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

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


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


‘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

Notes on the Constructed Book

In 2008 artist and poet Simon Cutts curated the exhibition Certain Trees: The Constructed Book, Poem and Object 1964 – 2008 for Centre des Livres d’Artistes,
St Yrieix La Perche. The exhibition also came to the V&A, where Elizabeth James, Senior Librarian at the National Art Library Collections wrote the gallery guide.

This short excerpt from James’ guide sets out ideas that are relevant to the work of many Small Publishers Fair participants. 

“…they (the artists and poets) act as the editors, and often printers too, for their own short-run, self-funded small presses. Self-publishing is considered ‘not a vanity but a freedom’, a ‘critical alternative’ to the commercial mainstream. In the absence of wealth or patronage, economic constraints are embraced as creative conditions.

Here, the material nature of the book becomes central to its content. Size, colour, the fold of paper, the page and its turn are consciously deployed. The same approach applied to a pamphlet, broadside, postcard or standing card, or other kind of object. The aim is to find the right form for the idea.”