Photographers in Publishing: An Interview with Richard Higginbottom
Photographers in Publishing is a series of interviews that aim to gather insights from those who balance making and publishing photography.
Interview by Bertie Oakes –
In this interview, Richard Higginbottom discusses his passion for collaboration within photography and reveals the unique ethos behind founding up-and-coming independent photobook publisher, Tide Press.
Bertie Oakes: What is your background in photography?
Richard Higginbottom: I studied photography at degree level and that process of independent learning and discovery really opened me up to the possibilities of the photographic book. I made books in all three years of my degree with varying success and I guess when I was studying that was my thing. I was in the library a lot, engaging with huge piles of books and being captivated by first editions of books like Stephen Shore’s Uncommon Places and Joel Sternfeld’s American Prospects. These books helped me to realise the importance of integrity and work ethic – the slow building of bodies of work by getting into the world and making photographs, reviewing, editing and then shooting more. Interestingly, I made a lot of work in quiet, rural areas. In hindsight, I think this was a confidence thing and I was taking photographs of things that didn’t move or talk back. Maybe this was too easy, or not enough of a challenge? It differs quite dramatically to my current work which is shot in cities and urban spaces. I am now a photography lecturer at The University of Huddersfield where a portion of my teaching is based on the photographic book and the importance of editing and sequencing work.
BO: Stylistically, your projects are varied. Are there any recurring ideas or themes that carry through your practice and link your projects together?
RH: You’re right and I see this as something healthy. I’m not precious about my photography in terms of visual strategy; if it fits the project then that’s a positive. I think the idea of exploration, enquiry and inquisitiveness are intrinsic to the work. Take Cut/Weld and Crete: Diary as examples. Cut/Weld is a photographic exploration of Manchester city centre and the vast possibilities of everyday life. The work I shot in Crete was made with a similar strategy, capturing fleeting moments and exploring the space and landscape with my camera. Notions of the everyday and walking are also important to my practice and texts such as Wanderlust by Rebecca Solnit and Walking in the City by Michel de Certeau have influenced my practice significantly.
BO: Who are your biggest inspirations, photographically?
RH: I’m influenced by Paul Graham as someone who shifts his visual strategy in order to successfully communicate ideas. End of an Age and American Night are good examples of this. Also, Daniel Shea, Osamu Kanemura and Go Itami are encouraging the way I approach my current city work. Itami’s presentation methods and his play with the 2-dimensional and 3-dimensional form are interesting. He uses exhibitions as an opportunity to comment on his outlook on photography as a medium and its physicality. I like this perceptive awareness of the intangible and tangible.
BO: Collaboration seems to be a big part of your own practice, from group exhibitions to your photographic ‘conversation’ with Alex Catt on a new nothing. What do you enjoy about collaboration?
RH: Absolutely, I see so much potential in creative collaboration. Firstly, it gives me the opportunity to test ideas with another artist’s opinion close by. It also makes me very aware that I actually need to get into the world and make pictures. I feel a large sense of guilt if I don’t hold up my end of the bargain! Shooting collaboratively allows there to be a constant and continuous conversation about the work being made. Photography in essence is a singular, solitary visual medium and I’m okay with this but making work with other people offers more of a dialogue around what’s being produced.
BO: Crete:Diary was published by Antler Press the same year you founded your own publishing company, Tide Press. Did having your work showcased by an independent publisher inspire you to start Tide press, or inform the way it now operates?
RH: I appreciate the straightforward and d.i.y approach of Antler Press and they have a lot of great titles meaning it was encouraging to publish my photography with them. Oliver who runs Antler helped me to edit and sequence Crete: Diary and I found that editorial process really exciting. Witnessing how somebody else’s edit alters the way work is perceived was fascinating and this opened me up to the potential of creative conversation. To answer your question, I think that process of working collaboratively with Oliver helped to inform the first Tide Press publication, Ante Meridiem. I invited 12 photographers to respond to morning time and then had to edit the imagery submitted and sequence it to create the final publication. This influence is still at the heart of the books I publish at Tide Press.
BO: What was the purpose behind establishing Tide Press?
RH: The publishing process for me is about ideas coming in and publications going out, almost like a tide. I wanted to publish work of emerging photographers so that they could become involved in the making and designing of books right through to the physical process of hand making the publications. The idea was to get the work of emerging artists seen and help the work exist physically in the book form. It’s been great that places like Village Books in Leeds have been willing to stock Tide Press books and generously help up with things like book launches and promotion.
BO: What are you looking for when deciding what work to publish next?
RH: Again, I’d say I’m looking to develop a creative collaboration between the photographer and myself as publisher. I’m becoming more and more interested in ways to use the book to make new work, collaborating with photographers who are willing to use the book form to allow their work to develop and are open to using the book as a space to expand the potential of the work. In terms of style, I’m open to different types of work but I’m not looking for finished projects that merely require a container for content.
BO: What differentiates Tide Press from other publishers?
RH: There’s a lot of very strong books out there right now, more than ever, and I think this is something that I struggle with as a collector. How do I decide what to buy? Money isn’t infinite so I think that it’s important to make sure that the books are as affordable as they can be whilst still maintaining high production values. The hand making process helps to keep these costs down. Also, and this partly comes from myself and what I am drawn to, the books published by Tide Press thus far all have a quiet intensity and are personal, complex bodies of work. From Thomas Duffield’s the whole house is shaking where he confronts his complicated family life when growing up to Alex Catt’s lost, in circles we wander, a book about searching and the temporality of existence, there is a sense of personal investigation and a longing to unearth and discover.
BO: How do you find the balance between running Tide Press and shooting your own work?
RH: It’s definitely difficult but I am being proactive and making a lot of my own work right now. I tend to work quite intensively on photographic projects and Tide Press publications but I don’t do this simultaneously. I try to give whatever I am working on, be it publishing or my own work, the time to fully get my head into it so that my focus can remain with the task at hand. This seems to be a good formula for me. I additionally have an outlet to release my own photographic work so being able to make images, collaborate with photographers/designers and then publish the work feels like a healthy working method.
BO: What are you working on at the moment, both personally and with Tide Press?
RH: I’ve been working on a collaborative photographic project with Jack Greenwood where we have been making pictures in Leeds and more recently Manchester city centre. The main impetuous has been to respond to the same place and explore the mechanics of the city and the materials that bind it together. It’s an investigation into the city’s frameworks and structures. We’re in the process of designing a book of the Leeds work which we’re planning to bring out on Tide Press and build an experimental publishing event around the release in August. I guess that covers myself and Tide Press!
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