This series features interviews with independent photobook publishers. This month’s interview is with Carel Fransen of Eriskay Connection.
Don’t Take Pictures: How would you describe Eriskay Connection to someone who has never seen your books?
Carel Fransen: We publish research-based photo and art books; books where text and images play an important role together. We are particularly interested in projects that map relevant matters, provide insight into the world we live in, tell a story, make a statement, expose a history or give directions to our view on the future. Also, we are both book designers and publishers, so for us it is important that the books we publish have a similar underlying design philosophy.
DTP: What series of events led you to start your own publishing house?
CF: The publishing house was founded in 2011 by Rob van Hoesel, when he noticed that the books he designed for artists and photographers were more often than not self-published. The inspiration to become a publisher also came from other designers who started their own publishing houses—for example Hans Gremmen (Fw:Books) and Roger Willems (Roma Publications). While the design studio (Studio Rob van Hoesel) and the publishing house (The Eriskay Connection) are two distinctly different companies, they are still closely intertwined.
DTP: How do you find photographers that you want to work with and how do you determine what might make a good photo book?
CF: We are quite dependent on the people and projects that cross our path, as we are in general not actively looking for new projects. We recently assessed how we came to meet all of the authors we have worked for in the past, and realized that we first met most of them at the various book fairs we attend. When someone presents a body of work to us, we first determine if the subject and story would suit our publishing house. If it does, we check how far the project is developed. The publishing house is closely connected to our design studio, so we usually want to be able to work on the edit and design of the book as well. To be involved in the design means for us to be involved with the author, their personal story and the things they want to bring out into the world. We act as a visual editor, and make a beautiful and meaningful body of work together with them. This is how we like to make books, and how we keep the quality of the books we publish consistent.
DTP: Have there been any books that have been particularly rewarding to produce or that you felt a special kinship with?
CF: As we said before, to be personally involved in the edit, design and production of a book, provides us with a deep connection with each and every book and their authors. It is a big part of why we want to be a publisher. We particularly enjoy moments like book fairs where different authors meet each other for the first time, and talk about their books, and their experiences making the books. For example, last year in Paris at the Polycopies boat, three of our authors presented their newly released books at our stand: Anna Püschel from Belgium, Robert Pufleb from Germany and Lynn Alleva Lilley from the United States. Three authors with wildly different backgrounds, but sharing a connection though our publishing house. It is amazing to be able to provide this connection.
DTP: What are some forthcoming titles are you particularly excited about?
CF: The three books coming up next are all books we're very excited about. Rebuilding / My Days in New York 1959–2018 is focused on the personal archive of New York by Martino Maragoni, and it will already be his third book we are going to be publishing. Deep Time is a more poetic story about horseshoe crabs and questions our place in time, the evolution and the whole of all life forms, and will be the second book we publish by Lynn Alleva Lilley. The third book to be released next spring is Doug's Cabin by Karianne Bueno, about a man who has been living in the forests of Vancouver Island for 47 years. This is also the third time we will publish a book that we have not designed ourselves, and it is very interesting to look at a book project develop only from a publisher's perspective.
DTP: What was one of the most challenging books that you have published and why?
CF: All book projects have been challenging in various ways. Of course you have technical challenges, which we encountered in projects like New Horizons by Bruno van den Elshout or Like a Pearl in my Hand by Carina Hesper. Those productions involved going off the beaten track regarding material choices, and printing and binding techniques, and required various modifications in design choices to make it work as good as possible. Other projects involved a more theoretical challenge, such as Layers of Reality. Together with Anna Püschel, we determined and cogitated the best way to edit and present her visual research into synaesthesia. This involved not only thinking about the structure of the research, but also helping Anna to compile a visual database she could use for the experiments, and coming up with ways to visualize the raw data of the results.
DTP: It seems that an increasing number of photographers, at all stages of their careers, are looking to publish a book. What should photographers think about before they embark on the book process?
CF: It is great to see that lots of people are thinking about making and publishing books. As publishers, we would advise them to think about why they want to publish their work in the form a book in the first place. Even though a book is a popular choice nowadays, sometimes a project might work better as an exhibition or installation, for example. As designers, we would advise artists and photographers to talk to an editor or a book designer, as you have to make sure that the story you want to tell communicates well to a reader who does not have any knowledge about the project itself. Since authors are always deeply involved in their own projects, it can be hard for them to get enough distance from their work to be able to see how the project could be presented in the best way possible. Editors and book designers have experience in thinking about how projects communicate, and could provide valuable insights that might otherwise be overlooked. This editorial role we see as one of the most important aspects of our practice as book designers.
Visit the Eriskay Connection website to learn more about their books.