Photographers in Publishing is a series of interviews that aim to gather insights from those who balance making and publishing photography.
Maxwell Anderson runs an independent publishing company, Bemojake, and has 5 published books of his own. I caught up with him to learn more about his approach to both.
Harry Flook: How did you get into photography and then Photobook publishing?
Maxwell Anderson: I guess there were various moments in my childhood that led to my interest in photography. One of them being my Dad’s friend Ted Reynell, who was a hair stylist at Scissors. His salon was covered floor to ceiling with his photographs of women he’d met. They were iconic images of the time, yet his work is still unknown. His apartment was the same. He used to play mo-town really loud and dance while he cut your hair. The whole experience encapsulated a sense of cool.
I studied A-level Photography and failed with a ‘U’ for un-gradable. My teacher, Jill Brittlebank, thought this was a great achievement. I couldn’t understand why at the time, but now I get what she meant. It set me on a path where I made work for myself and pushed myself harder.
While I was at university I spent lots of time in Claire De Rouen on Charing Cross Road. I would spend hours in the shop taking in information about photography, and subconsciously learning about book design and editing. I developed an interest in Japanese photography, which of course opened up a whole realm of photobook fascination.
One of our assignments at college was to create a piece of work intended for the outside world. I naturally wanted to make a book, which I hand made. I learnt how to bind books and boxes, which gave me a good understanding of the physicality of books.
Immediately after leaving university I did an internship with Chris Boot. Our relationship grew and we worked well together. I became Chris’ assistant and worked on all aspects of publishing, working with designers, editing, press, distribution. During this time I self-published my own book, See You Soon. Chris then move to New York for the Aperture job, I stayed and managed Chris Boot Ltd for a year and finished off a couple of projects we had. Then I started Bemojake.
Chris later got me over to New York to work with Lesley Martin producing and project managing Aperture Remix, for which we created 9 artists books, culminating in an exhibition. When I moved back to London, I made Bemojake my main priority.
HF: What impact has launching Bemojake had on your photographic career?
MA: To be honest, it has stinted my career as a photographer. A lot of my time now is spent working on Bemojake. I’m not complaining, I love doing both. However it has meant I haven’t been able to focus on my own work as much I should. It’s also difficult when I approach picture editors and galleries regarding my own work. Because I’m in touch with picture editors quite often about the books I’m working on, they are usually quite surprised that I’m presenting my own work with the intention of getting work. They associate me with publishing more so than ‘being a photographer’.
HF: How has working with other photographers and publishing their work impacted on your own photographic practice?
MA: Working with other photographers doesn’t really have an affect on my own work. If anything it’s a pleasure to take my head away from thinking about what I’m doing and applying my creative process to something else. One of the reasons I enjoy publishing is because I enjoy photography, and I enjoy the work of others. I find working with a photographer and making a book with them is another way of expressing myself.
HF: Will you be publishing more of your own work through Bemojake?
MA: I’ve tried to distance my own work from Bemojake in the last few years. I released Flower a couple of years ago, but I didn’t promote it at all. It’s there, and I take it to book fairs, but I didn’t even write a press release for it. I’m much better at talking-up other people than I am myself. For example, I have a book called Stop Making Sense, which is edited, designed, and basically ready to go. It’s been that way for about 3 years. Whenever I raise enough money to print it, I see a project by another photographer that I really like and want to publish, and so Stop Making Sense gets delayed again. But I should get it done. I’m sure no-one will mind, will they?
HF: Has anyone submitted a project to Bemojake that you wish you had photographed yourself?
MA: No not really.
HF: Photobook publication – both self-published and through publishers – has seen a huge increase recently, what impact has this had on the world of publishing?
MA: I feel like it’s slowing down now though. I think there was a period where everybody was making books. That certainly flooded the photobook world with lots of crap stuff. But I think enough time has passed that those who were doing a really good job of it have come through and established themselves above all the noise. Now the quality of books is much higher than a few years ago.
Overall though, with the sheer number of great publishers around, it has become more difficult to sustain sales with bookshops. There’s constantly a great new book coming out, and bookshops want the new thing all the time. So even if a bookshop sells out of the copies you supplied them with, they don’t often re-order.
HF: I think it was Jack Latham I heard say that photobooks are made by photographers for photographers. Do you think this is changing?
MA: This is a question that deserves a full conversation really. That’s true to an extent but I don’t entirely agree with it, because I think the statement itself is mis-informed. I find that a lot of people buying my books are photographers or students or photobook collectors, sure. But that’s to be expected of course, because we’re making a particular type of photobook. Its like saying Metal music is made for Metalheads. I’m sure people who buy The Big Penis Book are mostly NOT photographers. It’s still a photobook, just a different type of photobook. I think this idea of the incestual photobook, or photobook-centiricity has come about because there are lots of book fairs now, and people forget to look outside of this world, and think that what we find at an art book fair is all that exists. I would go further to say that what is being referred to as a ‘photobook’ in that statement is less about the photography and more about design. We should be calling them ‘designbooks’… Maybe we can take this conversation to the pub…
HF: Do photographers tend to come to you with finished projects ready to publish or is it usually more of a collaborative process?
MA: I receive submissions of finished, completed, fully designed books, but I usually dismiss them pretty quickly. It’s like somebody coming to you and saying ‘can you pay for this’… In publishing you might refer to that as a ‘package’. People create and sell a packaged book to publishers, and publishers buy in to it because they can see how it might make a profit… I’m just not that kind of publisher. As I mentioned earlier, I see the process of making a book as another form of expression for myself. It’s a collaborative process. I’ve worked with artists over a year+ to create their book.
HF: Which book has been your favourite to work on?
MA: That’s almost an impossible question to answer. I’ve had quite a different experience working on all my books. I guess this is because I’m playing a slightly different role in each circumstance. Sometimes I’m a mentor, sometimes designer, editor, producer…
For example, I enjoyed working with Coco Young on Vanity, because we were really bouncing ideas off of each other over a long period of time. I saw the work develop and also saw Coco develop as an artist. I would suggest an idea to Coco, she would go away with that idea and a month later come back with lots of new material to play with, and loads of new ideas…. Then working with Guy Archard on Almost was very satisfying because we always had very creative editing sessions and our working relationship really flowed, where there was a lot of creative trust between the both of us… The New Colonists is exciting because it’s the first time with Bemojake I’ve had so many aspects to the book, relying on lots of opinions. We have a designer, a project manager, app designer, illustrator, narrator, essay writer, and of course myself and the artist Monica.
HF: What do you think makes Bemojake different from other photobook publishers?
MA: I’d rather not compare myself to other publishers. I’ll let you decide. However I do know that not many people know how to pronounce Bemojake.
HF: It seems that many new photographers are seeing photobooks as their ‘way in’ to the industry; do you have any advice for emerging photographers in regards to publishing?
MA: Take your time with it. A book lasts longer than you will. If you are working with other people on making the book, trust them. Be accepting of harsh criticism, it will make make the book better. Make sure it’s the right format for the work.
HF: Finally, what exciting things are next for Bemojake?
MA: So The New Colonists by Monica Alcazar-Duarte comes out very soon. I’ve had such a great time working on the book this year with fantastic and talented people. It has been a pleasure to see everybody be so committed to making the book work.
I am also working on archiving Ted Reynell’s thousands of negatives and hope give him the recognition he deserves… In addition to the books we have lined up, I’ll be planning for the future. And you might even see one of my books some time soon!
HF: Thank-you, we look forward to it.
The New Colonists by Monica Alcazar-Duarte will be published by Bemojake on 24th November. To pre-order a copy and receive a limited edition mission patch and free shipping, head over to: www.bemojake.eu