We're big fans of Self Publish, Be Happy here at We Folk, and recently Olivia had the chance to ask Bruno Ceschel a few questions regarding SPBH's new venture. A Self Publish, Be Happy Book Club.
I'm really interested to know what made you decide to open a book club?
I have long been toying with ideas about alternative business models of publishing and distributing photobooks since I left my position at Chris Boot Ltd and funded Self Publish, Be Happy, more than two years ago. The traditional publishing trade has proven to be unsustainable and somewhat inadequate in today's world and I really believe that a new approach needs to be taken if people want to carry on enjoying photobooks.
Last Christmas I had a drink with a friend who told me that she was a member of a book club, and that in the monthly encounters above an old pub in London she found a privileged place to discuss and explore ideas. This reminded me that my Grandma was once part of a Book Club too when I was a kid, and she would receive novels by post - all of them with their fake leather covers and gold titles, are still neatly piled in the bookshelves at her house. This got me thinking that perhaps there was something in this, and perhaps in updating the publishing model, it would be interesting to return to a classic tradition. A system where members trust a publisher and pay a yearly fee, and in return receive exclusive books and a community with which to share and discuss them. A book club is something that members partake in because of their love for books and because they want a forum in which to share in that passion. In light of this, and in keeping with the ethos of SPBH, the book club combines two main elements: the sense of fun and experimentation that can be had with photography and bookmaking, and the sense of belonging to a community of like-minded people.
Does SPBH have a manifesto of sorts - it feels like a genuinely altruistic place?
Absolutely, SPBH is a community of people gathered around the idea that photography can be an incredibly effective means of engaging with the world - a tool for change and exchange as much as a source of pleasure. We believe that collaborating and sharing with others is fundamental in life - doing it with others is always more fun. We also recognise that the most interesting work comes from experimentation, playfulness and (sometimes) mistakes. The main point is that everybody is welcome to join us - there is never a book that is submitted to us that is not looked at with great attention, whether you’re a successful artist such as Alec Soth or an (as of yet) unheard of 19-year-old student from Riga.
What has book publishing taught you about the nature of photography today?
Mostly a new generation of practitioners that have not only understood the intrinsic, ambiguous and ductile nature of photography but they also exploit it with great confidence. These are kids that have grown up sharing and consuming photographs en masse in the social networking sphere - MySpace, Flickr, Facebook, Tumblr - have now discovered the pleasure and fulfillment of the printed matter. They are having a taste of the physicality of photography (most of them use analog cameras) and the magic that happens when photos are laid on a page. They are thrilled by the possibilities that the longevity of a publication offers (as opposed to the disposable nature of the internet) and at the same time make the most of the democratic and open nature of the Internet. That gives me great confidence in the future.
What advice would you give a young publisher or young artist about publishing photo books?
I would tell them that if they feel that urgency to say something or explore a subject matter using the book form, then everything will come into place. They just need to reach out to the people who can help them - anyone and everyone is important in the process; a mate who studied graphic design, an artist whose book they admire, their local printer. I would tell them that ultimately publishing is about the beauty and excitement of seeing a book coming together - the journey from an unedited batch of photos to a physical object - and that sometimes the journey is more important than the final result.
Are you surprised by the ongoing popularity of photo books?
No, I’m not. The popularity of the photobook will not change until another vehicle is as effective in offering a mode of consuming photographs. Even the digital age and the social networking phenomenon hasn’t changed the way that people love the tacticality and beauty of printed matter - if anything it has just reaffirmed that loyalty even more. It is also true that photobooks have become very collectable and are recognised as artworks in their own right, which is bound to increase their longevity, at least in the art world.
It’s all consuming for you - I know that you pour your heart and soul into your business. What inspires you and keeps you moving forwards?
For me SPBH is like a laboratory where I can experiment, try things out and indulge in playing out sometimes totally foolish-sounding ideas - when I sit down with the SPBH gang there isn’t really an idea that we wouldn’t consider. I guess what keeps me moving forward is the sense of possibilities and adventure that this project offers. Perhaps trial and error isn’t the shrewdest business model, but it sure is a fun one.
The current difficult economic climate and radical technological changes mean that art, publishing and cultural organizations have to undergo radical re-thinking, which means that there are new possibilities and models to be explored. As with any time of change things are unstable and precarious but ultimately, they are exciting. SPBH is a chameleon. We’re a hybridous kind of organization - not simply a publisher, a gallery, a private collection, a design studio...but all of these things together. I can never reply easily when somebody asks me what SPBH is, but I think that that’s the real beauty of it. Its strength is ultimately in its awkwardness, fluidity and the refusal to be defined by traditional models and ideas.
Why should we all join book club?
Because you will receive three great books per year that you will want to keep forever - little secret projects that artists want to share just with our members. The first book is an ethereal and ambiguous collection of never-before-seen private polaroids by artists Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin. Each of the 250 copies is handmade and has an original polaroid inserted in the cover, making the book into a beautiful, collectible object. And as with all great book clubs, not only do you receive books that you will love, but you will also join a community of interesting people, coming from the media, art, fashion and advertising worlds that share a passion for photography. In the next year for our members we have planned a series of events in London, Paris, NYC and Berlin, as well as exclusive online content. We promise that, above all, supporting us and becoming a part of our family will make you HAPPY. We see the possibilities of this project just growing and growing - it could be our most exciting yet.
To join the SPBH book club click here
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