The Keartons: Inventing nature photography

John Bevis on how he came to write his book ‘The Keartons: Inventing nature photography’.

In the early 1980s, I was working on two projects with Colin Sackett: as part of Simon Cutts’s Coracle Press, and our own imprint Chocolate News, a small press banner for a magazine and artists’ publications. The discovery at this time of the work of Richard and Cherry Kearton, through the fortuitous purchase at a jumble sale of their 1903 book, Wild Nature’s Ways, was a happy one. The Keartons are remembered as the forefathers of nature photography, but for us their books and photographs melded too with contemporary concerns, including landscape and environment art practices; conceptualism; and source material for found art.

picture2A couple of classic Kearton images were borrowed for Chocolate News postcards: The Stuffed Ox, one of the Keartons’ magnificent photography hides, and Daisies Asleep, Daisies Awake, a timeless archetype of nature’s patterning. There was a tiny book, too, How to Photograph Aeroplanes, three vignettes of the Keartons at work, with re-imagined captions.

An essay on some classics of the Keartons’ oeuvre, including not only the Daisies and The Stuffed Ox, but also their photograph of a clump of primroses celebrating The Opening Moments of the Twentieth Century, appeared in 1991 in Coracle’s Little Critic Pamphlet series under the title Direct from Nature. An expanded edition of the same work, with an extensive photographic section and biographical commentary, was published in 2007 by Colin Sackett.

kearton-coverSo I think there was an inevitability that when Colin invited me to contribute a title to his excellent Uniformbooks imprint around 2012 or 2013, the first thought was to tie up all those loose ends in a Kearton monograph. The art and nature hinterland, theory-into-practice context of the Uniformbooks backlist – a family of titles that all speak to each other – was perfect. The Keartons: Inventing nature photography was described by Richard Smyth in the TLS as an “inquisitive, discursive and comprehensive study”, while the work of both Colin and Bethan Sackett-Thomas in design, editing and picture editing was recognised in Smyth’s appraisal of the book as “handsome, solid and intelligently illustrated”.

John Bevis, November 2016

John Bevis will give an illustrated talk at the Small Publishers Fair 2016 on Saturday 5 November at 1.30pm. ‘The Keartons’ will be on sale from the Uniformbooks table.

 

Art is a Small Adjustment

Ross Hair, curator of this year’s special exhibition ‘Avant-Folk – Publishing in the Vernacular’ explains the choice of image for this year’s Small Publishers Fair card.

spf-2016-ecardThe image on this year’s card for the Small Publishers Fair is of Ian Hamilton Finlay’s edition of a scarf that bears the words ‘art is a small adjustment.’ Both text and object reflect the sentiments and ideas that underpin this year’s exhibition, Avant-Folk: Publishing in the Vernacular.

Produced in a small, limited number and distributed as Christmas gifts in 2001, Finlay’s scarf tacitly evokes a cottage industry of craft and textile work—a creative sensibility and a way of life—in which aesthetics and functionality, the unique and the everyday, are inseparable. This spirit extends not only to how many of the publications in Avant-Folk have been made (often with similar resourcefulness and by modest means), but also to the ways in which much of this work has been exchanged and shared within an extended community of poets,artists, and publishers working outside the mass market.

Given rather than purchased, cherished rather than fetishized, the modesty of Finlay’s scarf, again like many of the publications in the exhibition, encourages a subtle modification—an alteration—of what we might take for granted, deem worthy, or value enough to be deemed ‘art.’ It is a matter, then, of not just what one makes, but of how one makes it and for what purpose. Just as the way one might wear their scarf, each publication in Avant-Folk might be seen as a small adjustment that, nevertheless, yields considerable effect.

Ross Hair, October 2016

N.B. The exhibition ‘Avant-Folk’ grew out of Ross Hair’s work on his book ‘Avant-Folk: Small Press Poetry Networks from 1950 to the Present’. We are delighted that this important new book will be launched at the Fair, where it will be available at a specially discounted price of £50 (instead of £75).

There will also be an Avant-Folk seminar and, to mark the exhibition, UEA Publishing Project will launch a pamphlet ‘Avant-Folk – Publishing in the Vernacular’. Designed by Colin Sackett and Bethan Sackett-Thomas of Uniformbooks, this 32pp pamphlet will be on sale at the Fair for £5.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A visitor’s view

Artists book specialist and, for 22 years chief cataloguer for Tate Library, Maria White explains why she is a regular visitor to Small Publishers Fair and what she’s looking forward to at this year’s Fair.

Small Publishers Fair is one of the highlights of the artists’ book year: a gathering of eminent book artists from Britain and abroad. With over 60 publishers, the fair is a good size without being overwhelming. For collectors, whether for public collections and libraries or private collections, it is the opportunity to see a large range of high level work at one time. Librarians and collectors can meet artists and publishers, make contacts and discuss work.

The fair always has a good atmosphere and its popularity among publishers sees many return year after year. I believe that it is the one place in London can you will meet Coracle, Weproductions, Moschatel Press, Peter Foolen Editions, Boekie Woekie, Uniformbooks and Impact Press together. Other returning presses include Ambeck Design, AMBruno, artistsbooksonline.com, Corbel Stone Press, Ensixteen Editions, Jane Cradock-Watson, John Dilnot, Mandy Branner , Mark Pawson and whnicPRESS. However do not let the fact that there are returning publishers lead you to think that the fair could be stale in anyway. It is certainly not! The continuing production of new and exciting work prevents that.

The fair is accompanied by an exhibition and talks. I am looking forward to seeing this year’s exhibition of work by Nancy Campbell. The display will show selections of her work from the past decade from her own imprint, Bird Editions, and from her collaborations with other artists including Mette-Sofie Ambeck, Abigail Rorer and Roni Gross. Nancy will also be talking about her new book, Proviso on Friday afternoon (3.30 pm). 

The fair has always had a touch of poetry about it so it is not surprising to find a number of poetry titles being launched. These include Orcs!!! by David Ashford, VENUSBERG by Eleanor Perry and Of sirens – body and faultlines by Nat Raha, all published by Veer Books, and a selection of Brian Coffey’s poems in How far from daybreak, published by Etruscan Books. The Saison Poetry Library (South Bank Centre) chooses the fair to publicise its collection by taking a table and holds its open day on the Sunday after the fair.

However for me the heart of the event lies in the fair itself: the opportunity to see exciting artists’ books, talk to the artists and publishers and to purchase amazing books.

Maria White | @maiaewhite

Construction Storage Despatch

Small Publishers Fair 2015 sees the launch of a book by Coracle that celebrates the life and work of Fair founder, Martin Rogers. A few words here from Coracle Director, poet, artist, writer and editor Simon Cutts.

cover Martin RogersMartin Rogers, printer, sculptor and publisher, was the exemplar of a condition that had become prevalent after the nineteen sixties. He had moved the physical materials of his work to the production of multiple objects in printed form, to books and publication, eventually embracing the idea of publishing as the platform for the work. At the same time, in the way he avoided the side-track, even the cul-de-sac, of the so-called artists book, he becomes emblematic of that repositioning.

With this book we attempted to site this as a different model. The work moves from its Construction through Storage to its Despatch into the world as Publication. The book becomes a homage to Martin within the context of the Small Publishers Fair, which he established in 2002 and continued to organise until 2012, and will be available from both the information table at the Conway Hall Fair and the Coracle stand, the publishers of the book.

Texts by John Bevis and Simon Cutts, with a survey of the Research Group for Artists Publications by Jill Mustchin, with assistance from Rodger Brown, and a bibliography by John Janssen.

Simon Cutts, October 2015
www.coracle.ie | @thecoracler

Conversations and Collaborations

Some years ago I was lucky to encounter a number of people much older and more experienced than I was, all of whom knew exactly what a book should look like. The strong self-belief of these letterpress printers fed their exquisite presswork. As an apprentice, it was my role to listen and learn from each in turn, but it did not take me long to figure out that they could not all be right. Their own diverse works were proof enough that there was more than one way of making a good book.

Doverodde 01

From ‘Doverodde’. Text and photography by Nancy Campbell. Published by Bird Editions, 2012

Doverodde02

From ‘Doverodde’. Text and photography by Nancy Campbell. Published by Bird Editions, 2012

Tikilluarit

‘Tikilluarit’. Text by Nancy Campbell, production and design by Roni Gross and Peter Schell. Published by Z’roah Press, 2014

The exhibition at the Small Publishers Fair 2015 aims to give a taste of the many ways in which it is possible to make a book. Sometimes my publishing choices are led by aesthetic considerations, but more often they are informed by necessity: from the poetry pamphlet printed with lead type that I cast at a foundry in the Brooklyn Navy Yard (Boat Trip) to a book begun in rural Denmark miles from any presses, loaded into an online template, and now available to print on demand in China (Doverodde).

Visitors will find almost as many artists as printing techniques represented in the exhibition. I relish the collaborative nature of publishing, with ideas for new projects generated by meetings and conversations that often begin at events like the SPF. The first book I produced, An Edifying Essay Upon Slugs, was cooked up with the distinguished American wood engraver Abigail Rorer when we spent a rainy summer together in the Rocky Mountains. (I’m delighted that Abigail will be flying over to the SPF to see her work on show).

 

More recently I’ve had the honour of seeing my poems become artists’ books in the hands of New York artists Roni Gross and Peter Schell. Many of these books started out as late night discussions over a glass of whisky; others stem from an impulsive email or Tweet. And what ends up in print is only a small part of publishing – there are always imaginary books, the books that have featured in many conversations but are yet to be made.

Despite the occasional scare when pundits suggest that the book is on the verge of extinction, I believe it has a great future. Perhaps this cannot be said for the Arctic, an environment that features in many of my books. I am particularly interested in endangered Arctic languages and how the fate of communication in the region is intertwined with the changing climate. The book I will launch at the fair, Proviso, is about the words we all choose to lose, the texts that are not kept on record. Visitors and publishers will have the chance to and win and lose words by playing an Arctic dictionary game: ‘The Astonishing… The Ephemeral… The Transformational… Vanishing…! Polar…! Tombola!’ I look forward to starting new conversations over the tombola table.

Nancy Campbell, October 2015
www.nancycampbell.co.uk | @nancycampbelle

From Construction to Publication

Simon Cutts, poet, artist, curator and editor, on a project to mark the life and work of Martin Rogers (1951-2012), founder of  the Small Publishers Fair.

Document17The ideas for an unrealised project surrounding From Construction to Publication arose from the proposal of A Storeroom for Martin Rogers for a large public institution, after his death in December 2012. Because of the organic nature of the proposal, its accumulative Merzbau collage, it was perhaps too problematic and tentative to be housed in public space, and may have to be contained in a book surrounding the work of its main protagonist. For the more physical manifestation of the project, all the component parts of multiple production would have been placed on shelves, from plywood templates to produced objects, to boxes of works, to pamphlets and stacks of cards, file indexes, books and printed ephemera to be taken and reassembled as needs be.

Martin Rogers, printer, sculptor and publisher, was the exemplar of a condition that had become prevalent in the post nineteen-sixties. He had moved the physical materials of his work to the production of multiple objects in printed form, to books and publication, eventually embracing the idea of publishing as the platform for the work. At the same time, in the way he avoided the side-track, even the cul-de-sac, of the so-called artists book, he becomes emblematic of that repositioning.

There may well be more literary, and in turn, less obvious aspects to the proposition of Construction to Publication, and indeed there may be a more generalised principal than we have acknowledged before, so overwhelmed have we been by the need to substantiate the field of artists book, which is perhaps really in the margins. Now we could even look at the relationship of the notebook workings to the finished production of certain writers : William Burroughs’ cut-ups, Nabokov’s methodology of file index to the finished text. Construction moves towards its resolution in Publication.

Martin Rogers was one of the quiet workers in the field. The course of his work from film to print, from constructed object to be photographed or as a stand-alone piece, to the finished book, is an exemplary development. At the same time there is a real attachment to the detail of a personal life. That he moved from the individual work to the whole platform of publishing is its achievement.

Simon Cutts, November 2014

 

 

Livre à la dérive – Book Adrift

In the last five centuries the printed book that began in Gutenberg’s press has expanded and shrunk every few generations. It has mocked, admired and abandoned itself only to re-emerge in loud fettle. One avatar of the last hundred years is the artist’s book, fruit of conviction as strong as Gutenberg’s that this is the book to make now, free of all diktats and classification, the container and the sieve of this moment in the artist’s life and work. Our culture may have lost, or wilfully obscured, the sense of the book as intact treasure, but something equally precious has taken its place: the fluid, adventurous artist’s book, livre à la dérive, book adrift, not touching the bank on either side – the bank of reason or the bank of narrative – heading for the open sea.
Judy Kravis of road books writing for LIPs (Limerick International Publishers Salon), which took place in October this year. Kravis and road books will be at Small Publishers Fair 2014.

Thick as Trees

It is often said that the Small Publishers Fair has a feeling of family about it. This excerpt from Ross Hair‘s article  ‘Thick as Trees: Kinship and Place in Transatlantic Small Press Poetry Networks’ explores the instinct to connect that is part of what the Fair is about.

“Commenting on the ‘consistent differences’ of small presses such as Jargon and Wild Hawthorn Press and their social importance, Stuart Mills recalls the societal dynamics:

‘In continuing to publish I continue to acknowledge theirs and similar achievements: I continue to wave a handkerchief at the world and know that, inevitably, sometime, someplace, another will wave back with a handkerchief, though decorative, equally impractical and most probably, purchased from some small bazaar or emporium a considerable remove away from the chain stores of the high street.’

Not all birds sing, John Bevis notes in his A-Z of Birdsong , but nearly all call, that is they make specific sounds for warning off predators, asking for food, finding each other or so on. Like the bird’s call (or wave of the handkerchief), the publication becomes an equivalent and equally idiosyncratic way of ‘finding each other’ and acknowledging another’s presence, regardless of distance. Thus in its own way, publishing is itself a call of kinship.

Jonathan Williams summarises this social inclination by evoking Walt Whitman’s claims for companionship in a line where he said that what he aspired to do was to make it ‘as thick as trees by the rivers of America’.

In addition to suggesting camaraderie and intimacy, ‘companionship’ is also a printing term that refers to a company of compositors working together under the management of an elected foreman. It is, in this respect, a fitting analogy for the kinship and collaborative efforts witnessed in Jargon’s “Society” and “Certain Trees” which it helped cultivate beyond America’s shores within a geographically dispersed network. Indeed, as Jonathan Williams remarks in the context of Whitman’s trees, in the utopian interspaces of the small press publication, “We are all in this together.””

Thick as Trees: Kinship and Place in Transatlantic Small Press Poetry Networks by Ross Hair first appeared in the journal Anglophonia/Caliban 35 (2014): pp. 159-177.

RGAP news

2013 was a year of transition for RGAP (Research Group for Artists Publications) with the death in late 2012 of director, and Small Publishers Fair founder Martin Rogers.

There was move from Yorkshire Artspace in Sheffield to a temporary home in Derbyshire, where work began on archiving the extensive collection of publications and other materials.

Three new titles were published, all of them designed by Martin’s long-term collaborator and Small Publisher Fair regular Colin Sackett. These were:

‘Self Contained’ recent work by Rebecca Fortnum on the formation of identity and the power of the gaze.
‘Behind the Eyes : making pictures’ in which 12 artists reflect on their relationships with the source material for their work, in a wide-ranging discussion of contemporary pictorial practice.
‘Booklive’: a survey of current thinking and innovative practice in contemporary publishing, which was presented at BOOKLIVE! International symposium in London in June 2012.

Ten RGAP titles including Stephen Willats’ ‘Artwork as Social Model’ are available through Cornerhouse.  Martin Rogers amassed a vast collection of artist’s books for personal, colleague and student reference. These have now been taken by Chelsea College of Art Library, University of the Arts London, who also hold the RGAP archive in their library.

Any further information about RGAP or their publications, or about Martin Rogers, please contact Lindsey Adams  on 01243 775870.