This series features interviews with independent photobook publishers. This month’s interview is with the publisher of Overlapse, Tiffany Jones.
DTP: How would you describe Overlapse to someone who has never seen your books?
Tiffany Jones: Overlapse collaborates with artists and photographers to produce desirable books with relevant, socially progressive and universal themes that explore shared human experiences. Each book object is distinctive, has a life of its own, and hopefully readers will bond with them in a meaningful way.
DTP: What series of events led you to start your own publishing house?
TJ: I’ve been involved in photography, journalism and publishing from a very young age, edited my high school paper and studied photojournalism in college in Canada. In 2004. I did an intensive publishing course with the founders/editors of two major independent cultural magazines. I moved to London in 2006 and later completed an MA in Publishing in 2016 at Oxford Brookes University. I chose to do the MA with the idea of starting my own publishing venture, and it was a practical route for investigating the market for contemporary photobooks. The first Overlapse publication, The Longest Way Round, was actually produced during an independent study module for the MA. My academic endeavours were in tandem with practical work like editing a London-based independent photography magazine for four years. In that role, I produced a few issues each year and edited projects, both with world-renowned professionals and amateur photographers. So I just wanted to continue telling stories and facilitate that through collaborations with other artists.
DTP: How do you find photographers that you want to work with and how do you determine what might make a good photo book?
TJ: Finding photographers to work with is an organic process. Some projects have come about from connections I already had in the UK. I’ve also met people in portfolio reviews, or contacted others after reading about their work in photographic publications. Also, I receive a large number of submissions from photographers around the world who have heard of Overlapse and are searching for the right publisher. As for determining what will make a good photobook—in some ways I wish I could say that commercial viability drives my decisions, but it’s not really the case. A great photobook does need to have potential to reach a wide audience, but mainly it’s a subjective decision about the quality of the work, accompanied by a gut feeling. Do I like the work, is it meaningful to me, and do I believe it should be seen by others? Will an audience connect with the photography? And is the artist/photographer someone I personally want to invest a lot of time into collaborating with? Photobook publishing is all about relationships—with the photographer, the audience, booksellers, curators, media, etc.
DTP: Have there been any books that have been particularly rewarding to produce or with which you felt a special kinship?
TJ: I do feel a special connection with each of the publications I’ve done because I’ve had a fairly deep involvement with each project. The first two projects have been significant firstly because it is exhilarating to see the final object in the world—like “Wow! We actually pulled this off and the result is good!”
The Longest Way Round is an epic story revolving around a family caught up in the mire of WWII and its aftermath. I learned quite a lot about British history during war time, and the restoration period afterwards. For the photographer, Chris Dorley-Brown, the process of making the book surfaced a profound reckoning with the lives of his parents and how their traumatic experiences contributed to shaping his own life and chosen path in photography. People connect with this book in many ways and to see that impact has been really moving, both personally and professionally.
Beyond Drifting is another animal (literally!) Mandy Barker is unrelenting and diligent in her research and exposure of this massive environmental disaster of plastic pollution in the world’s oceans, of the creatures within, and ultimately the contamination of our own food chain. I have utmost respect not only for her mission and success in accomplishing it, but for her work ethic and character as a person. She does not mess around with trivial things and has been so much fun to work with. In her realm, I feel like I’m at the service of this freight train, pumping fuel in to help keep it moving, and she’s kind of shouting things that make me want to work harder. Mandy’s book is entirely original in its art, and the special edition is the result of hard graft. In some ways, this book is playing a part in changing the world.
DTP: What are some forthcoming titles are you particularly excited about?
TJ: I’m excited to be completing two new photobooks with wonderful photographers from Spain; both are cultural explorations with really long titles!
Coming very soon is The Tree of Life is Eternally Green by Pascual Martinez and Vincent Saez, a duo from Murcia who developed a love and kinship for Romanians and the integral connections that people there have with nature. They were awarded a grant in 2014 from the Romanian Cultural Institute and have since travelled more than 6000km photographing mostly in rural areas of the country. I feel that Pascual and Vincent are led by the heart without being overly sentimental in their approach, so their passion for their subject is kind of infectious. And we get to discover things about the people and flora of Romania through their eyes.
Then in May we will publish The Earth is Only a Little Dust Under Our Feet by Bego Antón who is based in Barcelona. She immerses herself amongst niche groups or microcultures and last year was recognised with the 2017 Revelation Award at PHotoESPAÑA. In this book, she documents and reveals how Icelandic people believe in magical beings like elves, trolls, fairies and monsters—that they are everywhere, living, and regularly interacting with humans. Bego travelled around the country searching for seers and believers, and the result is a rather extraordinary book of portraits, landscapes, and compelling stories.
DTP: What was one of the most challenging books that you have published and why?
TJ: All Overlapse publications have been produced with photographers from a distance, which has actually been very successful and easy in a way (thanks to Skype) but maintaining solid communication is a great challenge so that’s worth mentioning as a concern.
Otherwise the challenges are great and many! No single book has been particularly difficult, but practical matters generally keep me on my toes, such as distribution and chasing payments, securing reviews and media coverage, collaborating with photographers to promote, making difficult design decisions and ensuring the production process is completed as intended, and on and on…
Generally, it’s an uphill challenge to have an audience discover a photobook since most aren’t given a place in mainstream, physical bookshops. Again, this is where relationships are so important in spreading the word. I feel publishers, booksellers, writers and photographers all need to support one another and champion what we do to the world. We are lucky to have some organised groups and individuals who make it their mission to promote photobooks. We just need to keep the interest growing through working together.
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?
TJ: At all stages there are photographers who are convinced that their work is great and that there will be massive demand for a book. The reality is that no matter who you are it would serve you better to turn your perspective upside down and ask yourself why anyone at all would care about or be interested in what you are doing. Most photographers and publishers who have experience making and trying to sell photobooks will probably confirm this. A great photobook usually has more to offer than beautiful pictures strung together, whether it be a narrative, an investigation, or some other compelling angle. It’s like with hit songs or albums, you need hooks to engage people. I’m not talking about gimmicks, because readers are smart and can see through any façade you may create, but do have a purpose for wanting to make a book and don’t be lazy with its execution. Aside from presenting pictures alone, use your brain to work out the puzzle of how your work can be made memorable for a demanding audience. And be open to what others generously offer in terms of constructive criticism. Of course you can print a book for reasons of vanity, but why not strive to make an impact by giving up your ego and producing something that others could benefit from?
I could go on endlessly since I researched and wrote a dissertation on the market for photobooks, and even that only covered a fraction of the issues to consider. One route into figuring out what your book can become is to consider its potential genre, like for example is it poetry or prose, fiction or non-fiction, autobiographical, or political? Questions like these can help in laying out a path forward to accomplishing your aim with a publication. Once you know what it is, then do all the legwork necessary to make the best book you possibly can.
Visit the Overlapse website to learn more about their books.