BH: What happens when you get stuck? What are you looking at, what are you listening to?
LJ: Generally the best thing when we’re struggling to find a feel for the design is to just keep looking at the photos and discussing conceptually where the work is coming from until associations come up. For us any design choices or physical qualities to the book need to be specifically connected to the nature of the work somehow, otherwise the design feels superfluous and irrelevant to us. We’re always questioning why any particular decision is being made. For us, any aspect of the book needs to feel like an extension of the work itself. In an ideal world, we would hope that people wouldn’t look at any of our books and immediately tell it’s made by Loose Joints. Physicality is also really important when it comes to bookmaking and we have tons of paper samples, tons of materials, tons of books so my go-to will often be just feeling and holding stuff and looking at things until an idea comes around.
BH: I completely relate to that feeling of being able to physically hold things and have tactile involvement with them in the creative process. To swing over to another kind of question, what would you say are the ups and downs of working as publishers today, in 2019?
LJ: The internet and the rise of ‘photobook culture’ is a relatively recent phenomenon in the 150-year history of the photo book, and we obviously as a publisher have profited well from this moment. It has allowed us visibility and a platform as a young independent publisher that previously might not have been accessible and possible to someone interested in releasing books in previous generations. However, the downside of that is that we are now working within an extremely saturated market, where the spectrum and quantity of publishers and books is at a very high level but we are also unsure whether the actual consumer market for photo books has actually expanded beyond a fairly select and specialized group of people committed to regularly buying photo books (and more importantly, who can afford it!). On the one hand this creates quite a positive pressure to ensure that the books we publish are as well-executed, thoughtful and accessible as they can be. In order to stand out from a large sprawl of other book publishers we think you can’t be as complacent as in the past with regards to design, print quality, accessibility, promotion, et cetera. On the other hand, when the consumer market for photo books is spread more thinly over a greater number of publishers, obviously you maybe aren’t seeing the revenue or order quantities that your Scalos or Steidl’s of the 90s might have expected…We’re very keen to not get too comfortable at any point. We think there is often a moment when an art publisher gains a good position in the market and then can become complacent about design, production values, editorial standards.
The other huge up and down for us is the environment. Sarah and I care a lot about it and about the well-being of our planet and therefore have a complicated relationship with our own status as publishers. We love what we do but we question the sustainability of it, and the relevance of it in the grand scheme of things (which in turn also depends on how romantic your opinions on the importance of art are!). Obviously it is quite easy to go after a book publisher and assume that someone responsible for cutting down trees is a greedy and significant contributor to environmental degradation, which isn’t strictly true. A printer once told me to think about trees for books as being grown as a crop, just like wheat or potatoes, they are grown for specific purposes and then replanted. This is true at least for the suppliers we work with – we’ll use only recycled or FSC-certified papers and processes, and we are about to introduce some other options including carbon offsetting on each order, carbon neutral delivery, biodegradable packaging. We have also stopped flying and are opting for the train…So this is a huge up-and-down, knowing that what you love is directly something that extracts natural resources from an already fragile global ecosystem… But such is the guilt associated with any indulgence in 2019, and rightly so. It is a complicated time to be a publisher but also we’re interested to see how our practice is shaped and responds to the changes and challenges of the coming years.