Bookmarks: Peanut Press

This series features interviews with independent photobook publishers. This month’s interview is with the founders of Peanut Press, Ashly Stohl and David Carol.

Charth Vadar by Ashly Stohl

DTP: How would you describe your publishing house to someone who has never seen your books?

Ashly Stohl: We make books for photographers whose work we love.  We aim to make beautifully crafted books that feel like an extension of the work, and have fun doing it.

David Carol: Our goal is to be a small photography book publisher for photographers that put their work and how it’s presented before commerce and profits. The book is the thing. The book is what matters most. Our goal is to make the book that best represents the photographer.

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

AS: I wanted to publish my series, Charth Vader, but it’s so personal, so I didn’t want to hand it to a bigger publisher and lose control. I knew that I wanted something small, and personal and precious, because that’s how the project felt to me. My friend David Carol has self-published before, so I turned to him for guidance. We decided to make the book together.

Two great things came of this, first, we had a blast making the book, and second, the book went viral, selling out in about two weeks. Photographers that I knew started asking me about the process of publishing, and David and I realized that there was a way that we could lend our experience to others. While we couldn’t guarantee that anything would go viral, we did think we could benefit others with our experience, and help them have just as much fun. From that, Peanut was born.

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

DC: So far the people we have and are working with are people we know through our lives in the “photo world” who came to us to make their “treasure” into a reality. Moving forward we are doing our research. What that means is we are looking for great and interesting work made by photographers that share our belief that books are the ultimate venue for photographs.

AS: Finding quality work is a given, but making a book involves a lot of trust between the photographer and publisher. For the project to be successful, there has to be trust both ways.  Once we decide we want to publish someone’s work, we have to make sure that we are going to have a successful working relationship. That’s equally important.

No Plan B by David Carol

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

DC: I’ll be totally honest here. The most rewarding book for me was Charth Vader. I LOVED working on Richard Bram and Rammy Narula’s books as well as my latest book NO PLAN B, but Charth Vader is a kid who deserved an awesome book. I’m very proud of it.

AS: Aaaaw, that’s nice to hear! Of course, I would say Charth Vader, because it’s about my kid, and it is what started Peanut Press! But what’s really rewarding is seeing what all of these books have done for our photographers. Right now, as we are doing this interview, all four of us are in exhibitions that are the direct result of Peanut Press publishing the books. For example, Rammy Narula has had multiple shows in Thailand, Richard Bram’s show just opened in New York. David’s retrospective in New York just closed and will move to Miami, and I have exhibited Charth Vader in Richmond, Virginia and in Houston, Texas. It’s great to know that our work has had an impact on the careers of photographers we respect. 

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

DC: Victoria Will’s upcoming book of tintypes from the Sundance Film Festival is exciting for many reasons. I love Victoria’s work, and the challenge of reproducing tintypes in a book is not only fun but an interesting learning experience.

AS: After Victoria’s book, we will start working on a book with Paris Visone, a close friend of both of ours, and her book is going to be great. She tours with rock bands, and shoots everyone, including her family, like rock stars. I have a feeling that we are going to have a blast making this book!

Platform 10 by Rammy Narula

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

AS: Each book is its own challenge. It can be a challenge to come up with a design that feels new, yet doesn’t compete with the photographs. Plus, there are always technical challenges in reproducing photographs with an offset press.

DC: For instance, on Victoria Will’s tintype book, the challenge is to make offset printing look like a tintype. And if you can’t, the challenge is to make it look interesting and compelling while still giving the feeling of a tintype. And at the end of the day, we want to make sure that Victoria is happy with the final product, because that’s all that really matters.

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? 

DC: That’s an interesting question. Before they embark on a book project, they should ask themselves these questions:

1.     Why should I have a book?
2.     Do I have anything to say?
3.     Does anyone like my pictures besides my mom? Just joking…kinda.
4.     Would my book be better if I had five more years of work to include?
5.     Is the book I want to make now a book that I want to represent me for the next 10 years?

And just remember, Walker Evans was taking pictures for over a decade before he made his first book.

AS: All of that should be considered, but there are also some practical aspects of bookmaking.  For instance, do you have time for this? It’s incredibly time consuming, and many photographers find that they don’t shoot as much while they are making a book, because all their creative energy is diverted. 

And the thing that nobody ever likes talk about is, can you afford to make a book? Whether you are self-publishing or using a publisher, it’s going to involve some outlay of money. So here is the one thing we tell everyone; making a photobook is not a way to get rich.

You make a book because it’s time to make a book, because the work is ready and complete, and the packaging of it in to a book is an extension of the project. You do not make a book because you think you are going to make money. (But if you do, that’s great!)

Photography and bookmaking are really endeavors that require passion and commitment. You do them because you are driven to do it, and you love to do it. That’s how David and I became photographers and eventually photobook publishers, and that’s what fuels Peanut Press.

New York by Richard Bram

Visit the Peanut Press website to learn more about their books.