Blake Andrews: Can you tell me a little about Little Big Man Books. I saw your earlier book about the Gus Van Sant character (Gabe) but didn't realize until you sent me the Araki that you have several titles. How did it start? When? Where? Why? Etc.
Nick Haymes: Ah yeah, I'm the same person, but I try to keep my books separate from Little Big Man.
But some of the same publishing skills probably came into play in both.
Well my wife did the design on the Gabe book. Little Big Man started with my wife and a friend but I became involved later. I kinda took over Little Big Man books as they were kinda too busy. I had also just come out of curating a group photo show in NYC that was very well received, so it made sense for me to continue with the books. I also think coming in and speaking to other photographers as a photographer can make things a little easier when trying to persuade them to work with you. They both came out of some sort of feeling that something was dramatically lacking in both fields.
And what was lacking?
I think with the gallery boom a whole genre of photography is missing plus there is a generation of photographers whose main goal is the gallery wall. I also think the gallery misrepresents photos for the worst.
So your ideal venue for viewing photos is in a book?
Yeah, I suppose but that's pretty cliche thing to say. Books are funny. The more they came into the spotlight in recent years the worse they became. Something became really dry about them.
What do you mean dry? I've seen a wide range in quality. Many bad titles but also a lot of good stuff in recent years. I think we are living in a photobook renaissance.
It is if the artist has a clear narrative and/or intelligent dialog and understanding of books. But there are many books that lack some sort of vigor.
Vigor. A good word for Araki. Do you think Araki sees the book as his main avenue for getting work out? He's published 350. Can that possibly by right? That's like 10 per year.
More like 400+. You really have to captivate your viewer and also celebrate the printed form. I'm not saying all bells and whistles here. But man, there have been so many cloth bound books it makes me wanna puke.
The Araki book is cloth bound. Just saying.
Ha ha I know, you beat me to it. But there are reasons for all of the binding concepts on that book. It's funny, when we worked on the book designing thing I said I would quit doing books if I ever did cloth bound. But after all the busyness with opening the book it needed to become a little more sedate. Cloth binding made sense. It was such a complex packaging and so many elements in the earlier stages, with the Obi foil outside. It did have to become a little more understated at some point so as not to overshadow the work.
The tearing of the Obi band too was a bit of an in joke to the collector. Actually having to tear the book to get in, having to destroy something that you covet. I also like the idea that it's like opening something you shouldn't, as it's Araki's diary of life. So I wanted it to remind me of a diary in some way too in its appearance.
It's funny you mention tearing into the book because I spent a few minutes trying to figure out how to open it without damaging the band. It's an irreversible step. You should take a poll of the books sold so far. Ask how many owners have opened their book and how many keep it intact. The answers might reveal something about the nature of book collecting.
Yeah we glued it on the back so you have to rip into it. It's a funny thing. I hope that everyone opens it. It would be such a waste if the book is not looked at and enjoyed.
Were you the principle designer? How much say did Araki have?
It's very collaborative. For someone who has done so many books he really works full force on the printed matter. He was not lazy at all when working on the book. Constantly re-editing and reworking the form. It was a tricky one. Let's face it. You get to work with Mr Araki who has done more books than you have. You also want him to enjoy and be surprised too with the results. He was very responsive and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
You enjoy books, right? Myles at Ampersand said you are very critical towards the justification of a book too.
Hmm. I guess that's a good thing. I always try to act judiciously in his shop. I don't openly criticize what he sells. Is he stocking your books? I haven't seen them there.
Yeah he does. Maybe he sold them : ) He is a decent chap. There are not many bookstores left.
Myles is great. I actually think Ampersand is a manifestation of what I mentioned earlier, the photobook renaissance. And Carte Blanche in SF too. These are brave shops and I think they're a manifestation of a movement.
Sorry I don't agree with Carte Blanche. They're like Ikea for photo.
How so? I haven't actually been in there. Just word of mouth.
Do they carry your books?
Ha ha, nope, but that's not the reason. They are aiming at some bad demographic. Without rhyme or reason. You will see when you come to SF.
How else do you handle distribution? Do you sell mostly online or through stores?
I do online sales. And directly with bookstores. I tend not to do consignment. I recently got burned on a book doing that. Everyone is really good and supportive towards the indie seller. Dashwood in NYC has been really helpful and pushed in the beginning, even going so far as giving a mailing list. Which is really cool. I like Ampersand too a lot. He's a great breath of fresh air on the West Coast. I like Family Books in LA too as they are so different in approach.
I'm keying in on several things you've said above. Books are "dry". They lack "vigor". Carte Blanche is "bland". I think your motivation with Little Big Man might be to stir the pot a little? And with Araki specifically.
There is one really amazing bookstore in SF though, 871 Fine Arts Bookstore, mostly used books. It's on Hawthorne Street downstairs in a basement. You would never know it's there except for the glowing neon red sign that says "books". Sounds odd but true. She's a gem in there. It's the only place for photo books. I will take you when you are here next. I couldn't believe it when I moved here that I had to go to LA or Portland for a book shop. Pretty sad as it's such a photo centric city.
A shame but with the web no book is completely inaccessible. About the Araki book, what is the connection between the book and the show? The book goes to the present but the show goes to 2040. Why does the book stop at 2011?
That's as much as he gave me, LOL. But it left the viewer with an uncertain ending towards what the future may be. He knew what he was doing. It also seems a more honest book, as he is really known for cheating the dates, but viewing the book there is certainly an older man's nostalgia for living but yet it's so full of life too.
By cheating do you mean the dates were superimposed later?
No, he has compact cameras where you can put the date into the back and it burns it onto the neg with each exposure. He did this when his cat Chiro died too. He photographed the cat under multiple dates, so only he knows the truth. It's funny, he will give you everything but still leave you guessing. It also works really when when comprising a narrative dialog, especially in books.
And presumably some of the photos in the book are of his late wife too? Do you know which photos show her?
Hang on, let me get the book and I will tell you which plates exactly. That whole scenario starts from when you see the cut out of the girl with the cat, the cardboard cut out. 90 1 26. She is featured earlier too.
Don't worry about looking them all up. I can find others from recognizing that photo. Is that the day she died?
Yes I presume so. We also did a special edition where we did a traditional copper plate gravure. He totally flipped over this as he had never done gravure.
He'd never done it but he pulled it off himself?
No. I met this amazing Gravure etcher and printer in SF in San Rafael.
The design feels a bit 1980sish with the shiny cover, colored triangles, even the asymmetrical embossed cover reminds me a bit of my high school yearbook from 1987. To The Past…to the 80s.
Yeah it's kinda like like that. It's good to be a bit wrong with the design, otherwise I may as well do the books that ---- do.
I'm not following you.
I like the design of the book. But it's nice to take a little chance with it. Like throw a few things in like the asymmetrical idea. I still think all our books look like Little Big Man books. I just think -----'s books are very dry and formulaic. I don't think they are a celebration of the book.
I suppose that gets back to your idea of photos. That their best expression is in a book and not prints. So the book needs to live up to something beyond just a collection of photos.
When I was younger I loved Taschen for giving me the opportunity to buy art books for pretty much nothing.
But Taschen is hardly a bookmaking pioneer.
Yes and no. They did Wolgang Tillmans before anyone.
So maybe a pioneer with discovering talent but not in book design.
But when you are in college to buy an art book for $20 is great. It also moves you on from comics to books.
Yes. I have the U of O library nearby so that's pretty much my bookbin.
I met many publishers at the NY Book Fair. It was funny, being the new kids you get sized up a little. They like to sniff around like dogs, you know, see what you are up to, who you are publishing. But I liked very much the experience of the book fair. We are very small fish but I think people are supportive.
As everyone is all in it together all breaking their necks not earning any money trying their best to do good books and distribute by themselves for the most of it. You really have to fight against the Amazon book system. You talk to the big guns and it kills them too. Mack books does all their distribution themselves. It's an amazing feat to pull off.
I think distribution is a major bottleneck. I'm not saying it's easy to print a book but it's even harder to market it.
Yeah, it's true. In theory we should be printing more, as you know there are 1000 maybe even 10,000 folks that would buy the book. It's just reaching them. I know I can sell out of 350 to 400 books. And we live book to book. I also have a great printer that doesn't hassle me for the $$ straight away. He understands the small publisher.
I notice most of your books have sold out. Congrats on that. Possibly helped by small print runs. Would that situation be preferable to printing more and having them more accessible but not sell out? Like if you printed 5000 copies everyone who wanted one could have it but it might be less "special".
Yes for both. If I don't sell out I'm making a lot of furniture out of books. It's a number that I know I can sell. It does also make it pretty collectible. Any more books makes it a hell of a lot of work to get rid of. With only a handful of book shops who only take 5 books at a time that's 70 book shops you need to be in. I do feel like I am doing a disservice to the artist as I would love their work to be seen by more people.
Maybe it's a matter of time, gradually growing the print runs.
I would like to grow print runs and compete with the big guns for sure. But honestly I don't think that will ever happen. But I always like the idea of the collaborative thinking with photographers. It's such a solo process from the picture taking to the printing. I like the idea of photographers all working together.
We have only produced a few books but we have had nominations for 3 of the 4. Surf Riot and Eden is a Magic World were nominated at the festival for art and film 2012. Eden is a Magic World made 2 Best-of lists in 2011. One by Soth and the other by Horacio Fernández. That totally put us on the map. The amount of traffic that came through Alec's website to us was astounding. I know this thanks to Google tracking. The Motoyuki Daifu LOVESODY was nominated for best book at this years Le Bal Photo Book Awards, by Laurence Vectin from OneYear of Books blog. The online world is in fact better for books than ever, I'm learning.
You said something earlier about preferring books to galleries to view photos. And now you're opening a gallery. Tell me about that.
The gallery is in our apartment. The gallery grew out of the books. I wanted to show works that could be exciting on the wall. I was in 49 Geary the other day and I wanted to vomit.
How big is your apartment?
Downstairs we built moveable walls to cover the kitchen. It's an open plan space. I have around 1000 sq ft to make the galley space work.
So it's a gallery at times and a home at others?
We sleep upstairs so it doesn't disrupt too much. I'm going to open 3 days a week and then by private appointment. It opens on the 26th of July with the Araki exhibit. Quite a feat to have Araki show in my house.
Yes, great going. What sort of prints/display? I imagine a wall of snapshots.
Well I have 60 black and white prints, and then I have built a massive light box table to house 1886 transparencies. Black and whites are from the book, 17x14 inches.
Is he coming to the opening?
No, he never travels outside of Japan since he was diagnosed with cancer a few years back. He's not one for traveling.
You should dress up like him with the haircut and mustache and circle glasses.
Ha ha maybe.
What else do you have planned? Monthly shows?
About every two months, so about 6 a year. Obviously we will host openings and book launches.
And tying in most shows with LBM books?
Yeah, but the idea of the gallery space will be less traditional. In November I will show Keizo Kitajima as we are doing a book on his Soviet series. In October I am showing a friend who self published his book.
What about the book/gallery dichotomy. If most of the projects you show are initially conceived as books where does that leave the prints?
The gallery will show both as an extension of each other. A lot of the books have a narrative so one lends to the other. We are pretty raw. The works are all unframed, just less pretentious I hope.
Where were you before San Francisco?
New York. I lived there for 11 years and before that London 5 years. But I was just very curious about photo on the West side of the US. I think potentially it could save American photography. I moved to San Francisco this past January.
Does it need saved? Is the West Coast style so different?
Yeah, it's crap at the moment but the UK is worse. Redheaded Peckerwood, LOL.
I haven't seen that book yet. You don't like it?
Nope. Too considered and very dry.
Everyone says it's hot shit so I guess it must be. Or not.
You can have my first edition copy. Haha. Yeah I know. That was the only reason I bought it. Just to see what the fuss was.
Patterson was very crafty in marketing that. Before the book was published there were items online about the process, with tastes of the project. So that by the time it was published there was an eager audience waiting for it.
Yeah you are very right about that. Excellent marketing. They even brought the prototype to the book fairs.
All part of the game, which I can't really criticize. Any method you can use to get your work out is valid. Except payola. So which books do you like?
Well I buy mine in Japan. I really like AKAAKA out there as a publisher of modern photo books. That didn't mean to sound how it came out.
I know there are many good Japanese books but I'm not very tuned to them. They are quite conscious of design. More than Americans I think.
I do like the Japanese photo book just because they use the book for all its worth, really cutting edge stuff. But then they totally break it too. They don't seem stuffy or tired in design. I want that sort of life in the Little Big Man books. Lina and James who work on the design of Little Big Man both come from editorial background, so I think they add some energy to the book. That's why the Avedon books were good. Lina was Russian Art school trained from the age of 5 (never say you like art as a child in Russia) and then went through the rigorous schooling of Conde Nast, Vogue, etc. So in a sense still will use the old principals of the greats like Brodovich and Lieberman.
OK, but wait. American Photography is crap? What's on the West Coast that's so different?
I'm not much of a Yale school fan, and that dictated a certain type of "Art Photographer". I like the sense of community that Photo seems to have on the West Coast. An amazing history of Photo here. I just worry that it drops into Retro a little out here. Y'know tintypes, found photos, etc. Photo is still such a contemporary thing, it's very young and very complex. I'm very pro FILM photo but it does have to be used in a modern way.
Many people associate the West Coast with f/64 which I'm not a huge fan of. But I think there's more to it. The West Coast in general invites a sense of re-identification or rebranding. People move here from someplace else. They want to recreate themselves. On the East Coast you tell someone you went to a certain school and it defines you in their eyes. Tell someone on the West Coast and who gives a shit. Sort of a stereotype but still sort of true.
Yes, you are right. I like the West Coast for all of that. It's not Europe anymore, and then it rapidly becomes close to Asia. There are some amazing influences happening here. There is also an incredibly articulate and responsive type of person here that I could never find in NYC. NY is very solo and competitive. Its also very commercially driven. But now I really like it out here.
Eugene has a thin photo community which I'm sort of engaged with but honestly I feel more connection to Portland's photo scene which is where I lived 1992 - 2006. The two are quite different. Portland's photo culture is very strong. I'd put it comfortably against any other scene in the country except maybe NY. Eugene's is less vital. It's about what you might find in most medium cities.
Anyway we've been at this a while and I need to wrap up. I had some other questions but I like what we've got without them.
Yeah me too. Kids are hungry and I spent the college fund on making books.
I pissed away mine on film.
Ha ha me too. Poor kids. I like to think it might make them smart.