Meeting with Paul Trevor 11.06.17

I met Paul Trevor on Sunday, at the Atkinson Gallery (no relation, I don't think) in Southport. I've liked his work for a long time, since first seeing it in his book, Like You've Never Been Away. We talked about a lot in the three hours we were there. I should have made notes but didn't, so this is what I remember

Style of shooting.
We agreed on a style of shooting where the subject isn't aware of the camera. It's an approach I take and it was reassuring to hear the same ideas from Paul. Shooting life as it is, where ever it might be happening, without the interference and falsities that, 'can I take your picture', or sight of a camera can bring. Often shooting without using a viewfinder, feeling where the camera is pointing having already set the aperture, speed, lens etc. Paul talked about the importance of the eyes being in focus in a series of 50mm 30cm from subject, no flash street shots taken in London. 'In Your Face'.

For me the whole environment is important. Paul shot with a shallow depth of field where I would have stopped down to catch the lot, but the principle is the same. I guess shallow makes the image more intimate.

Photos in books, print quality, the fold.
Something that comes up a lot when I meet people, is the importance of photographic images in books rather than galleries. Photos in galleries don't always work. Admittedly, neither do they in books, but I think a book can do a lot more for photographs than a gallery can. I compared a gallery show to putting something you want everyone to see, down in the corner of a room that's pretty hard to get to. Bad analogy, but I know what I mean.

The form of the book is important for Paul, and what the form says about the content. I like this. There are way too many books being published where the first thought is obviously the design of the book rather than the content. Those books are bad, mostly. Paul talked about the print quality being paramount, and the edit. Agreed.

Then there's the fold. Paul was very easy going here, more so than me I think. Books have a fold, so you just deal with it. Paul mentioned two images in the book already mentioned where the subject falls into the fold, but in the mix it didn't bother him too much. This easy goingness intrigues me. I kind of agree, if the book is quite long then a couple of slips perhaps either go unnoticed, or serve to remind the reader somehow, that they are reading and not looking. In a short book though, it would bother me too much. The solution would either be a margin (not with my work), cropping or shifting off centre and zooming. None are ideal I suppose.

Spontaneity of all ideas and things and decisions. Naivety and staying hungry.
Paul says, 'always stay hungry'. Hungry for subjects, ideas, knowledge, opportunities, travel...All of it. I added that naivety is important. The child's eye and mind, as Picasso used to discus. Being a tourist and not relying on knowledge. Being spontaneous, not over thinking over talking or over researching, just doing. David Hurn often discusses being a doer rather than a thinker. That's it.

But further, sometimes shooting, then trying to get a better shot...Often it's that first spontaneous shot that works. From the gut. I compared it to assessment at work where I will make a gut judgement and write a percentage. Then I'll mark thoroughly, have it cross marked and moderated and discuss at length. 95% of the time the final mark is within a number or two of my initial gut percentage. Research in (art) academia, is often an example of over-talking. I'd sooner just do it, and look at it rather than talk about it. Is that not why we make rather than talk?

Documentary photography vs current trend photography.
Something Daniel Meadows told me a few years ago, 'I always shot for history books', sticks with me. I often wonder how photographers know what will be of value in the future. A tacit understanding maybe. I gave Paul a few recent books by Ian Beesley, Colin Thomas, Dave Sinclair and others. We talked about how each 'is life'. Each a snip of the world as it was, no fuss. It's history and therefore can't really help but be important. Some of the books were edited chronologically, if the content was a day or event for example. Some, like Colin Thomas' was more playful and I edited based on recurring themes or motifs in the images. But the same applies. They're people doing what they do, in the past. Then collectively the books do a little more, in a more weighty way.

Photos of pastel coloured objects, in a corner, at jaunty angles, with no reference to time or place leave me blank and I got the impression they do Paul too. Maybe that's too harsh. What I mean is, in 10, 20 or 50 years, they will tell us little about anything except a small trend in photography. Photographs of people, places and happenings can tell us more about trend though. Maybe I just don't get it.

Histories, creating archives.
Leading from that, these pictures of life are a record. Without them there isn't much of a record of the every day. I'm excluding mass social media because that's a different (although valuable) thing. The photographs create a history, they're potential knowledge using the same definition of potential as potential energy. Their potential is endless, really.

The images as sole things, or collectively in a book, and then a collection of books, becomes an archive of potential knowledge. Tasty stuff.

Non photographers becoming photographers, inc chemists.
We discussed the fact that many / most photographers are untrained in a academic sense. I mentioned that illustrators are similar, lots coming from a fine art background. Paul mentioned lots of photographers coming from chemistry. The untrained eye again, the naivety, and to use David Hurn again, 'where you put yourself and when you press the shutter'.

PhD
The thing about being a doer rather than a talker. I make things. I've always liked to make but not necessarily to discuss. I think that's a different thing and maybe for someone else to do. I would like someone to write Café Royal up as a PhD in terms of the above. More expanded and more coherent and articulate. Maybe I will one day but I need to think about what the books are / do a bit more first.

Paul gave me this — he's in Liverpool working at Metal.





The Absurdities and Other Things

Five–ten years ago, I kept a blog. I imported that blog here a few years ago. I've just deleted it all because it was rubbish. I also kept a blog for Café Royal Books, my publishing house. There's some interesting stuff there but I can't find a way to import that here, so it stays there for now.

I'm going to try to write a bit more — about meetings with photographers for Café Royal. About books I'm reading and thoughts about photography, education (I also work as a Fine Art and Illustration lecturer), and about family, the kids and my own practice. It's all related. It'll probably bore you, but it's an attempt to make sense of stuff.

So here you are. Words.

Interview for iD Magazine




Here's an interview with Rosie Ellis for iD magazine a little while ago. 'Nine years of documenting britain's forgotten histories with cafe royal books'. Reading through my answers I think some would be different now...But it gives you an idea.
How did CRB come about and why did you start it?

I set up Café Royal in 2005. I studied Fine Art to masters, making large, heavy abstract paintings. I didn’t like to exhibit them more than a couple of times, getting bored of the work quite easily, it having taken so long to make. Because they took so long to make (18 months), I felt I had to store and look after them. I decided to ‘quit' painting and return to drawing. After a while I’d made quite a lot of drawings and wanted to exhibit them, but not in a gallery.
Books and zines seemed the way. I made a few and collaborated with other artists to make others.

Can you talk us through the image selection/editing process, how long does it take to put a CRB together, how closely do you work with the photographers to do this?

I publish a book every Thursday. So in a way, it takes a week to make a book. They are what they are, I never pretend they are any more than very simple documents. Their simplicity is what I enjoy - no fuss or decoration, well finished, good paper, strong print and limited edition. I enjoy finding work and photographers to collaborate with; photographers also submit ideas to me. Many of the photographers I work with have vast archives. We discuss ideas. I have to consider how or whether the work will fit in the format and whether it will work as part of what I want to publish in terms of an ongoing series.

It’s a pretty fast process and during that time I work closely with the photographer although not always meeting them.

A firm editorial policy would be too restrictive. I’m always open to ideas and new work. I will only publish work that I like and books that I would buy. However, I can’t publish everything I like and some work just wouldn’t benefit from being published in this way. And it all has to fit within the general series of social change, or ‘change’ as a broader thing, and usually in the UK.
Out of all the zine’s you’ve created, which has been your favourite?

If you asked me again tomorrow it would be a different answer!
Which has been the most popular with the public?

Long term, my Barbican book in terms of quantity sold. That’s a bit skewed though because the rest are limited to IRO 200 copies. Some sell out instantly. John Claridge, Homer Sykes, Brian David Stevens…I don’t know if sales equals popularity though.

What do you think CRB brings to the publication world?

I don’t know, and in some respects I don’t care. I know that sounds very arrogant but it isn’t. I do it because I really enjoy it and it’s a pleasure to work with the people I do. Anything else is extra. Hopefully it brings affordable to books to those who want them. It’s more about getting the pictures seen, or seen again. Pausing people.

Why do you produce a zine everything Thursday, does the weekly release of the zine effect what it is and how people view it?

No. I release weekly because I couldn’t do it any more frequently than that!
What do you think the role of printed photography publications has in this day and age?

Honestly, the same as it was before the ipad, for example. Still paper, still ink. If someone uses a digital format, they should be using it for the peculiarities of the format.

Why is it so important that CRB is in physical form?

Because it will last. It will remain the same format forever, I won’t have to update software to look at it, or relay on a screen or resolution. It’s there, in print. Not backlit. The blacks are black, the paper has a texture, the ink smells, it’s physical. They wouldn’t work digitally. They couldn’t work digitally.
Why black & white?

In most cases that’s how the photographs were shot. I never suggest converting to b/w for the sake of a book - that would be style over content and I’m really not interested in style as such. I do print colour too but less often.
How do you select new artist’s work?

If I like it and if it works as part of the series and in the format.
How do you find the projects from archives and why is it important to publish them and bring them back to life?

Most mid-late career photographers have vast archives. The images are important historical and social documents. They are the UK, they remind us but also teach us. It’s tragic that so much work is unseen.
Who would be your dream photographer/project to create a CRB?

I don’t have an answer for that. Really the stuff I enjoy most is the stuff I haven’t seen before. It doesn’t matter who made it. It’s great when someone like Arthur Tress calls, or Homer Sykes…for example, but it’s equally great when someone I’ve never heard of sends a sketchy email about some work they made and it turns out to be amazing.
As you turned 9 recently, when you first started it, did you image CRB to be where it is now?
No. I don’t plan really. Recently as things have grown I’ve had to plan a bit more but when it started it was just a way to get my work out and not rely on a gallery. No it’s more than that, and more focussed, perhaps more mature and business like. But then so is my own practice - they follow and inform each other.

Where do you see CRB going in the future?

I’ve started a website called Notes. notes.caferoyalbooks.com. It’s to support and contextualise what I do a little but also a resource for people interested in UK social documentary photography. The books aren’t going anywhere. As long as I enjoy it I’ll carry on. Notes has just begun but the two elements will work well together.
How important do you think it is that you're a photographer? How does it influence CRB?

Café Royal has changed with my own practice. Really it is a part of my practice now. When it started, I was drawing and I published drawing. As my work became more photographic so did CRB. As my work became more focussed, sometimes informed by what I was publishing, so did CRB. So perhaps, if I wasn’t a photographer what I publish wouldn’t be photographs.

Photobooks, quickly, second edition

Responses to my previous post included a couple of ideas: Validation and forced growth.

Validation being the thing a photographer could achieve by having their work presented as a book, when otherwise uncomissioned and not selling work. To an extent I agree. There's nothing like seeing your work in print. However, to just order one copy, print on demand for example, is that one copy any use for anything? Even 20 copies. If buying 100 — 1000 copies, the risk and expense is great and to have 1000 books on the shelf doesn't validate anything, at least nothing positive. Even at just £1 / book for a cheap repro job, £1000 is a lot if not being commissioned and not selling.

Forced growth. The idea of putting work into a book to force the growth of a photographer, I disagree with. There are a lot of bad books, and they tend to be those that have just had pictures plonked in with no real consideration of the book or of sequence, narrative, even content. A book could expand an artist's or photographer's way of thinking / seeing their work, if carefully considered. There are certainly times when consideration of the body of work going into the book doesn't matter, and the concept is perhaps key. For example taking unseen / unknown images; making a new narrative through constructed pairings of otherwise unrelated images. This idea uses the simple function and form of 'the book', rather than the work itself being a coherent or cohesive body. A brief browse through Art Metropole or Printed Matter will uncover several.

A comment suggested using a photocopier to make zines to give away free. I'm all for free press, but again this has a context. Then there is the question of value, worth, "matter" as Francis Hodgson calls it. Is giving your work away free a positive move? Or is the zine not really your work and more of a business card? A zine instead of a business card is a great idea, but it has to work, doesn't it?

The questions shouldn't be read as obstacles. I encourage the breakdown of boundaries and genres. Equally though, restriction of some sort often generates the most interesting work. There's a lot to consider, and the first point of validation and cost leads onto funding issues. Funding is something else and needs something writing in the future.

Photobooks, quickly

There's been a lot written recently about photobooks and their ubiquity, the idea of there being 'too many', an oversaturated market controlled by few, whose opinions are over-respected and followed blindly.

Whose fault is it that a few people are followed so closely? Lewis Bush writes some interesting comments here; he believes there are not 'too many' photobooks. Followed by Harvey Benge, who believes there are, here. The idea that photobooks could have a relationship to "a deep rooted angst about the status of the photographic image, and by association the status of photography as whole, in contemporary society", I can see.

if there are too many I'm part of the problem. However, I don't think there are too many photobooks. I think there is too much of everything. Everything is excessive so it's only natural that photobooks follow suit. Photobooks aren't a new idea. Anna Atkins made her photobook not long after the invention of photography; 'the book' seems a natural resting place for the photographic image. Especially a photographic image that exists as part of a series or narrative. Narrative works well in books. Even the image that is stand alone, when placed next to another stand alone image, becomes something new. The reader of a book can not help but form a narrative in their mind. The images can not help but inform each other, whether the constructed narrative is true or not.

Often, the problem is laziness. Something that constantly amazes me / worries me / annoys me is when people say 'I'm a painter' before even considering whether paint is the best medium for 'the job'. Same with photography. Same with photobooks. The current growing popularity of the photobook, and so often fetishisation of the photobook leads to a common desire to have work published in a photobook. Often, little consideration is given to the form and function of the book, which really should be determined by the content, in a similar way an artist's book would be considered. Otherwise it's a picture book or at the other end of the spectrum, and over designed almost baroque publication. I think a lot of the time people are actually referring to picture books rather than photobooks. So there's a lazy 'stick it in a book, it'll look good' type of attitude.

There are very few photographic gallery exhibitions I've seen over the past five years that really stick in my mind. Parts of the Klein Moriyama show at Tate perhaps. Nick Hedges at the Media Space and Constructing Worlds at Barbican. Most often, galleries aren't the right place for photographs. They sit on the wall waiting for someone to come and stare, before leaving never to return. Books are more intimate, rewarding, and more likely to get a second visit. So books, as well as the lazy thing, are a valid alternative to the gallery, it's just that many books are so generic the work might as well be left in a gallery.

The main problem to my mind is that so much photography is made with no intent. People don't know what to do with their pictures. Naturally, they want people to see them, so they head for Blurb, or Lulu and often never speak to a printer, never consider paper stock, typography, sequence, size, fold, edit...

 

 

World Photography Organisation Awards

Yesterday I was told the picture below has been shortlisted for the World Photography Organisation / Mobile Photography Award. Happy about that although I'm not a competition entering type, usually. They say there were 10500 entries, so to be amongst the final 20 is 'nice'.

Today I noticed Sony had the image on their PR site, available for download under Creative Commons, useable by anyone for reasons including commercial, for free! I hadn't signed up for that although doubt did enter my mind as I remembered reading the terms, and there were quite a lot of terms. Perhaps I missed something...

Turns out I hadn't. WPO seemed pretty concerned, perhaps more than I did, and swiftly had Sony remove the pictures. What a mistake someone had made — all the shortlisted images, free! Argh. Concerning that a company the size of Sony could do that, and not just to one image.

The other weird thing is that the competition is judged by Facebook 'likes'. So, really, it's obvious who will, or atleast won't win. The one with the most likes wins. Therefore, I imagine, the one with the most 'friends' will get the most likes, and win. Maybe I'm wrong but it seems obvious.

Anyway, here's the picture. It'll be 'exhibited' at Somerset House soon, on a tablet...It isn't under Creative Commons!

If you want to 'like' it, it all helps! The like button is at this link, below and to the right of the image. You have to use the Facebook one, not the grey one, confusingly.

Wedding, Tatton Hall, Manchester

Photoworks Interview




I was interviewed by Alice Compton for Photoworks a few weeks ago...Here's the result

- I'll begin by asking you how you started Cafe Royal Books (you touched on this in a previous email but please do elaborate if you wish)


I started Café Royal in 2005. I come from a Fine Art background, educationally speaking. I used to make large, time consuming, expensive, heavy abstract paintings. I only ever exhibited each twice - I didn't like showing them any more than that, preferring to 'move on'. Because they took so long to make (18 months), I felt I had to store and look after them. Their weight was a problem and meant that realistically they could only be exhibited in the UK. In every possible way my process was unintentionally limiting in terms of who could see my work. I decided to 'quit' painting and return to drawing. Over the next year I produced a lot of very quick, simple drawings and wanted to exhibit them, but in a way that didn't rely on galleries as my painting did.


Books and zines seemed right. Affordable to produce, quick, easy and cheap to post anywhere in the world. The idea of 'the multiple' was appealing too having spent the previous ten years concentrating on single paintings. down the line a little, I began collaborating with artists, inviting them to submit work that was meant for a non-gallery space. That was around 2006.



- You publish a book a week, can you explain your process (working with the photographer/archive/designing/printing etc)?


I publish a book every Thursday. Simply, the process is either me researching, finding work and photographers to collaborate with or them proposing ideas to me. Many of the photographers I work with have vast archives, in various states of order! We discuss ideas and in many cases arrange a series of three books to be released over 18 months. I design all and edit most publications. Each book is slightly different; some photographers have a very exact running order, title, layout and tight edit. Others will send me 100 images for a 36 page book, leaving everything to me. Both methods work well and the change is refreshing. I do enjoy having to edit down from a larger selection - it's a real pleasure. It's a bit like a puzzle, slotting things into place to make sense of it all.

Printing. I use a local family run firm. I've used them for years, they understand what I want and they're sympathetic to my fussiness! I visit them 3-4 times each week for proofs, finals, edits...It's vital to have a good relationship with the printer, and to use a printer you can visit at short notice and discuss, face to face, the books being made.


-What's your editorial policy? (Again you answered this before but do expand if you want)


I don't have a fixed editorial policy. I think to do so would be too restrictive, at least in terms of this type of book. The mechanics: I prefer to publish work that hasn't been seen / much, and not in the same context if it has been shown before. I will only publish work that I like. I publish books that I'd like to collect. I publish work in the same or similar format because I see it as an ongoing project and the books as a series. Work can be from archives but doesn't need to be. I like to publish work that documents an aspect of change, generally but not exclusively in the UK. The photographers I work with don't have to be well known. At this stage I have always worked directly with the photographer, except on one occasion. I think that is important; the conversation and to get more of an understanding of why the work exists.


Teaching full time, having two kids, making my own work all need time too so Café Royal, although being a full time job, has to be done in and around other things. It's manageable but I have to be economical with time so tend to work a couple of months in advance, in batches, but know what will be coming 12 months in advance. Café Royal tends to be 7-9am and 5-9pm each day.


There is work submitted that I'd love to publish but that falls outside of the overall theme of 'change'. As much as I dislike restriction in that sense, I think it's important for me to remain focused because there's only so much I can do.


I like to keep things simple. The books should be affordable to make and to buy, and straight forward in terms of hat they are. I made the decision a couple of years ago to put the colophon on the cover, so instantly you know who it's by and what it is, the date and edition size. It has also, accidentally, created quite a strong identity which I think people like. They look like quite a coherent series on a shop shelf for example.


- You mentioned that you don't include text that doesn't add anything to the images, can you talk about one or two of your publications that needed or were complemented by text?


My main concern is photographs and perhaps narrative. I think my abstract painting past still plays a part in terms of my relationship with descriptive text. I would never title paintings because I wanted the painting to be read with no input, no bias  no signs or signifiers. I think the same, generally, about inclusion of text in the books. Most of what I publish is quite straight forward and doesn't require text. Tony Bock, for example, likes text as a reference point, so we print the location of each photograph. John Darwell's project was significant to him on a personal level in many ways, as well as being some his last mono work before turning exclusively to colour. The reader doesn't necessarily need to know this but I don't think that kind of information affects ones reading of the images ;it doesn't really provide extra information, just surrounding information. Jim Mortram's project in some respects falls outside of the 'usual' Café Royal subject matter, but I like his project and we gave a lot to charity. On a simple level I love the images; the blacks and the darkness. His books have included text, and that seemed right because the project could, and sometimes is taken the wrong way. It's a difficult long-form project and does require some contextual information.



- Is there a body of work you'd really like to publish?


Yes and no. I don't chase projects as such. I do chase work that I don't know or that I haven't seen. I love finding things out, researching, making connections...So the work I'd like to publish, I think, is that which I don't yet know...A cliché perhaps?! There are a couple of things I'd like to publish actually by John Myers and Chris Killip. I have a secret list.


Something that kind of gives me a kick, is giving photographers a reason to revisit their archives. A lot, most photographers are working for 'now', which makes sense because they need to make a living. Homer Sykes for example works almost entirely from his archive now. His archive is one of the better presented and more organised ones, I assume for that reason. So most photographers have an archive of some kind, even if it's a suitcase full of negs under the bed. Offering a publication (albeit a very small one and limited run) gives opportunity and reason to look back, sometimes the look back affects current work too. I get a lot of feedback from the people I collaborate with and the recurring  thing is the pleasure in being able to look back through past work, and often 'leaving it to someone else' to edit.


A secondary aspect is that the UK still falls behind in terms of gallery photographic collections. We're not like America. So, as small as these books are, galleries collect them and so they are putting small bits of information into the gallery collections, libraries and archives. I realise they're not photographic gallery prints, but it's still getting the work in and rearchived in a publicly accessible institution. This has become an aim of mine really because I want people to see the work but that is contradicted by the small edition sizes. So the work then being placed in a public space means anyone can access them.


- How far do your editorial decisions reflect your own practice? Your interest in postwar architecture and distressed landscapes, for example? 


Café Royal has changed as my own practice has changed. From drawing to photography, for example. I've accepted, over time, that CRB is a part of my own practice, and vice-versa, whereas it started as just an outlet for my practice. A lot of my own work fits within what I want to publish, but not all of it does and some of my work I'd never put in a book. I receive a lot of submissions of work that focusses on post war architecture. However, because my work involves an ongoing study of that, in some cases the submissions would duplicate that, so I have to decline. It's quite difficult but it's a good problem to have. A lot of what I publish is work that I couldn't make myself for various reasons; technical or because the place no longer exists for example. There's no straight forward answer and really every submission I look at and every book is treated differently and individually.


- Whose work, of the photographers you've published, do you think deserves more recognition? 


That's really difficult. I could put arguments forward for each individually!  Patrick Ward (forthcoming), Tony Bock, Stephen McCoy, Geoff Howard, George Plemper...I think each (and many others) have made important work and have documented significant points and aspects of British social history. I think each is recognised but perhaps not as widely as they should be. I'm working with Patrick Ward on a couple of books that use the Manplan photographs from Architectural Review in 1969-1970. Patrick's work was in the first issue. The Manplan series was so daring at the time, kind of outrageous but so important. Patrick is well respected but I think that body of work, and the editorial courage of that series really needs looking at again.


A lot from the past, things that have just gone with no record. Recently I've been talking to Justin Leighton about Network Photographers. Such an important time of which there is no trace.


- Have you (excuse my ignorance if you have and will) published any work in colour?


I have published colour books and I'm always open to  colour submissions. Back, again, to when I painted; I only used whites and have always found colour quite difficult. I find colour can act as text can, as a suggestion where perhaps a suggestion is unnecessary or a distraction. I find it easier to 'look into' a black and white image where as with colour I 'look at' the image. Recently I've been working with colour a little more but it's not often, with the work I publish, that I think colour benefits it in any way. However, I would never want someone to convert a project to mono for the sake of a Café Royal book.


-Tim Head is quoted as describing your books as 'not only documenting historic images, but also becoming important historic documents themselves' - why do you think this is? Is there something about the format/design/material/physical object that people really like? 


I don't know. I'm not sure what drives people or attracts people to the books, but at the moment they are quite popular. As selfish or self indulgent as it seems, I make them for me, and publish what I like. I like the books to be accessible and well made. I like them to be honest, fuss free and free from extras and decoration. They're simple things, only small and each is 'a moment'. The price is pretty straight too. I like systems, order, function...


- In your opinion, what makes a great photo book? 


At risk of contradicting some of what I've already said...Each book should be determined by its content. Some use 'the book' as an object, and the function of the book fits the content. Hidden Islam by Nicolo DeGiorgis, for example. Gate fold sheets that open to show the inside of what is printed on the outside. A simple method but the content and the form working well together.


Then there's books like Eamaon Doyle's i, which is beautifully produced. The print quality is amazing, the binding and cover is just luxury...It's a great book and over-the-top production wise but really works well. Holy Bible is produced completely in context and wouldn't work any other way. I was lucky to take part in Moriyama's print show at Tate. Menu, the book made on the day is as much a record of the day as it is a Moriyama book. It's a bit clumsy but the surrounding factors and personal experience make it a strong book.


Moriyamas new Super Labo published Marrakech book in a slip case is great, a double book with infinite narratives.


Other than books which use a unique form; so standard type coffee table books, for example, I think if the book is coherent, and tells you something, and the photographs are good then it's hard not to engage with it. Books like Ken Grant's Flock, Peter Mitchell's Strangely Familiar, Tom Wood's Men and Women are all standard format (except perhaps the cover and end paper of Flock), but they document a specific thing, clearly, and the images are really great. Can't ask for more than that I don't think.

Interview for RRB Photobooks




I wrote this for RRB Photobooks, it was published on December 14th 2014.
Café Royal Books is ten next year. As happens in a decade, a lot has changed; some planned changes, some happenchance. The reason I started CRB was to enable me to disseminate affordably my own work, quickly, internationally, and to many places at the same time. I had spent the previous decade painting large abstracts which were prohibitive due to their size and weight, so decided to return to drawing for its simplicity and speed. 'The book' worked as exhibition spaces, and 'the multiple' as a 'rapid fire'. The content of the books was unfocussed and production fairly DIY, but considered. The excitement was in the making and in using the book as a container.

Somehow, online mainly, word spread and I ended up collaborating with other artists, illustrators and some photographers, publishing their work as small editions of around 50 copies. Around 2006 my practice began to shift from pen to lens based, partly because I could work faster and more simply without as much 'interference' as happened with a pen / pencil; also because I started to value more the recording of information, possibly for the future. We had our first child around the same time which probably had an impact on my way of thinking. Of course, as my own practice and interests changed, so did what I wanted to publish. It wasn't until around 2010-11 that I started to become more focussed and direct about what I was to publish, and about what I wanted to make in terms of my work outside of Café Royal.

There has always been a bit of a clash, time-wise mostly, between the things I do. I'm a full time lecturer on three separate degree courses. I make work, exhibit etc my photographs - generally focussing on Brutalist estates and the urban environment. I have two children, 3 and 6. Café Royal has become a full time business, still run out of a small room, and only me...It's hard work but really enjoyable and it's a privilege to work with so many artists and photographers.

What I do now is publish a book each week. I can't possibly publish all the work I'd like to, so have to remain pretty focussed in terms of subject. The subject tends to be work that documents an aspect of change; social, architectural, geographical...I don't know what drives people (or me) to take photographs of things. It's a strange compulsion, but somehow there is a need. 'Now' is happening - people know 'now', so the photographs, to my mind at least, become something else when the 'now' has passed and is no longer accessible first hand. They gain historical value or importance perhaps.

My experience of working with photographers is that generally they work for 'the now' for various reasons. One is financial. We all need money and work and so are focussed on 'the now'. Others, who have perhaps had their commercial career, may have other interests: books, travel for example. In most cases there are vast archives of work that are untouched, mainly because the photographer has no reason to touch them. Feedback from many collaborators has been that CRB has offered the photographer opportunity to revisit their much forgotten archives. This has sometimes led to a rethink of current work and to other opportunities for sales and exhibitions of older work. None of this is intentional, it's not why I started Café Royal, but knowing that this occurs means a lot and has become an aim of what I do.

My books are inexpensive, both to produce and to buy, in comparison for example to a coffee table hard back. They are limited run, generally of 200 copies. The conflicts with my desire of getting this forgotten archive work seen by many. However, many galleries and museums now collect my books. They are in a lot of 'special collections', photobook collections, artist book collections, exhibitions and so on. This makes them publicly accessible, looked after, 'locked in'. So essentially anyone can gain access to them without
owning them. This has become a strong element of what I do. To have the work collected by galleries is important, if for no other reason than to fill the gaps in UK gallery photographic archives, which are fairly slim. Of course there are other reasons. To know MoMA, Tate, V&A and other major international galleries want the books enough to collect them means a lot. To have many shops stocking them and to have so many customers from the website is priceless. To meet Peter Mitchell, Ken Grant, Martin Parr, Daido Moriyama and discuss books, their work, their past work is amazing. I think publishing has allowed me to do a lot that perhaps otherwise I wouldn't have done.

I once lost all of my own books, collected over 30 years - about 800 books, in a flood. I now have a strange relationship with books - I make lots of them but am still fearful of buying too many. Publishing allows me to make the books I'd like to collect; albeit a strange way of going about it!

The future. I'd like to start a PhD but need to fine-tune the question. It might relate to some of the above. I want to continue to publish small affordable well produced books / zines showing moments of change. I see Café Royal Books as a kind of meeting point. I don't just publish the work of well known photographers but I do only publish work that I like and often subjects or times that I couldn't get access to myself. As long as it's enjoyable I'll continue. There's a lot of important work that needs to be seen! In many ways I see what I do as a long term project, cataloging the not too distant past.

Recently I’ve started a new project, 'Notes', which will hopefully become a reference tool and work as contextual support for the books I publish.

The original article can be seen here.

Vice Magazine Interview


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Amelia Abraham at Vice Magazine interviewed me recently. It's here

If you really sat down and tried, you could turn a lot of pages in the space of 30 days. While we've spent over a decade providing you with about 120 of those pages every month, it turns out there are many more magazines in the world other than VICE. This new series, Ink Spots, is a helpful guide on which of those zines, pamphlets and publications you should be reading when you're not staring at ours.

Café Royal books is an independent label run out of North West England by artist/ photographer/ father/ publisher/ one-man-miracle Craig Atkinson. Running since 2005, mostly they put out books of B&W photography by British social documentary photographers, but there's no hard and fast rule. The main criteria is simply that the work demonstrates some kind of "change" – a theme Craig explained to us when we caught up with him this week.

VICE: Hi Craig. How did Café Royal come about? What was the "lightbulb moment"?
Craig Atkinson: 
 I used to paint big abstracts and I suppose the "lightbulb moment" was deciding to stop painting. I returned to drawing and wanted a way of exhibiting the drawings that didn't rely on the gallery system. Books and zines, at the time, were my way to disseminate my work affordably and quickly. I didn't want to self publish under my own name, so Café Royal was started.

You put out an edition every Thursday. Why one book a week?
Because I don't have time to do more!

Is that pressurising? It sounds like kinda a lot of work.
The team is excellent, we work really well together. Very tight routine and excellent admin department. In reality though, it's just me, in a small room. It is pressure but not really stress, not often anyway, because it's so enjoyable. I teach full time and have two young children, so all together it gets tight – there are no breaks!

What has been the hardest thing about running Café Royal?It's only recently that I've considered how it's grown. I never had the intention of it becoming a 'business', or something I could potentially do full time. I see it as a way for me to promote great work by getting it seen and in collections and to make the books I'd like to collect. There's nothing hard really except for timing but that becomes a system that, if kept to, doesn't cause many problems. It's great fun, if it wasn't I'd stop.

You're a photographer? How does that influence your curatorial practice as a publisher?
As my work has moved further into photography so has what I publish. The books initially were just an outlet where as now the books and my work meet in the middle, they kind of inform each other. So in terms of curatorial practice in relation to my own work, the two are tied.

The majority of what I publish now examines social change in the UK in some way; aspects of which my work does too. Roughly one fifth of what I publish is my own work. My interests are brutalist architecture and estates, public places and street photography specific to a location.

You print works in a limited run. What do people most often wish they could get their hands on?
The titles that have sold the fastest are by John Claridge, Jim Mortram and Brian David Stevens... So perhaps they are the ones. Once they're out of print they stay out of print. A second edition is sometimes (but rarely) produced, and really only at the request of the photographer. We have to agree there's a reason for it rather than just to sell more. For example, if something sells out in a day it limits the audience. It creates a buzz but long term it doesn't reach it's potential I don't think, so on occasion I might make another edition. No more after that though.

Having said all that, I think some of the slow burners are the ones that when they've gone people will appreciate. John Darwell, Arthur Tress, Tony Bock, Geoff Howard, for example. Loads of shops stock them now but out of print ones... I guess eBay might have a copy.

Why do you focus on change as the overriding theme in the work you publish?
When I started to use a camera more, it was very much as a tourist. Then I found out that a place in Beijing that I'd shot for a book had been demolished. It was a place of cultural significance, gone, to make way for the Olympics. So the book became a record of something that no longer existed and that really simple thing affected the way I saw photography and the way I wanted to engage with it. The term "change" is very broad. History shows change. Without showing a history what we have is just surface. I think it's good to remind people, to suggest, to pause, reflect etc.

Which Café Royal editions would you recommend?
I only publish work that I love so to single out a few books is too difficult. Impossible. It's all of them. Steve McCoy's Housing Estates book stands out to me but that's because, coincidentally, the housing estate is the one I grew up on. John Darwell's topographical work and John Stoddart's Liverpool work... I could give reasons for every book.

What's coming up and what's the future of Café Royal more generally?
​Recently I started Notes. The aim is to create a resource or reference of UK social documentary photography, and it will also provide contextual information for the books. Next year I'm working with John Stoddart, Ken Grant, Martin Parr, Daniel Meadows, John Darwell, Patrick Ward, Steve Clarke, Steve McCoy.

The future? Time will tell. I'll stop when I no longer enjoy it but right now I enjoy it more than ever. I still see the books as very small things, but slowly, somehow, I think they're making a difference.