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.