Bruno Ceschel, founder of Self Publish, Be Happy.
Interested in indie photobook publishing? Want to win a place on a bookmaking workshop? We talk to Bruno Ceschel, founder of Self-Publish, Be Happy, about the DIY bookmakig scene, and launch our photozine contest.
In the two years since Bruno Ceschel began showcasing indie photobooks on his blog, Self Publish, Be Happy, the interest in DIY bookmaking has exploded, providing fresh focus to the wider photography scene. Much of that is down to him, and the likeminded people who've begun book fairs, or founded their own independent publishing companies or made their own book.
Now, Ceschel is running a series of successful workshops, the last of which will be hosted by Claudio Pfeiffer of Pogo Books, and BJP has got together with SPBH to offer one of our readers a free place (worth £150, details at the bottom of this article). But first we talk to him about why he started the initiative, and why he's still excited about the act of self-publishing.
BJP: What was the impetus for starting up Self Publish, Be Happy in the first place?
Bruno Ceschel: Initially, it was born out of a frustration with the mainstream publishing world, where commercial dictates were limiting experimentation and dulling the pleasure that can be found in bookmaking. Then a couple of years ago I began to notice that the most exciting books were coming from underground publishing. There were people who were making books simply for the fun of doing so, rather than as a calculated and expensive career move. There was a raw energy in this new community that just needed to be exposed and showcased.
BJP: Once books and ‘zines started coming your way, were you surprised by the scale and diversity of printed matter being produced?
Bruno Ceschel: Yes I was, and still am. It is always thrilling to open the nicely put together packages that arrive at SPBH daily. We now receive around 10 publications a week, most of which become part of our collection and mobile library. Just thinking about at all of the different places that we are invited to around the world is really quite overwhelming. The phenomenon is still expanding. I recently went to Italy, where it's still new, and the photographers are truly excited and engaged and we still haven't seen the result of it.
How far this is going to go is unpredictable, but what is evident is its legacy. It has clearly had an impact on the publishing world at large, with self-published books popping up in the best books of the year lists and becoming very collectable and desired items. Off Print in Paris, NYC Art Book Fair and the International Fotobook Festival [reviewed in June's edition of BJP], which focus on independent publishing, have become in a few short years the most important events in the photography calendar.
Participants at SPBH's "Degenerate Art" workshop with Broomberg & Chanarin.
BJP: Why do you think printed matter is having such a resurgence, just as digital publishing - online and on tablets - goes mainstream? What is it about the book that has enduring value to us?
Bruno Ceschel: I think it's a collective, impulse reaction to technology. Most cultural revolutions in history are a consequence of radical technological innovations. What has happened recently is that for the first time people are able to print and distribute books without any great monetary investment. It all started with desktop publishing - suddenly, in the early 1990s, with just Quark Xpress and access to a printer, you were able to create a book, and 15 years on you don't even need that. Virtually [using online software templates], you don't even have to know how to use Indesign, or have a printer - you can do it using one of the printing on-demand services you find online. Digital printing and binding have not only become better but also way cheaper.
The rediscovery of printed matter, especially for the younger generation who have grown up online, is also a response to technology. Their virtual and intangible online existence has proven unsatisfactory, and as a result they have discovered the pleasure and endurance of the printed page. For some it is a form of rebellion to online slavery; for others it is an exciting and nostalgic act.
BJP: Since launching the SPBH blog, you've been visiting art fairs and festivals with a selection of your book collection, and you launched your first book, Self Publish Be Naughty. Now you've begun a programme of workshops, with people like Joachim Schmid and Broomberg & Chanarin. What do you find people need help with when they're self-publishing - do they want to know about logistical things or printing, or is it more about how to edit?
Bruno Ceschel: What we found is that it's not enough to simply pass on the logistics - people want a real chance to connect with the immersive experience of self-publishing and bookmaking. Alongside a more straightforward workshop I ran myself that dealt with more practical matters like printing, editing and distribution, we also wanted to create a programme of workshops that offered the rare chance to work with artists and publishers who have a record of making interesting publications. In this way, participants were encouraged to really challenge traditional ideas of bookmaking. Erroneously, people think of self-publishing as a solo endeavour, but a self-publisher is just somebody who acts as a publisher for their own book. That doesn't mean that they cannot work with an editor or a designer. So the workshop offers a space for photographers to work together, and support each other under the guidance of one of the most influential figures in today publishing, like Joachim Schmid.
A participant gets to grips with the photo archive supplied by Brad Feuerhelm.
BJP: How have the workshops gone so far?
Bruno Ceschel: Well, with the most recent workshop, for example, "Degenerate Art" by Broomberg & Chanarin, we began with one idea - what is degenerate art? - and it grew organically over the weekend. Participants were invited to work with an extensive collection of vintage photographs owned by Brad Feuerhelm [director/curator at Daniel Blau Gallery London, where the workshop was held] that mixed photographs from Nazi archives along with press and medical photos, among other things, and the chance to really interact with the materials - painting, cutting and making connections between them, and in turn, transforming them into something different.
What was great about this workshop was the fact that participants were working with materials they had not previously seen, and so were detached from the work, which allowed a real element of fun and spontaneity to be injected into the process, which is a great way to look at how to create books, and the result was something really quite magical. You're not taught directly practical things, but you undergo an experience that can radically change your understanding of how your own work is received or perceived, and of wider visual practice.
BJP: One of your next workshops is with Pogo Books, based in Berlin. What do you hope people will learn when they attend?
Bruno Ceschel: I decided to invite Claudio Pfeiffer, as the founder of Pogo Books, to lead the last workshop of the spring/summer term, because it's one of the more interesting actors in ‘zine publishing out there. He has this rare capacity to find young unknown photographers early on in their careers, when they are just starting to create some sort of a buzz. He is able to see the promise in a body of work that is raw and relatively unformed and skilfully help turn it into something that is fully realised, through the form of a very simple and straightforward photozine. British photographers like Luke Norman & Nik Adam, Daniel Evans and Lewis Chaplin, all created ‘zines with him while still at college, and have gone on to be some of the most promising new names in contemporary photography.
I thought that it would be a good idea to invite him to spend a weekend offering photographers his expertise in this field and giving an insight into the process he goes through to ensure a successful publication, helping them to create a ‘zine of their own. We want it to be an immediate and very visceral hands-on experience where the group can be free to photocopy and cut and staple - just really have fun with the process, and at the end organise a party where they can sell the works they have created.
Ultimately, I love the idea of reviving the tradition of artist-run workshop spaces, like Printed Matter in New York during the 1970s, for example - a place that is somewhere between a workshop and a lab, and a hub of creativity where artists would work together to create publications without having to have much money or skill in binding.
Adam Broomberg discusses ideas with participant, Alinka Echeverria.
The SPBH workshop with Pogo Books takes place in London the weekend of 23-34 June, and costs £150 (check here for concessions, discounts and fuller details). The workshop provides an overview from classic ‘zines made on photocopy machines to high end offset printed photozines.
BJP is running a Photozine Competition in partnership with SPBH, giving one reader the opportunity to take part in the Pogo workshop. To be in with a chance of winning a place at the workshop, submit a photo project that you would like to publish, entering 10 photographs at 72dpi and 720 pixels wide and emailing them to email@example.com.
The winner (selected by a panel including Bruno Ceschel, Claudio Pfeiffer of Pogo Books and BJP editor Simon Bainbridge) will also be featured on the SPBH and BJP websites. The deadline for the competition is 01 June.
Most Popular Articles
Updating your subscription status
We have a vacancy for a Key Account Manager working on The British Journal of Photography
Magnet Harlequin, one of the UK's leading Creative Production Agencies is seeking a new Head of Photography.
We have opportunities for two experienced photographic, audio or video technicians.