A book is a beautiful thing, both for what it is and what it offers within it's hallowed pages. Meet a small publisher who cares about beauty both outside and in.
Photo books have been a mainstay in photography for as long as photos have been printed - they offer a collection, a cohesive whole, a dialogue, for a photographer to present their work and a reader to converse with it. They allow the reader physical contact and the ability to develop a more meaningful relationship with a body of work. Can you remember the first photo book you bought? What it offered and why it lured you in? My first was arguably "Mountaineer" by Chris Bonington - whilst he was a mountaineer by trade, he made his living through sponsorship, books, and lecture tours. He literally lived off the back of the photos he took. They are stunning landscapes, a photomontage of thirty years spent on the highest mountains, a record of the climbs he completed - but they also gave the reader a taste of the exotic. As a young climber and photographer, the book made a long lasting impression on me, demonstrating the power of photos to inspire.
That relationship begins with book covers - they are there to be viewed and handled, the frontispiece marketing itself as a billboard, seducing you in, acting as visual clickbait to tempt you to flip it open. It shouts from afar asking you to come see, come look. It's when you touch the cover that the connection can first be made. If seeing from afar is the first impression a book makes, then picking it up is the handshake. That initial moment where you offer more intimacy on the understanding that something will be reciprocated. You are interested in finding out more and the cover promises to yield a little more information.
You pick the book up. It feels significant, but not too big, substantial, but not too weighty, luxurious and not at all common. The partial-cloth covered hardback allows the almost entirely photo-fronted face to speak directly to you. Better than a dust-jacket but not eschewing that desirable woven cloth texture. Details of the book are inlaid on the side and rear, whilst the cover has gold foil detailing, all combining to give a sense of the exquisite. You cup the spine in your left hand and gently open the cover with your right, the hollow-back opening, allowing the leaves to fan. And so you start flicking through the pages.
You now transition from the book as a physical object to the book as a knowledge object. What can it offer you? How will it ingratiate you? How will it challenge you, take you in new directions, to new places? And so was my introduction to Hoxton Mini Press with Peter Zelewski's "People of London," its first publication in their "Tales from the City" series. A press release for book five in the series recently landed in my inbox and so I was keen to find out more about them through an interview with Anne Waldvogl, one half of the husband and wife team, with Martin Usborne.
Founded in 2013, the youthful five-year-old photo book publisher is based in the east end of London, a location known as a hub for artists and creatives. Anne notes a "certain energy to [the] area which makes it an exciting and inspiring place to work and live." And as with any part of London, it's dynamic, constantly changing.
Of course, starting a publishing company doesn't just happen out of the blue - there has to be an impetus, a flame. For Martin that was two-fold. Firstly, realizing that photography is creative and meritorious in and of itself, can have a story and also be accessible to a wider readership. That is a tough ask, but for Martin, seeing Tony Mendoza’s book Ernie: A Photographer’s Memoir was the groundbreaker. I'll bet that this isn't on many people's bookshelves - it's not on mine although a copy is on order! Like Anne and Martin, I'm a photo book collector and agree with their mantra of enjoyment, reference, and inspiration. But it's that triple-play - photography, story, accessibility - if we could all combine these values in our own work then we would be creating significant value.
Obviously, Hoxton Mini Press want to hold to these values and specifically "create small, beautiful and collectible photo books that celebrate the diversity and creativity of our area." This naturally leads to the second impetus. Martin wanted to published his own book: I’ve Lived in East London for 86½ Years. As Anne explains, "It’s about Joseph Markovich, an old resident who lived in East London his entire life and only left once to visit the seaside with his mother. Portraits of Joseph appear alongside funny, touching quotes. We thought his story deserved to be shared with others. It is our bestselling title to date."
If you pick up one of their books you'll notice the gold foil fox logo - it's unusual and instantly recognizable. Anne explains that "when we were first ... working from home we had a baby fox living on top of a rose bush at the end of our garden which helped to inspire our urban fox logo. Foxes are playful, inquisitive creatures that travel around the city and seek out the unusual, beautiful and surprising sides of the urban landscape."
Hoxton Mini Press has a growing reputation (and back catalog) for beautifully produced books from creative artists that are broadly accessible. And don't cost the earth. I finished by asking Anne what their secret ingredient was, what it is that makes them stand out. "We recognize the value of storytelling and aim to publish books that have an element of narrative. In a physical sense, we like to design books with a cloth spine to show they are part of a collectible series, to make sure they feel Hoxton Mini Press."
Images shared with permission of Hoxton Mini Press.