Jim Stephenson / Miniclick Press
Jim Stephenson is the Founder of the Miniclick Photography Talks. For the last three and a half years Jim and his team have been curating photographic events and exhibitions, publishing new and old work and experimenting with ways to communicate stories and ideas. Jim is also an architectural photographer and co-producer of the Lightbulb Film Series.
Christiane Monarchi recently interviewed Jim about his latest projects including the new publishing venture Miniclick Press, launching in Brighton on 25 June, 2014.
Christiane Monarchi: You founded Miniclick in 2010 with the idea of getting the Brighton photography and film community together in events centred on talking about ‘stories and ideas, rather that cameras and kit’. A refreshing idea, and one that has blossomed into numerous talks and events across the UK, and most recently a series of successful publications. Next week you will launch the new Miniclick publishing venture, with five new titles being presented in Brighton, and five more to come later in the year. What has been the driving force behind wanting to produce these books?
Jim Stephenson: One of the things we’re keen to maintain with Miniclick is the general lack of responsibility we have. We’re really free to do whatever we like since we don’t charge entry, have any formal affiliations, Arts Council funding or corporate sponsorship. Although this means we have to fund everything ourselves, it also means we can experiment, and if it bombs, then we learn from that but it doesn’t harm any of our future work or put any funding in jeopardy. If the experiment goes well, then we can celebrate and do it again! This meansdamien pu we have a lot of conversations that start with one of us being very excited about an idea, and end with us all saying “Yeah, why not?!”.
This is how we came to set up The Miniclick Press.
Our plan with it is to publish side projects, experiments and archived work from different photographers and other artists. We kept being shown images by photographers we are working with that they aren’t really doing much with, so we wanted to created a printed outlet for them that will allow them to be picked up in well designed and well considered publications that are also affordable. We’re definitely inspired by the work that Damien Poulain does with Oodee and his beautiful POV series. We also have a lot of the publications Craig Atkinson puts out through Cafe Royal Press – all affordable and accessible.
This month the five we’re publishing are all from Brighton photographers and in October we’ll do five more on the theme of “Another Way of Looking”. As well as the work being strong, the plan is for each set of five to have a strong single visual coherency in the design so they sit well in a series.
CM: Whom have you selected for the first five books, and what attracted you to the series chosen?
JS: We’ve gone for five Brighton photographers to kick off with:
Kevin Meredith is a old friend of Miniclick and has worked with us a lot before. For the last ten years he’s been documenting Brighton Swimming Club – one of the oldest sea swimming clubs in the world. The edit we’ve done of his huge amount of photos focuses on one of the club’s longest serving members, David Sawyers. David has been in the club for over thirty years and swims everyday (he also fishes whilst swimming – a pretty incredible skill!). Kev also put us in touch with Paul Farrington who has been instrumental in creating an online resource of the club’s one hundred and sixty year old archive of photos, newspaper clippings, scrapbooks, pennants, badges and souvenirs. Paul gave us incredible access to the archive, so the book interweaves Kev’s work on David and archive images dating back to the Victorian era.
Jack Latham and Kristina Salgvik are both part of the Miniclick team now, but Lou and I were both following their work before they joined us. Jack’s book contains images taken in a single day when he followed the fire service in the small logging town of Prospect, Oregon as they systematically burned huge areas of the forest to encourage deer to come and graze so hunters would follow. This was an aside to his huge “Pink Flamingo” work he’s been doing on the Oregon Trail for a few years now. Kristina’s project is a beautiful study of what happens when the last thing in the world you want to do is take photos, but you’re in a situation when you have to – her images are a mix of portraiture and landscapes that were taken for her degree (which she did in Brighton), when she was home in Sweden to be with her family who were going through the mill at the time. Both of these projects are quite lyrical and have a dream-like quality, so we commissioned two pieces of poetry for them by Sofia Kathryn Smith, who has done a great job. For Kristina’s, Fi hadn’t even seen the images, but based the poem on her retelling of Swedish folk stories, so we ended up with this great Chinese-whisper-folk-tale poem.
Both Ondra Loup and Jean Luc Brouard were also photographers we knew and had worked with before, but the work we’ve published from both of them was totally new to us. At a New Year’s Eve party Jean-Luc was showing me some photos he’d done backstage at London Fashion Week which I absolutely loved – we made an edit that concentrated on images that obscured the face of the models somehow, but also reflected the odd chaos that is going on back there. In keeping with Jean-Luc’s personality, I think the images are quite dark in places, but have a good dose of humour about them. John Morrison wrote a short story to go with it, that touches again on the covering of faces and on the Japanese custom around gift-wrapping. Ondra and I had had a good chat about Western photographer’s work in India shortly before he was heading out there and I think it’s fair to say we were a little critical of a lot of the work that’s been done over there in the last few years (not all of it, of course…) so when he got back I was over the moon to see these bold, proud images he got. Ondra’s got a real disarming way about him and gets some great work done. He spent a long time recounting stories from the journey to Alanna Jones afterwards, and she created a short story to go with the images.
CM: How would you describe the book making process, in relation to previous publications you have worked on involving presentations of portfolios? (Why books, not magazines?)
JS: We did two “magazine” style publications last year and they were great fun, but a lot of work. Lou and I worked with a guest editor, designer, illustrator, copy editor, seven different writers and at least eight different photographers on each issue. Everything we do with Miniclick is in our spare time, so the whole process took a couple of months, plus all the time the contributors had spent on it. We had a great time working with everyone and we’re very proud of what we produced, but as we both got busier the process wasn’t really sustainable. I think we’ll do another mag in the future, but the books are something we can produce faster with less contributors and be more reactive to what we’re seeing. Down the line, this lightness will mean we can also experiment more and more with themes, layouts and design.
The publications we’re making are standardised in design, so they’ll sit nicely as a set, but this also minimises the time we spend on that side of things. Design is all done in-house but we have the excellent Stanley James Press on hand for some advice and critique. We’re not totally sure whether to call them books or ‘zines at the moment – I think the design, layout and physical size of them puts them closer to books, but the price and card covers leans them towards being ‘zines. Not that that matters much really. The main thing was to produce something that felt well-considered, didn’t compromise the photography but had a strong design under it all.
With the edits and layouts, we asked the photographers to give us as much as possible from the series of works. Ondra, Kev and Jean-Luc all came back with over one hundred images each, which was great. For Kristina and Jack, they had much less and the edit was pretty much there already. This was probably the most fun bit – Lou and I spent a few afternoons and evenings in the pub going through all the images until themes started to appear, pairings and groups of images shouted out and we started to get some really strong edits as well as an idea for the order of things. For instance, Kev’s body of work on the swimming club has been growing for ten years now, so we had this huge back catalogue of images. We didn’t particularly want to create a story around one person, but the images of David Sawyer became too strong to ignore. Then we heard the news that Paul Farrington was opening up the swimming club’s archives to us, which runs into over 1,000 images. Combining the two was a huge task and we spent days on it. In truth we could do a whole series just on the archives, but we decided to interweave archive sections into Kev’s images and print them on newsprint to make the break from the obvious.
With Kristina’s, the images were already deliberately paired up by her. Because it’s such an emotional project we had to be sensitive and we worked pretty closely with her on it. I think we ended up swapping up all the pairings so they would run well in print and everyone was happy with it. Jack’s a good editor of his own work as well (which is rare for a photographer), so that went very smoothly too – we paired the images and printed them at different sizes depending on what we felt the picture was telling us and where the story was taking us – trying to create moment of calm and peace amongst the destructive process he has documented. Jean-Luc’s edit was fast too – we actually experimented with collage and cutouts with his images, removing context and changing what the photos showed; but after playing around so much, we decided the images were strongest as they were!
Ondra’s was really interesting as we had five or six really good themes coming through and we couldn’t decided on which one to focus on. His book has ended up having probably the least clearcut narrative of the five, but the individual images are so strong we had the confidence in that working. We put the images in sets of three which all appear big and bold, full bleed, on foldout pages.
The principal difference between doing the magazines and the books is that with the mags we’re usually working with projects that the photographers have already edited and may well even have printed before. They know the flow and story they want to tell and might dictate order and which images are used. With the books, it was the opposite as rarely was there a polished edit to run – we gave the photographers as much or as little access to this whole editing and layout process as they wanted as it’s important that publishing these is a collaboration. Hopefully we’ve all got something out of it.
CM: What does Miniclick have planned for Autumn, I hear you have a few projects in the works related to the Brighton Photo Fringe and Biennial?
JS: I can’t wait until October for the photos fests in Brighton! We’ve got a lot planned, independently, with the Fringe and with the Biennial. We’ve got a space in town that we’re taking over for the whole month, for a series of events around the theme of “Another Way of Looking” (AWOL) as we look at photography pushing the limits of what it can be. So we’re looking at experimental works, mixing media and throwing things up in the air a bit, but also things like long-form documentary work which perhaps isn’t being done in the same sense as it used to be.
We’re putting on a whole load of talks, a couple of exhibitions, publishing five more books, doing some workshops and also doing a couple of big participatory events that everyone is invited to be involved in. One is our mass curated, evolving exhibition experiment “Everyone’s a Curator”, which we also did last year – we take open submissions (online and in person) through the day that are projected onto the wall. People in the room are asked to shout out when an image catches their eye, which we then print out and add to a growing group exhibition on another wall which moves and changes as new themes emerge and disappear.
The other is “The Heart Grows Fonder”, which we will be looking for submissions for, but we’re not launching that until 25th July (at a party in Brighton that everyone is invited to), so keep an eye out for what we’re after then! In short, it’ll start online and end up in a new book that the reader curates, live, themselves. I can’t say anymore!!
All the events we’re doing will be free, as always, so please do come along and get involved. The launch for “The Heart Grows Fonder” is in Brighton on July 25th and our Festival launch party, “The Exploding Miniclick Inevitable” is on October 25th.
Miniclick Press launches in Brighton on 25 June, 2014. For more information this and other upcoming Miniclick events, please visit www.miniclick.co.uk