Dewi Lewis Publishing has a reputation for high quality contemporary photography books by the likes of William Klein, Martin Parr, Simon Norfolk, Anders Petersen, and Bruce Gilden, as well as lesser-known photographers. Following his talk at Magnum Professional Practice Bradford, Dewi Lewis shares advice for photographers…
What are you looking for when you decide whether to take on a new project?
It’s hard to say. It has to work internationally. For whatever reason we [have to] believe it will be of interest to someone in the US, in France, and in the UK. That can simply be that it’s about a human issue that everyone in the world would respond to. It’s almost easier to say what you can’t do.
What can’t you do?
If it’s very personal, unless there’s funding you can’t take it on. One of the things a lot of photographers seemed to do as college projects at one point was revisiting a house that had personal meaning for them – their grandparents’ house or the house they were brought up in. To be honest, however good it is, the interest level [for that] is family and friends. Also a lot of young photographers do projects about their friends lying round drinking or whatever. Occasionally that works but it’s pretty rare.
What does it take for a great photography project to become a great photography book?
It’s essentially: is there enough in it to sustain a book? There are often things you see, particularly documentary work, that would make a really good extended magazine feature but there’s not enough for a book. And it’s not simply about the number of images. There’s a longevity to a book: you’re trying to create something that someone would be interested in looking at it several times over several years.
When you started out in publishing, in the ’80s, there weren’t anything like as many photography books being published as now – what has changed?
It’s strange because in lots of ways it’s seen as the golden age of the photobook, and in a way it is because lots of photographers are producing their own books, but actually there’s not a massive explosion in the number of people buying them. All these books being produced are done from funds photographers are raising or putting in themselves, they’re not commercial enterprises.
Do you have any advice for emerging photographers who would like to publish their work?
I’d always encourage photographers to put together a project in a small self-published book. But realise that it’s not going to make you a fortune and it’s not going to change your career – it’s a useful and creative aspect of being involved in photography. One problem now is photographers thinking they’re able to publish a big book when they’re just out of college, which is a mistake. Again, it’s a longevity thing. A book is around for a long time. You need to know your style and what you want to do, and that doesn’t come immediately.
If you are self-publishing, go to photobook events. Track down what’s being done by other people, by Harry Hardie and Here Press, for example. Think carefully about the book as an object, not just something to include your images in. The books that are successful – the ones that get blogged about, sell out quickly and help your reputation – are all ones where care and attention is given. It’s nicely designed, it’s [made from] good materials – those sort of things. Essentially, if a photographer gets involved in a book, they have to realise it’s not just their work that will carry it – it’s the whole book.
Images courtesy of Dewi Lewis.
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