Bookmarks: TIS Books

This series features interviews with independent photobook publishers. This month’s interview is with two of the founders of TIS Books, Tim Carpenter and Nelson Chan.

Black Threads from Meng Chiao by Justine Kurland and John Yau

DTP: How would you describe TIS Books to someone who has never seen your books?

Nelson Chan: I would describe us as a hybrid publishing house concentrating on publishing books by other artists as well as self-publishing the works of the founders of TIS books.

Tim Carpenter: That's right. It's centered on the photobook, but one of our titles—Black Threads from Meng Chiao—has poetry by John Yau accompanying photographs by Justine Kurland. And we're looking at publishing a play one of these days. But we're photographers, and primarily interested in the form of the photobook.

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

Nelson: We all met in graduate school at the Hartford Art School, where we were all earning our MFA degrees in photography with a specific concentration in photobooks. This is a limited-residency program where everyone is spread across the globe. We meet periodically in different cities, but it was incredibly fortunate that Tim Carpenter, Carl Wooley, J Carrier and myself all lived in New York City. TIS books would officially be formed by Tim, Carl, and me, but J was there during the creative inception of TIS as a collective and collaboration on making photobooks.

Waiting Out the Latter Days by Steven B. Smith

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

Nelson: We have an open submission policy on our site where we review book submissions, but so far, all of our books have come from personal connections with specific artists or introductions made by close confidants. For example, Steven B. Smith is a close friend and former professor of mine. I had seen some photographs of what was to become Waiting out the Latter Days and worked with Steve for almost two years before the book was ready to make.

Tim: We'd met Justine Kurland through our MFA program, and had become friends, so when she showed us the interior black-and-white pictures she was making a couple years ago, we were immediately intrigued. And we got to know John Gossage through Justine and other friends, so we just sort of floated the idea of making a book, and he'd had the germ of an idea for A Dozen Failures, so we were thrilled to make that happen.

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

Nelson: Since starting our imprint we’ve published a small number of books, but it’s a catalog that we wholeheartedly believe in. That said, all of our books have been rewarding to produce. I don’t think we would have published them if that weren’t the case. We’ve been able to publish books by people who have been long-time art heroes of ours. Some artists have also been long-time friends and mentors. TIS books also has a self-publishing program where we publish works by the founders Carl Wooley, Tim Carpenter, and myself, along side our long time creative collaborator, J Carrier. This platform is ever-changing as we evolve as artists and as a publisher.

Waiting Out the Latter Days by Steven B. Smith

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

Nelson: We are incredibly excited to be working with Andrea Modica on a new book of her most recent body of work. We also just released a new set of our self-published books TIS02.

Tim: We're also doing a set of three collaborative books by Raymond Meeks, sort of the same model he used with his Orchard Journal series a few years back. The first one is called Township, and the pictures were made by Ray and me, in partnership with Adrianna Ault. It will also include new writing from Brad Zellar.

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

Tim: We've learned that all books present unique challenges, and we're still learning a lot. It's an amazing amount of work to coordinate everything between an artist, us, and a printer/binder. And there are moments when you wonder if things are really going to come together. We've made significant changes to projects at the last minute, for example. But so far, we've been fortunate. And we've worked with some flexible and forgiving people.

A Dozen Failures by John Gossage

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? 

Nelson: First ask yourself, “Is this appropriate as a book?” Not everything needs to be bound and looked at in one’s lap. However, if you believe your project needs to be a book then you should start to think about the audience and how you’d like to try and get this thing out and into the world (this is after all the easy bits of pre-press production, design, and sequencing). Truly, selling what you make tends to be the hardest and the most neglected part of the process. Thinking about your audience and how you are going to sell X amount of books will help determine production scale. That will then help determine how and where it gets made, and then that will help you determine the distribution of said book when it’s finished, etc. Fortunately now, e-commerce is a real way to sell your book. There are also awesome book fairs happening all the time and everywhere. It’s a bit of a financial risk, but think of it as PR and marketing as well. We love the book fair circuit because we get to talk about our work to book enthusiasts and collects in person. There’s a great sense of community there.

Tim: Absolutely agree with Nelson. I encourage people to go beyond the PDF stage and make dummies of their book project. You can start on cheap paper and use binder clips - just to understand how the book feels and moves in your hands. Editing and sequencing are really different—and I think better—when working with a physical object. It forces you to think about dimensions of the book and the images, and the thickness, and where text might work if you're using it. And once you make a nice maquette that shows your vision for the project, it's much easier to approach publishers.


Visit the TIS books website to learn more about their books.