Interview with Pierre Bessard, Part 2

Xu Yong, This Face

Melanie McWhorter: Smaller publishers in Paris are starting to come to the forefront in recognition internationally. Do you think there is a renaissance in French publishing with events like Publish It Yourself and the Offprint Paris held there and smaller French publishers attempting to break out of an older model?

Pierre Bessard: I do not know, I think a sociologist might give you the answer,  but nobody thinks it is a lack of support amongst the French photographers, or our cultural minister. Nothing is done in France, I have never seen a great retrospective exhibit about a French photographer. The Netherlands fascinates me the most outside of China, which is now taking the art world by surprise!

MM: Douglas Stockdale mentions in a piece that you had a not-so-good experience with a printer in China. What did you learn from that experience that you would use for future publishing? 

PB: As you know, I worked with the best printer in China: best trained technicians, the most well-known printer there was. This combined with a country who has the most enthusiasm to conquer the world through economics, wants to be the leader of the world (look at the example of the train in Tibet) is moved by the energy and the faith which we have lost in the Occidental European and USA countries.

When Ramadan in Yemen by Max Pam was about to be published, the Chinese printing industry was undergoing internal battles: companies were doing all they could to steal the best technicians from each other. This is exactly what had happened to the printer I had selected. His best employees had gone to work for his challenger. So I had to work with a new team that I did not know. It was a bad timing for the book! My Chinese friends – I call them friends because they come home for dinner when they tour Europe following the Frankfurt Fair – did print the book a second time, for free, since it was badly cut. We lost time, but everything fell into places… and none losing face.

Pierre Bessard, Chattanooga, the Green Factory

MM: Are all the steps in pre-production done in China or do you work with others in Europe or elsewhere before the project is sent overseas? Who does the design of your books? What are some of you considerations when thinking about the book as object? 

PB: The book concept, design, the pre-production stages, all those elements are decided individually with each project that I am publishing, and of course in relation to the topic of the book. From that point on, I pick a specific designer who will work on the book. The designer and I are working together as a team. There is huge groundwork behind making a photobook. I am getting to know the different partners one has to work within the industry. I spend a lot of time in libraries; I do design reviews, and of course surf a lot on the net and travel a lot to capture the latest trends. 

Typography of the texts in the book is also a sensitive choice. It has to match the topic of the photo work. To understand and learn about typography, I have read many books on the subject… my next book on Wang Qingsong work has a type by Peter Bilak, who is one of the world top type designer.

In China, we make the choice of material, colors, textile, boxes, shapes, finishing. For Chen Jiagang’s book, I worked with a professional from the luxury goods industry. The slipcase will be made in wood. I am thinking about the wood spices to be used, its feel, its color. I was running late on that project but do not want to make a mistake.

For that book, I went twice to China to pick the material and work with the printer on how to make this book. It is a complicated conception. The designer himself made a video to explain his choice. For my book Chattanooga, the Green Factory, I was turned down by several printing companies, telling me the book will be technically impossible to make, but it does exist today! There are always many discussions, but I have a great complicity with the printing team in China.

For the Wang Qingsong, a sculptor made a bronze carved sheet for 50 of the top covers. 

Bronze has been used for thousands years by craftsmen and artists. Techniques to produce the soft color of the aging metal, verdigris, has been the same over the millenniums: the artist paints acid on the mildly heated metal to produce the chemical process creating oxidation. When the color is right, a wax cast is melted on the bronze to stop the chemical process. For each piece, this work can take from a few hours to a few days, depending on the expectation. 

The patina changed the bronze color towards green. It would not look good anymore with the Parma of the cover anymore. The Chinese marketing director at the print shop sent me an email with pictures and examples of covers, and I had to make another choice. We went for a darker Bordeaux color. 

So far, the artists I work with have all been giving their ‘ok to print’ at the printer workshop, standing by the printing press, after we all agreed on what we want or can do. Working as a team has been a success and Chen Jiagang, Max Pam, Claire Martin -- all wish to print their next book with the Edition Bessard. Those artists I have been mentioning are extremely demanding which is good, makes me think I am on the right track.

Zhu Mo
Zine Collection N°3

The Emptiness (with signed print)
MM: The Zine Collection will feature work by a well-known photographer. Each publication in an edition of 100 copies. How will you choose these photographers and why such a limited edition and in this format?

 PB: Talking about the “Zine Collection”, we use Risographie technique. The format was picked by a group of young designers, 23 years old, talented. Risographie technique is a complicated technique (printing with a cylinder pressure process), limiting the choices in paper size. I might change to another technique, but not the collection concept itself.
To print in black and white, we use the same technique and will not modify the current format. However, the paper may change depending on the photographs. But there is always an original color photo signed by the artist that can be from his latter production or older 

Pablo Ortiz Monasterio
Zine Collection N°2
Nuevos Reinos (with signed print)
This young team of designers is working hard to produce the finest work. For instance, the text on page one is laid out in a single column. They created a logo and we had to make an embossing stamp for the Editions Bessard logo applied on the cover.
The “Zine Collection” is limited to one hundred copies for each artist and I do not wish to print more. Too much inventory and I like things to be rare, LOL…

Some collectors buy each and everything I print, and I am happy to notice that this group of followers is increasing in size. On the Zine No. 1, the Print Shop forgot to use folded staples. This will be modified, for the next in the edition. I am currently working on a colored Zine. I experimented with two different techniques for printing in two different factories.

The choice of artist resembles my own photo collections: different styles, each photographer having his or her own universe, leading me to dream. I can also work with famous artist or older ones. This is the case with a future project with a Mexican photographer I totally admirer.

Sometimes, I get a call from an artist who bought books from us, so I take the time to look at their work, discover their style, visit their website, exchange mails to get to know them better. If I have the opportunity to establish a contact in between them and someone who can help them, I will.

MM: First, what do you feel is the most difficult challenge for publishing? Second, when looking to finance a book project, what advice do you have for a photographer who wishes to self-publish or to work with a publisher?

PB: While thinking about the answer to the first part of your question….each step is difficult in itself, I can draw a parallel with the challenge of climbing one of the most difficult mountains and reaching the top…. Once you start you ought to reach your goal. Each step you take going up across the rocks and the ice will give you a sense satisfaction. To achieve these goals, I have the capability to find the right people to work with. The major difficulty I have is to control books distribution. Booksellers take 57% plus 7% sales taxes. This is a challenge to me. One may see the making of the book as being the most complicated task of producing the work of a photographer while distribution is the most sensitive issue to me.

To answer the second question… If a photographer has taken remarkable images and has a good project, then is not recognized. He or she can then attempt to self-publish. I would not advise on using Blurb, the self-publishing website except for some specific projects I have in mind Andrea Schmidt and his book  -- The Lonely Christmas Tree Picture Album – for this project, doing it with Blurb was useful. 

I just refused to publish a photographer’s work. The artist came to me with the project of taking pictures of his region, having received funding from a regional Institution of 15,000 euros, and a guarantee to purchase his book. I have never received any public funding as a publisher. 

MM: There are many photographers whose goal is to produce a book. Do you have advice for those artists regarding self-publishing or looking for a publisher? Do you accept submissions?  

PB:I receive about six book projects each week. If you are always turned down by publishers, you should self-publish your project and put in the same amount of effort and enthusiasm you put into your work. 

Each publisher has his own style and specific approach, not always the same as the artist coming to see him… diversity, otherwise the world would not be so interesting.
Photographers are sometimes sending you a very short e-mail :  “I would like to make a book with you, here is the link to my website” This is exactly like if a boy in the street would try to catch a girl screaming at her face : “Do you want to fuck hon?”

What is the common ground for a successful photography book: good pictures, a good concept, a nice design and a beautiful contemporary typography. However, to me, let’s go one step further: a beautiful paper, texture, material (leather, fabric), embossing, handmade binding, green labeled ink…. All those elements are interlaced with the story of the book itself. I do not dissociate the book as an object from the book concept.

A good path to follow is to make a partnership with a designer. I am thinking about the book of Elizabeth Avedon or another one from Sybren Kuiper. And why not, tablet apps can be a good alternative to photobooks while waiting to be published.

I am always open and listen to ideas brought to me, but it is true that today, my main focus is on selling my books to generate income to finance more project for the Editions Bessard.

Today, I do not have the financial means to publish, but it is interesting to be in touch with authors, to get to know their work and to know them better personally. If I like a photographer, I will keep myself updated on his or her work.

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