Bookmarks: Candor Arts

This series features interviews with independent photobook publishers. This month’s interview is with the founder of Candor Arts, Matt Austin.

In the Company of Black by Cecil McDonald, Jr.

In the Company of Black by Cecil McDonald, Jr.

Don’t Take Pictures: How would you describe Candor Arts to someone who has never seen your books?

Matt Austin: We are a small press that has been publishing for a little over two years. We specialize in handmade artist book editions and do a majority of the production in-house. The authors we publish are people who are sharing some personal account of their lived experience (often tending to be traumatic or difficult circumstances in American society) and offering perspectives on how they’ve been able to learn and/or heal from them. The role of this business is to support the authors as much as possible, both financially and socially—many of the decisions we make as a business are based on making this a priority.

DTP: What series of events led you to start your own publishing house?

MA: My personal creative practice was mostly focused on photography through college and a few years after. In 2012, I received a grant to produce a small edition of clamshell box sets of books for my project WAKE, a body of photographs and writing that chronicled several tragedies within my family occurring around the 2008 housing/banking crisis that left my dad homeless for several years. I didn’t know how to make books and I realized quickly that the grant wasn’t enough to cover me outsourcing it. I watched lots of YouTube videos on bookmaking and produced that edition of 10, in which each clamshell box encased 4 hardcover books. It was a long and laborious process, but I really loved the ability to measure the progress as each copy was produced with more efficiency. After that project, I began to teach friends and my high school students how to do it, helping them make books of their work, and eventually that led to me reaching out to people whose work I admired–the first of which was Todd Diederich.

In the Company of Black by Cecil McDonald, Jr.

In the Company of Black by Cecil McDonald, Jr.

DTP: How do you find photographers that you want to work with and how do you determine what might make a good photo book?

MA: Right now, about half the authors that I work with have been referred to me or reached out to Candor directly, and the other half I have sought out myself. I rarely (or maybe never) envision a book before having several conversations with the author first. What I look for most is that the author has a healthy and intimate relationship with their work—specifically that they feel comfortable with it, even in their frustrations with it, understand its role in their lives and others', and have no issue discussing the work in an open, honest manner. To me, I think this signifies contentment or resolve within the work that tends to offer a rich starting point to begin a conversation about making a book together. Sharing your work with the general public (especially the kind of work we tend to publish) is inevitably a vulnerable experience. I think to endure the process of publishing, in which the work will experience critique and tensions regarding its presentation, the artist needs to both embrace changes in their imagined vision as well as respond intuitively to what thresholds the work needs to be defended.

DTP: Have there been any books that have been particularly rewarding to produce or that you felt a special kinship with?

MA: There is not one project that I’ve done that I don’t feel a special kinship with. Each project has its own story and unique development, full of changes, frustrations, and epiphanies. It is a rewarding process that continues to surprise me each time.

DE by Victor Yañez-Lazcano

DE by Victor Yañez-Lazcano

DTP: What are some forthcoming titles are you particularly excited about?

MA: Last week we released a beautiful publication chronicling the impactful work of Honey Pot Performance called Ma(s)king Her: Black Feminist Futures, it is a gorgeous publication that provides a thorough look into their work and process over the past 17 years, specifically highlighting Ma(s)king Her, their most recent work. Next up is GREENZONES with Jenny Kendler and the NRDC, a book about the Nosara Region of Costa Rica with the funds from the book supporting the protection of the land against commercial development. After that is Korde Arrington Tuttle’s falling is the one thing i, a book of poetry and photographs, and Matthew Anderson’s Deviant Proposals: an Anti-Binary Journal.

There are more books and partnerships slated for 2018, but I’ll wait to announce those!

DTP: What was one of the most challenging books that you have published and why?

MA: I don’t think one book has gone entirely according to plan, and all of them have had some amount of stress in the production and/or making the timelines happen. With each project, I try to challenge myself to take on a new design element that I have not yet tried or am not fully familiar with, it is often getting to know those processes or materials that makes the book challenging, but also very rewarding.

DE by Victor Yañez-Lazcano

DE by Victor Yañez-Lazcano

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? 

MA: I think if they want to do it they should just go do it, and figure out how to with whatever resources they have to do so—no matter what amount of experience. There will not be a situation where it is all perfect right away. I’m a big advocate for artists (including myself) taking risks and producing projects even if the project itself ends up being a reflection of where they were—technically, emotionally, conceptually, etc.—at that time. I have books that I’ve made throughout the years that are absolutely awful and fall apart due to poor handwork, but they are now objects that accurately mark moments of my progress as a thinker, maker, and now a publisher. They hold both genuine representations of my efforts as well as my naiveté, and are great reminders that I could not be making the work I am today without that work having been made. With each new project releasing, I am continuously looking at the previous and saying, “wow I knew so little back then.” I love that aspect of growth through publishing and art-making.

I used to believe that I could be the next Larry Bird by David Robert Elliott

I used to believe that I could be the next Larry Bird by David Robert Elliott

Visit the Candor Arts website to learn more about their books.