This series features interviews with independent photobook publishers. This month’s interview is with Maxwell Anderson of Bemojake.
Don’t Take Pictures: How would you describe Bemojake to someone who has never seen your books?
Maxwell Anderson: We publish photography books by artists who want to express an idea or concept as well as creating stimulating images. Rather than a simple portfolio of great photographs, we want the work that we publish to engage people psychologically as well as visually. We put emphasis on quality production, tactility and effective design to enhance the communication of the work and the experience for the viewer.
DTP: What series of events led you to start your own publishing house?
MA: I took an interest in books while I was at university. I spent a lot of my time back then in the bookshop Claire De Rouen, pretty much learning about photography, book design, editing, and different ways to project concepts through browsing books in there, with Claire very happy to chip in with recommendations. I started to make my own little books while at uni, and I learnt bookbinding in my spare time.
Before my final year of my degree I went for an internship with Chris Boot, and worked on an exhibition he was curating for the New York Photo Festival, as well as working on books he was publishing at the time (The Disciples by James Mollison and We English by Simon Roberts, I think).
After graduating I went straight to work with Chris as his assistant, working on the production of a number of titles including Infidel by Tim Hetherington, Maske by Phyllis Galembo, and San Francisco Berlin by Stefan Ruiz (which came from work Stefan created for the NYPF). At some point, Chris went to New York to become the Executive Director of the Aperture Foundation and I stayed in London to manage Chris Boot Ltd. By that time, I had self-published my own book, See You Soon, and became very interested in the production and editing element of books.
I decided to start my own imprint to publish books by other people, starting with Celebrity by Kenji Hirasawa. I also went over to New York for a while to work on the production of Aperture's 60th anniversary project, Aperture Remix... When I returned and settled back in to my life in London, I decided to focus on Bemojake and take it a bit more seriously.
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: I'll usually see the work by accident somewhere, and then approach the photographer. Well, I'll probably keep it in my head for months and think about it before approaching anyone. I don't have much financial backing for what I do, so I really have to think long and hard about who I'm going to work with. Generally, I don't make a profit on the books I publish.
I very rarely publish work that has been submitted. I have a very sporadic interest in photography, so I guess it's difficult for people to know whether their work will be a suit.
Sometimes I see work that I really like, and for some reason I just have an immediate idea of how the book might be. This is usually a good indication to myself that I should publish the work... But overall, if the work seems to have more depth to it than just attractive images, then I know there is a place for an editor and a designer to be involved with the helping to sculpt the work as a whole. So, the potential of a good photobook for me is having material there to play with, and the willingness for collaboration.
DTP: Have there been any books that have been particularly rewarding to produce or that you felt a special kinship with?
MA: I think you will probably find that all my books are quite different. I'm actually quite happy that it's difficult to define what makes a Bemojake book. That's because I want to give each book its own identity, rather than trying to conform it to a rigid set of visual rules. Therefore, there isn't one book that I feel closer to, each developed its own experience. I spend a lot of my time with these books, working on them, working with the artists and design and edit, etc. All as rewarding as one another.
DTP: What are some forthcoming titles are you particularly excited about?
MA: I can't say explicitly that anything is going to happen. I'm very honest with the people I work with and they all know that they can change their minds before anything is set in stone and that I don't know what is ‘round the corner for me. However, I am hopeful that I will be able to work with John Spinks again. He has a couple of bodies of work that I am excited about. We've looked at them together along with my friend Duncan who is a designer, and we all seem to be on the same page. There's also Catherine Hyland who I think is a fantastic photographer. I would love to work with her and something we've discussed.
And of course I have just published SCHOOLCRAFT by Alice Schoolcraft. I think we've made a really good book there. Really solid in all aspects, and Alice has been an absolute pleasure to work with.
DTP: What was one of the most challenging books that you have published and why?
MA: Again, all the books I publish are challenging in some way. If they weren't challenging, I wouldn't find it interesting. I think the most satisfying processes have a moment where you think “why do I put myself through this?” You persevere and then you realize why you do it. And then you do it all over again.
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: Well in the initial stages, I don't think they should question whether they should do it or not. You've got to just start working on it. You have to be very open to ideas and criticism, but at the same time don't lose track of your own intentions. Remember that design is really important, and it's absolutely worth having people involved who are skilled in that department.
I also think, don't expect great things will come of it. You do it because you feel it's right, not because you want to make money or get represented by a gallery. This is your artwork, make sure you're doing it for the right reasons, expressing yourself.
Visit the Bemojake website to learn more about their books.