimated and under-represented. I wanted to build a publishing house around this. I’ve always been fascinated with urban photography especially and wanted to give a platform to others who shared this passion. After a while I decided to broaden the focus to different genres of photography but it began as a dedication to urban photography of a sociological nature.  

Who decides what gets published?

I decide who gets published. Simple as that. I study Photography and am acutely aware of the role of the publisher in often deciding what artists make it and what artists don't. I am aware that publishing, and other institutional facets of the art world, must balance this without being exclusive and discriminating. However, I think for small publishers like The Velvet Cell, all we can really do is invest in the artists who we share an affinity with. 

What kind of books do you want to publish?

For the past year I have published booklets, in a limited range of 100. They are small, intimate and affordable. They afford the viewer a close experience with the work on display. However, this year The Velvet Cell shall be moving on to producing larger format books, enabling us to display the photographers in questions work in larger detail, hopefully doing it more justice. All books will be limited edition.  

Why the urban and night time theme?

The urban and nocturnal theme derives from how I fell into photography. I am very interested in the urban environment and city-life. I have always been inspired and captivated by photographers like Alfred Stieglitz who looked above street-level and was obsessed with the form of the city, rather that the action at street level. Like photographers Gregory Crewdson and Rut Blees Luxembourg I have always been interested in themes of alienation and dislocation experienced by people living in cities. When I moved to London in 2009 I spent a lot of time with my camera trying to make sense of my new surroundings. East London, in particular, is a post-industrial area where whole communities are re-evaluating their identities in the wake of de-industrialisation. I found this fascinating and a most interesting subject for my my photographic practices and for this publishing house. My academic background in sociology has, without doubt, gone a long way in shaping my interests.  

Are there any other small publishers that inspired you?

Plenty. PPP was a very early inspiration. I pick dup their book Tokyo a long time ago and marvelled at its production for months afterwards. Right now Hassla are a big inspiration but also Layflat for the sheer quality of their publications. Rokov Publishing, a new independent imprint who released their first book this year, is also doing great work around nocturnal and sociological work and is a great inspiration.  

Who designed the books?

The books are designed and distributed by myself. Designing the books and trying new things is one of my favourite parts of publishing. 

Where did you have the books printed?

The books, to date, have been printed by a small UK-based printer. But in the future, for larger publications we will be using printers in both the Baltic region and Hong Kong. 

What made you decide to have them printed there?

A relationship with your printer is one of the key elements to the success of any publishers and you find that once you find one that you trust and who produces good work you tend to stick with them. I was recommended them by others I know in the publishing business. 

How important was it to be at the printing?

Unfortunately, due to many circumstances, including an overly busy schedule, Im rarely available to be at the actual printing. It’s always a big regret but when you trust your printer then you feel secure. For me it’s not the most important factor, that is the design. 

What are your upcoming publications?

We have three big publications in the pipeline at the moment and are planning to begin new venture of The Velvet Cell that publishes exclusively larger format books. For the first one we are in the middle of arranging shows in both Los Angeles and London to support it. I don't want to give out too much detail just yet but we will also have two more smaller books coming out in the early months of the new year, 

How easy is it market and sell the books?

Marketing the books and selling them is perhaps the most challenging aspect and certainly takes up far more time than you'd imagine. Obviously reputation is a massive thing and as your back catalogue grows more people come to know and trust your publications. Quality always has to come first and I’d rather produce quality publications that I believe in and be unknown to most than to compromise quality and sacrifice what I believe in. For marketing it’s a matter of contacting as many people as you know that would be interested and hoping that word spreads. 

There are many small, new photobook companies. Why is this do you think?

There is certainly a boom. I suppose for many reasons. Firstly the internet facilitates publishers to exist with no physical location necessary such as a bookshop. Therefore expenditure is vastly reduced. Secondly printing costs, in general, are both cheaper and more accessible than say ten years ago. The internet brings people together and connects people with similar interests. I think the interest in photo books and independent imprints has always been there but just now it is easier to do. This also goes hand in hand with the fact that photography is more accessible now for everyone. Everyone has a camera now, on their phone or a point and shoot. Even SLRs have reduced massively in price and people don't need to be educated about aperture and printing to be able to be a photographer. So there is a glut of new emerging photographers out there and the old publishing system, that still prevails either isn't equipped to deal with them all or there simply isn't a market for all to be published. It’s certainly a challenge to the established standards. 

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