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by Dewi Lewis October 08, 2020 1 Comment
Looking Back #004
An occasional series about our backlist titles.
CHILDREN OF BOMBAY | DARIO MITIDIERI
In 1994 I left Cornerhouse in Manchester to set up my own publishing house. In many ways it was quite a wrench as I had been founding Director and had run the organisation for 12 years. Consequently it had always been a project that felt very personal to me. But that’s another story.
I started publishing photobooks whilst at Cornerhouse. Our very first book came out in 1987 - A Green and Pleasant Land by John Davies – and over the following seven years I was able to work on numerous other books with some truly extraordinary photographers. Increasingly I began working internationally, particularly with other European publishers whom I had met at Frankfurt Book Fair. Inevitably this led to discussions about how we might work together and begin to build a pan-European profile for our work and for the status of the photobook.
And so The European Publishers Award For Photography was born. The timing for me, though, was far from good. It was launched in October 1993, after we had all met at that year’s Frankfurt Book Fair. At that point I was still at Cornerhouse and the intention had been that they would be the UK publisher. A month later I gave my notice. I had assumed that my board would want to continue the project but fortunately for me they didn’t and instead encouraged me to take it on in my new capacity of independent publisher.
The following summer six publishers – from Italy, France, Spain, Germany, The Netherlands and the UK - met at the offices of Peliti Associati in Rome. Over the next few days we pored over hundreds of dummies that had been entered from across the globe. At that time very few photobooks were being published and there were no other book dummy awards – and so we had the opportunity to see some really strong work. The winner was Children of Bombay by Dario Mitidieri, a project I had already seen and really admired, but had been unable to find a way to take forward.
And so this became my very first book as an independent publisher. The production was led by Mario Peliti in close consultation with the other publishers and by the next Frankfurt Book Fair in October 1994 we were able to present the finished book. It was a great success, so much so that within six months we reprinted it as a softback edition. It was an exciting and interesting time. Dario was a delight to work with and supported us in so many ways, helping us to make press and other contacts that were invaluable. Through him, I made contact with an amazing charity ‘The Railway Children’, which worked with children in the same situation that he had photographed. In collaboration with them we staged a three day exhibition on the concourse of Waterloo Station showing prints as well as the book to what felt like a mass of people most of whom showed an extraordinary level of interest.
In any venture you need not only hard work but also considerable luck. I certainly had it with that project. Had it not been a success I probably wouldn’t still be publishing books over twenty five years later. I had started out publishing with boundless enthusiasm but almost no money to underpin my plans. For those first six months I seemed to do endless arts consultancy projects and the income from these and a small overdraft meant that when we published the book I had managed to get together just enough to finance the first printing. Thankfully its success meant that we covered our costs relatively quickly and were able to move on to our next project. If it had failed there was no Plan B.
The Award ran for more than twenty years – only finishing in 2015 – when the final winning book was Restricted Areasby Danila Tkachenko. Other winners included Bruce Gilden, Simon Norfolk, Jeff Mermelstein, Paolo Pellegrin, Jacob Aue Sobol, Ambroise Tézenas, Lorenzo Castore, Klavdij Sluban, Christophe Agou, Davide Monteleone, Alessandro Imbriaco and Alisa Resnik. For many photographers it gave them the chance to publish their first book and helped to build their careers. For the publishers it gave the opportunity to expand our awareness of photography across Europe and to establish lasting friendships which still endure.
There is a page on Wikipedia that gives further detail (https://bit.ly/3di3eud).
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by Dewi Lewis October 15, 2020