Bookmarks: Only Photography

This series features interviews with independent photobook publishers. This month’s interview is with the founder of Only Photography, Roland Angst.

Guardian of Time by Stéphane Duroy

Guardian of Time by Stéphane Duroy

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

Roland Angst: Our books are made on the highest level of production techniques: pre-press, printing and binding. All books are limited to editions between 300 and 500 copies, most of them are signed. There are two series: the "big series" (size 32 x 24 cm) and the “small series“ (16.5 x 24 cm). The big series have different cover materials, mostly printed linen. The small series covers change just in color and the titles are printed in blind embossing. Almost all titles include a special edition with print inside the total edition. Depending on the artist the edition of the print range from 10 to 30 copies, always in a handmade box.

We do have two core areas: Japanese photographers from the 60s and 70s, and American artists from the Chicago School. There are also a number of European photographers, mostly working in analogue and predominantly in black & white.

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

RA: With my professional background as graphic designer, working for many years for different publishers and museums never satisfied me with the final result. Ten years ago I started Only Photography. Doing two books a year (the “small series“ came later) I’m approaching the artists myself. The collaboration only starts if the artist agrees to my conditions: we make a preselection of images (usually about 30% more than in the final book included) and the artist only sees the book when it’s ready. Printing, design, sequencing and final selection is all on my side.

New York 1969 by Timm Rautert

New York 1969 by Timm Rautert

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

RA: I have collected photographs and photobooks for 30 years. My selection of artists is mainly driven by my own history, experiences and the preference of black and white photography. A good photo books is always much more than an assembly of nice pictures. It has a sequence which comes through the selected images, and it always takes care with the double pages: in case you have an image on both pages of the open book, a third image arises. I am only interested in artists who work with photography, it has to be more than documentary.

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

RA: I do have a special kinship with almost all of my books, otherwise I won’t have done them. And none of them have been (financially) rewarding. My goal is always to break even, and I have been mostly successful so far.

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Firefighters by Charles Swedlund

Firefighters by Charles Swedlund

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

RA: It’s always the next title—this time it’s the book on Kazuo Kitai’s series from the sixties
Into the Village. The next two will be a second book of never-before-published images by Ray Metzker, and new book with Gerry Johansson, both planned for spring of 2018.

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

RA: The book with French photographer Stéphane Duroy. It was the first book that included both color and black and white images. We printed in seven colors, three passes (4-color, tri-tone and partial varnish), and on two different papers. With flouts and a thin Japanese paper which separates the different series.

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? 

The Adolescent Comedy by Joseph Sterling

The Adolescent Comedy by Joseph Sterling

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RA: A book is certainly more important than a show. It lasts longer, shows a broader selection of the artist’s work, and can be sent around the world. But too many artists nowadays don’t give themselves enough time before starting their projects. Many–mostly those working digitally—have some 100 pictures on the computer. Making a selection of nice pictures (they all look great on the screen) and then the book seems to be ready-made.

You always need distance from your own work, and/or at least experience. You need a friend who has skills in sequencing and production techniques with whom you can discuss, and who doesn’t have a close personal relation to the images. Trying to save money by relinquishing these professional skills and experience leads mostly to an unsatisfactory result that you can see today on the remainder tables in numbers.

Visit the Only Photography website to learn more about their books.