Brown Owl Press


Al Palmer started Brown Owl Press in 2013. We were at neighbouring tables at the Brighton Photo Fringe Book Fair so we had a chat about the type of books he wants to publish and the experience of working with photographers.



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Rick Pushinsky


Also at the Brighton Fringe Book Fair was Rick Pushinsky selling his recent book, a personal project that had been published by Sternthal Books. I asked him about the choice between self publishing and working with a publisher.



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The Archivist


Source was at The Brighton Photo Fringe Book Fair at the weekend. As ever there were an array of small publishers so I took the chance to speak to a few of them. First up was Michael Harrison of The Archivist a sober and elegant magazine / journal. I didn't get much chance to look at it beyond an initial impression of its high production values so I'll let Michael explain what it's about.



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Photobook Bristol: Selling Books

publishers tables, image Hannah Watson

publishers tables, image Hannah Watson

Sonia Berger is one of the founders of Dalpine an online bookshop and publisher. She previously worked in a publishing house. She believes that the growth in photobooks is partly due to the financial crash which put photographers out of work (gave them more time to pursue their own projects). Asked if there is a general audience for photobooks she says Paloma al Aire by Ricardo Cases has reached a wide audience. In general however, 'Few people outside the photography or design world are interested' but she thinks they may become interested when they see what the photobook has to offer.

Meanwhile, in the UK the Photobookstore, run by Martin Amis does a similar job in making available those self published or exotic books that are hard to find elsewhere. Martin had a stand and was selling books at Photobook Bristol for the third year. He said he thought there were probably the same number of good books produced as in the past but, since so many more titles were produced each year, if in smaller numbers, this would imply there were a lot more bad books. What had changed was that there was no distribution to shops like Waterstones. This was a recurrence of the theme I'd heard most often repeated in one form or another, the lack of a mainstream alternative: the publishers or distributors who could find a bigger audience for the photobook.

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Photobook Bristol: Words and Niches

Colin Pantall introduces a talk. Picture Mark Power

Colin Pantall introduces a talk. Picture Mark Power

Colin Pantall is one of the Creative Directors of Photobook Bristol as well as being a blogger and a senior lecturer at Newport. He says Photobook Bristol is not just an event for niche publishers. He says he tweeted an invitation to Kim Kardashian to take part as she has published a photobook.

More surprisingly, he says that he doesn't think there is any 'true critical writing on photobooks at the moment' and more generally, questions if there is any critical writing about photography at all, of any kind, which I expect will be a disappointment to many writers, especially coming from a senior university lecturer who, after all, should know. This may be merely a question of terminology, Colin explains his position with reference to a book by Susie Linfield called Cruel Radiance (the relevant section of which is here) that argues that too many people who have written about photography haven't actually liked it. This may explain why he declares himself 'biased' in favour of the medium and calls for a new way of talking about photography that examines the writer's own role in interpreting it.

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Photobook Bristol: Shooting from the Hip


Rudi Thoemmes is the founder and Director of Photobook Bristol. He is also a book dealer, running the website RRB Photobooks (which I learnt stands for Rudi's Rare Books). Photobook Bristol is a four day event with talks by publishers, photographers and other people generally concerned with photography books. It takes place in the South Bank Club and describes itself as 'cosy' which, as a matter of fact, it is: it has a bar, a good-sized room and stage for the talks and another large room for publishers to sell their books in. The atmosphere is relaxed and a lot of the people in attendance seem to know each other.

During a talk Rudi and I stepped outside and he told me about the festival. He said that the aim was to to encourage candid conversation about the photobook world. He had some trenchant things to say about the realities of photobook publishing: 'probably 95% of the books published are paid for by the photographers', about why you don't need a 'fancy Dutch designer' and the consequence of subsidy: making books nobody wants. A lot of this is very reminiscent of a conversation I had four years ago with Tim Borton of the distributor Art Data.

Rudi also said the Arts Council grant for the Arnolfini (a gallery in Bristol) was a waste because 'they hadn't done anything for years', that the Photographers' Gallery was 'conservative and very niche' and that Offprint is 'hyped up'. Rudi is vague about whether the publicly-funded photography galleries around the country are any good (or even aware they exist), but he says 'it would be nice to have a regional alliance of galleries' and from my perspective it seems odd that there is so little exchange between these new photography events (Photobook Bristol, Offprint, Photo London) and the older photography galleries (Photographers' Gallery, Open Eye, Stills, Impressions, Ffotogallery etc.). This may be because of the different focus of galleries and publishers or perhaps it is because these new events are really the creation of the internet – where photobooks are discussed and traded – where the galleries are less prominent or more concerned with their local audience.

So was it worth a trip to Bristol? I enjoyed the talks, especially Martin Parr's conversation with Krass Clement. The food was good. The book dealers had books I wouldn't see anywhere else. The convivial mix of enthusiasts, invited guests and organisers works very well. The community may have been formed elsewhere but it is events like this that reaffirm its purpose.

dancing, image Miriam O'Connor

Dancing at the afterparty, image Miriam O'Connor

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Publishers at Offprint London

At Offprint I took the opportunity to speak to some publishers I only knew from reviewing their books. APE (or Art Paper Editions) produce varied unpredictable books. Jurgen Maelfeyt, the publisher, explained their ethos and also described how they only became an ongoing publisher when a visit to a previous Offprint Fair had been a success (an example of a publishing fair creating a publisher).

Clare Kelly of Hesse Press had some interesting reflections on her responsibilities to the artists she publishes who, although they are a small publisher, get 100 copies and a fee. She also noticed a difference in the publishing scene at Offprint and in the US where there is no public subsidy and, as she saw it, people were more open to say where their money had come from.

Edward Newton, who runs Highchair Editions with his brother James, supports himself and the family publishing habit by working in a pub.

Trine Stephenson launched the fifth edition of The Plantation Journal at Offprint. It is a kind of anthology around a theme and functions like a printed exhibition, on this occasion entitled 'Sculptural Corners'. Of course she also has a presence on the web and social media but explains that a printed magazine is something you can talk to people about when you meet them.

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Curating Sound

Cheryl Tipp is the Curator of Wildlife and Environmental Sounds at The British Library. I spoke to her in the sound archive office and then we went down into the stores to look at some items in the collection. It turns out that wildlife sound recording and photography, although they had developed in similar ways, had paid little attention to one another. You are either one or the other apparently. Nevertheless, there are constant echoes across the disciplines, be it the role of amateur societies, or the strategies used by field recordists to record their lives in ways that will be meaningful, that I think will be of interest to photographers.


A 15 second recording of the Lesser Hornero

Ludwig Koch's Sound-Book of British Bird Song

Ludwig Koch's Sound-Book of British Bird Song

An album of sonograms of bat sounds

A Russian LP of fish recordings

A Russian LP of fish recordings

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Wildlife in Sound and Pictures

Thrush, David Tipling

Song Thrush, David Tipling

I went for a walk with the field recordist Peter Toll and the Wildlife photographer David Tipling. While we walked, we talked about how they both approach their subjects. This is an excerpt from our conversation (a textual edit of the interview appears in the current issue), it will sound better listened to with headphones.

Here are some of the recordings Peter mentions in the interview.


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Walking Around London

One theme of new Source is the comparison between photography and sound recording. We thought it would be illuminating to introduce a field recordist and a photographer and see what they had in common. The photographer Laura Pannack has an ongoing series called The Walks of pictures made on undirected trips in the vicinity of London. Ian Rawes runs the website The London Sound Survey and makes sound recordings around the city, also made on foot, although he seems more inclined to be guided by maps.

In the event the way they describe their work has similarities and differences. They both talked about how they wanted their work to draw the listener or viewer into the scene they were depicting, but Laura placed more emphasis on an emotional engagement with her subject and Ian talked more about representing the places he made his recordings and the experience of being there. In a way Ian's recordings are more like a photographer recording a streetscape – they make me think of Humphrey Spender – while Laura is making environmental portraits.


Either way I can't help thinking that many photographers are doing similar things to many field recordists and there would be a benefit to both if they knew more about one another's work.


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