Reason 3: Not Fitting In

Here’s the third post in the series of unknown length and duration, around reasons why I started publishing.

I’m not sure where to start this, so I’m going to write and see how it goes. Here are some terms, or genres I’m involved in/with. Each very different. Each a different crowd, generally. A different market, in a business sense. A different process in terms of making, and certainly different reasoning. Often, a different outlet or final place for the work to ‘be’:

Genres — Artist’s Book / Zine / Photobook

Sections — History / Culture / Photography / Gift

Reasons — Nostalgia / Collection / Archive / History / Dissemination /Presentation

Fitting in. I’ve never been a conformist. I’m not sure why. I don’t think it’s rebellion, although at times possibly it is. I think it’s more that I like to question things as they are. I’m never comfortable accepting that ideas as they are, are the best way. For example, procedure, hierarchy, method, answer…I never like to take a set of rules and agree, ‘that’s how it’s done.’ I’d rather find my way of getting it done. I don’t like the term, ‘creative’, when applied to a person, but I think artists, designers, photographers, ‘creatives’ generally, question rules. Often get accused of disobeying, quite negatively. Questioning, I think, is better.

When I’m not in the office/studio, editing, sourcing, replying to emails, packing post etc, I’m at book fairs, talking about the books and selling the books. Artist’s Book and zine fairs are the ones I started taking part in, 13 years ago. The first was Manchester Zine Fair, at what was then Urbis. Leeds, BABE in Bristol, Small Publishers, London Zine Symposium…Fairs in Lithuania, China, Korea, Japan, Australia…When I can’t go, I send a box of books. See previous post about ease of transporting.

More recently (past seven years), I’ve taken part in photobook fairs. Bristol, London, Glasgow, Paris, Rome, New York…The mindset is different. Not better or worse. Perhaps more focussed, because the subject is tighter. Photography includes photography. Photo books include photographs. ‘Artist’s books’ is perhaps a vaguer term, which is useful. Artists work in a multitude of ways so I think the term artist’s book refers more to the book as a container, the function and form of the book, as well (or can be) as the content. Photobooks can be more fetishised, more ‘collected’, more valuable and in some ways seen as more ‘prestigious’. A word I don’t like much. There are cross overs though, Ed Ruscha’s photographic books, for example. Artist’s will discuss them as artist’s books. Photographers as photobooks. There is, of course, a problem with categorising anything, but things do get categorised so I’ll go with it.

The bookshops that sell Café Royal Books vary in terms of the shelf on which the put the books. Photography is an obvious and appropriate one. History, Culture, Gift, are others — all just as appropriate. They have been exhibited, cited and discussed as examples of artist’s book, photobook, archiving, re/presenting work, zines, collections, cultural/social history…

Each term, in every case, has its own audience. The more terms one crosses, the wider the potential audience, and in this case, the more eyes that can see the images I publish. So that’s good. More people who perhaps didn’t know the photographers or their work, or a particular series of work, now do.

The main thing with all of this, is that the books (if that’s what they are…) don’t fit in. They float around a bit. Today, I have sent books to a gallery in New York. A library in San Diego. Someone in the UK, along with a note to say ‘Happy Birthday’ from the person who bought it. A biker on the Isle of Man, a playwright in London and a lawyer in the USA. The years I spent painting and exhibiting in a fairly formal way, I think has put me off sticking to one thing or place. So Café Royal Books helped me to make one thing, but be a part of several ‘networks’ (another word I don’t like.) I’m easily bored, and although ultimately I do just make one type of thing, it’s useful to be able to discuss it as several things, depending on where the books are, or where I am.

Image: One of the last paintings I made, 2005.

Reason 1: Non-reliance on ‘the gallery’

I’m going to make a series of unreferenced fairly train-of-thought posts outlining why I began Café Royal Books, my thinking, and the ways in which I source and consider material for publication. I get asked questions around these subjects a lot — twice weekly I guess. There are a lot of Q&A I’ve done, published online, where I try to answer them, and some old YouTube films about drawing, publishing and process. Ask me the same question each day for a week and you’ll get seven different answers, so I’ll take my time with these posts and hopefully they’ll come close-ish to something mildly resembling something almost interesting, or useful.

2005. I wanted a way to exhibit the drawings I had been making, without relying on ‘the gallery’. I was drawing because I’d quit painting. I’d quit painting because despite fair ‘success’, I found it self-restricting. I didn’t want to continue spending 18 months making a body of work. Each piece was large, heavy, expensive, difficult to transport and impossible to transport further than the UK. I get bored easily and never liked to exhibit work more than two or three times. However, because the work took so long to make, I felt obliged to store it, adding to the confusion. I loved paint and painting, still do — I just don’t do it any more, it’s a luxury. Drawing felt a more useful and more purposeful use of time, and less like adding stuff to a world that doesn’t need more stuff. My awareness of ‘stuff’ is greater since having kids, and the thought that one day they’ll have to deal with this ‘stuff’ I’ve made.

Making work that didn’t rely on ‘the gallery’, was something I considered for several reasons. I’ve always enjoyed the space in galleries, sometimes the architecture, the views, the book shops, the coffee, but not often the experience of going to these buildings to look at art or photographs. Hifalutin statements have always irritated me. The assumption that because work is in a gallery, people will come to see it also irritates me. The most irritating thing, I think, is the idea that work placed in a gallery is somehow better than work that isn’t. And that work placed in X gallery is better, because it’s in X gallery, not Y gallery. There can be a general elitism and pretence in galleries, or perhaps in some of those who discuss their own importance because they were in Z show at X gallery. Chin stroking. The galleries you have to climb steps to, just to reinforce their importance, prior to chin stroking — also irritating. Once in, you’re in the hands and at the mercy of a curator with an agenda. Labels everywhere, telling you how to look at the thing you’ve not yet looked at. And it’s hung next to the next thing, so they must be related in some way…Or not, but the label says so. You paid £30 for a timed entry, to look at the backs of the other £30 ticket holders’ heads.

It’s culture.

Is a gallery the best place to show art? More-so, photography, unless it’s a Gursky. What about a William Klein show in a hospital, for example, would that be any different? There’s the architecture to contend with in either case. In the gallery, the people who see the pictures are gallery goers. In the hospital it’s potentially anyone, so arguably the hospital is a better place for a Klein show. If only the hospitals had the money and staffing the major art institutions do.

I should add, I like to moan… and there are many great, amazingly supportive, genuine galleries and curators, whose agenda is to show the work in the context that it was made, not an imagined one.