Recently we've heard news that a substantial portion of the National Media Museum's historical photography archive in Bradford will be shipped off and exhibited elsewhere in London; it's a move that's been derided as 'cultural rape' and sadly follows a long-established tradition. Sure, many areas of the country have fantastic cultural outputs, but for years we've seen London as the epicentre of opportunities and success. It's a given that people uproot from all over the country and move to the capital, in stark contrast to the outraged 'why I'm leaving London' headlines.
Ben Goulder is an art books publisher and London resident of two years who's aiming to use his company, Snöar Press, to better represent creatives nationally and internationally. Originally from Sheffield, he's used links forged in his punk days with photographers and artists that pursue their exciting work beyond the cultural gaze of the capital. Having started Snöar during his masters degree, he's now reached the point of exhibiting at LA's Art Books Fair and publishing writers such as Mira Gonzalez and Tao Lin.
We met Ben to talk starting the press, how he finds people to collaborate with and upcoming projects.
Ben with, unsurprisingly, a book.
You started Snöar while you were at London College Of Communications right? What were your initial projects?
Yeah, so I moved to London in the summer of 2014, when I started a masters in publishing, and started talking about doing a book with my friend Sam, a photographer. In the back end of that year we began working on that project with a friend of ours designing it.
I also started chatting to my friend Archer - another photographer - and he was working on a book, so we collaborated on that. Then we had a launch in March last year to launch those books, alongside an illustration book by Lew Currie. That launched properly when his band Nai Harvest went on tour the month after, then after that I did a book with Mark Buchanan who runs Meanwhile Press. Now I’m here.
I know part of your ethos is drawing attention away from London, where the art book scene seems to reside.
I just want to represent people who aren’t based in London, there are so many good photographers - well, just artists in general - who’re based all over the world and shouldn’t have to be based in one area to get a platform. I realise how this sounds as someone who moved to London for an opportunity, but I just feel there’s a lot of people who deserve a chance. One person I’m working with is Brothtarn, a photographer based in Barnsley, and his work is centred around messing about in that area, Leeds, other places. He’s ridiculously good and if he was based here I think he’d get a lot more attention.
I’ve found that the art book scene is quite cliquey, pretentious, middle-class and - even though I’m based in the capital - London centric. I want to do something that represents other people; for instance, and even though it’s unintentional, everyone I’ve worked with so far has been from the north of England.
But you're also working with a photographer from Kent?
Yeah. I have a book with Luke Overin, it's pretty loosely themed, he’s always working on mad stuff. We were friends when we were much younger, from playing in hardcore punk bands, then we fell out of touch. When I moved to London we started hanging out again and we’ve ended up in similar friendship circles, so it just made sense to do something together. He’s one of my favourite artists around, particularly in London, as his stuff is just so different to everyone else.
You're looking further afield as well?
I have a book coming out with a French photographer called Lucie Rox, that’s just based around her travelling but her photos are so good. She’s the only person who I didn’t previously know that I’ve worked with, I’ve mainly worked with people I know from punk at an earlier age. She just dropped me an email and I was like “yeah, I’ll do that”.
How do you create a premium product but make it widely accessible?
I don't want the books to feel exclusive, I want anyone to be able to consume them and that includes making them affordable. You can buy art books for over 50 quid, only people who have rich parents can afford them.
A lot of the early books were hand printed, now I can work with various different printers. I try to use print processes that I wouldn't have been able to use while I was studying anyway, I really like the idea of experimenting with different types of paper and binding, really making it an experience.
In what ways are you looking at diversifying what you produce?
I'm looking to do more written stuff, further down the line I'm going to be releasing some poetry books, a short stories book I've been working on, a book of essays. I still want them to be art based, but just diversify and cover different mediums of expression.
I'd like to have more of a frequent output, not pumping out an endless stream. It's self-sufficient as it is and I'm happy with that that, I'm quite happy with how things are progressing.
With people I work with, I’m more concerned with the ethics behind it than a consistency with output. I want to be on the same page with someone beyond just their work. Ethics are a big deal for me.
How did you end up collaborating with Tao Lin and Mira Gonzalez?
I’m going to the LA Art Book Fair quite soon and wanted to do a bigger project for that with a variety of people from different backgrounds, but based around a larger unifying concept. It’s all curated by myself and I just got in touch with people I wanted to be involved, so Tao Lin I just dropped him an email and asked if he was up for it; he was, so just sent something over. The books that I have coming out next are the biggest things I’ve ever worked on, as far as names involved, the size of the project, the quantity they’re being printed in, have much money is going into it.
Did you expect to be able to exhibit in LA?
You have to apply around six months ahead of it and I just applied on a whim because most people get rejected for it, particularly publishers at my size would get a 'no' straight away. Quite recently I got an email saying I'd been accepted, so now I'm just freaking out trying to get everything ready. I'm going with Matt Martin, who runs Doomed Gallery and Photocopy Club, I think he's making a few things to take out too. Will be nice to sit out there in the sunshine for awhile, haha.
Sounds good. Cheers Ben!