An interview with Iain Sarjeant

Taylor Cowe interviews Iain Sarjeant

From ‘Out Of The Ordinary’ by Iain Sarjeant published by APP

Hi I’m Taylor Cowe and I’m on work placement with Document Scotland as part of my Edinburgh Napier University Photography degree. Whilst undertaking this placement I’ve been enjoying the chance to interview some photographers. This chat with Iain Sarjeant of Another Place Press is the first of 3 pieces I’ve put together for the Document Scotland website – it was really enjoyable chatting with Iain and I wish to thank him for his comments. I hope you enjoy the read!

TC: In the years since your work was last featured on the Document Scotland site you have set up Another Place Press, can you tell us a bit about it and how you started it?

IS: Another Place Press developed from a blog I set up called Another Place. When I became active online nearly 20 years ago, for somebody based relatively remotely it was great to be able to share my work more widely and connect with like-minded photographers elsewhere. But I didn’t want it to be all about promoting my work, I wanted to also share the work of other photographers who inspired me too.

So, I set up the blog and featured one photographic project by a different photographer each week. The theme of the blog was work which explored our relationship with ‘place’ but I was open to very loose interpretations of this. The blog grew in popularity quite quickly, gathering a large number of followers and submissions from photographers wishing to be featured. As I had graphic design experience, and was used to dealing with printers and the print process, after a couple of years I had the idea to try releasing small books of some of the projects I was featuring. And so Another Place Press was born, launching with three titles at a small A5 size.

The first 3 books APP published – just A5 sized and limited to 150 copies, they all sold out in the first 3 weeks.

TC: Why do you personally feel that independent publishing of photography is important?

IS: Independent publishing is important I think because it allows small publishers and artists themselves to push in new directions, try new ideas that maybe don’t fit within current trends in the wider photography world. But I think it also can create a model that is more artist centred… where artists can benefit directly from being published.

When I set up APP, there were two main principles that were important to me:

1. That artists paid nothing towards their books, and received royalties on every copy sold… a collaboration that both publisher and artist benefited from. I wanted a level playing field where anyone could potentially be published based on the work and not their ability to afford the expensive design & print process. Unfortunately, this model has become rarer these days with many publishers charging artists to be published. To me it seems only fair that both benefit.

2. I wanted the books to be affordable – I do love larger, lavishly printed photobooks but I am aware that these are only accessible to people with a considerable amount of disposable income. I wanted to try to reach a much wider audience… to make APP’s books accessible to those on lower incomes such as students. It does of course mean compromises when it comes to using expensive paper stocks and binding techniques… but it’s important to me. And with careful design considerations it’s still quite possible for the books to be things of beauty!

‘Undertow’ by Frances Scott. Frances was walking the coastline of her native Orkney Islands making photographs along the way, but also creating hand-drawn maps which we reproduced in a separate leaflet which was inserted into each book.

TC: How did the ‘Field Notes’ series of zines come about?

IS: I suppose there were a couple of ideas behind the ‘Field Notes’ series. Publishing even quite small books is a financial risk… printing is expensive and as a publishers that affects decisions on which artists and work to publish. APP is very much a labour of love for me, but it does have to wash its face financially too. So, I wanted to find a way to be able to take more of a risk on less well known photographers… to be able to publish work that might otherwise not be seen or make it into print. I needed to find a way to do this without too much financial risk to me, and the ‘Field Notes’ zine format seemed the perfect vehicle for this. The printing and paper stock is the same high quality as our books but the smaller format cheaper to produce.

Also, from the beginning of APP I didn’t accept book submissions, mainly because I would be inundated with them and as a one person venture that would be tricky. But also because I was more interested in selecting artists who I was keen to work with directly. However, over time I was keen to find a way to accept submissions, and again ‘Field Notes’ seemed the perfect way to do this. Currently around 50% of ‘Field Notes’ zines published come from submissions and it is free to submit and open to everyone.

Our ‘Field Notes’ zines are kept affordable at just £8 each, and we aim to publish between 10 and 15 titles a year.

TC: What do you look for in the projects that you publish?

IS: First and foremost is the quality of the photography itself, added to the idea behind the project. Of course, as a one person venture, ultimately my own photographic taste comes into it… I can’t avoid that, but I do try to publish a wide a variety of styles and subject matter as I can within the overall theme of Another Place. I look for an interesting idea, well executed… a series of images that work well together, but where the individual photographs are strong too. A body of work that has been developed over time and not rushed. It’s also important that the photographer/artist is able to talk about the work in an accessible way, to explain the ideas behind the work relatively succinctly.

TC: Who do you think the audience of Another Place Press is?

IS: I think the audience for much photobook publishing is other photographers, or those interested in photography specifically… but I am always striving to push beyond this with what I’m doing with APP. I’m keen to try to publish books which have a potentially wider appeal. A good example would be ‘Black Dots’ by Nicholas White… this book was a exploration of mountain bothies and those who frequent them. Of course it was popular with photographers but also sold really well to the hillwalking community and people generally interested in the outdoors. I like the idea of reaching as wide an audience as I can to share interesting photography projects.

‘Icebreaker’ by Mark Power. Publishing Magnum photographer Mark Power made a huge difference to APP’s reach and audience.

TC: How important to you is being a Scottish based publisher when it comes to work that talks about Scotland?

IS: Another Place Press publishes photographic work by photographers from around the world, but as a small publisher based in the Scottish Highlands, it is important for me that I do publish Scottish photographers regularly too. There’s so much great work being made here in Scotland and I’m keen to see Scottish photographers represented in APP’s catalogue… both well-known and not so well known names. I am about to start working with another Scottish photographer on a new book which will be a cracker!

TC: Do you think that it is now more difficult now to publish a photobook than it has been in the past?

IS: It is easier than ever to make a photobook – digital print has opened up short print runs and made them economically viable. The internet allows individuals and small publishers to sell books directly to customers, missing out traditional middlemen. BUT that said I think it is very difficult now and becoming more difficult to make money from publishing. It is such a competitive field with a large number of publishers and also many photographers self-publishing books which are ultimately aimed at quite a small, niche audience. Add to this the rising costs of paper & printing and the margins to be made are much smaller than in the past.

The key with any publishing venture is to build up a decent sized audience for what you are doing before you try to sell large quantities of a book… audience is critical. With APP I had built up a biggish audience for the blog before I published any books which allowed me to hit the ground running so to speak. But it is still very difficult to make APP work financially… often a source of stress!

‘From A Small Island’ by Andrew Jackson. A very personal body of work exploring Andrew’s family’s roots in Jamaica and migration to the UK.

‘Looking North’ by Jessica Auer. Spread from Jessica’s book which looks at the impacts of tourism in Iceland’s landscape.

TC: How has starting Another Place Press affected your photographic practise?

IS: Every collaboration through APP is inspiring… to see how others make work and consider presenting the final edit, and this inevitably feeds into my own photographic practise. Also, I think whether or not a body of work is going to be actually published… the process of editing and considering the work in this format is really useful for any project. I would say however that I am far more comfortable editing others work than my own… I don’t find editing my own work easy. I’ve become good friends with a number of the photographers I’ve published and this really helps me in terms of discussing my work with them, getting feedback etc.

On the negative side, publishing as one person venture is incredibly time consuming – I do all liaising with photographers, design all books & zines, dispatch every book with a thank you note and do all marketing & social media – so I do tend to struggle to create time to make work for myself. Getting the balance right is never easy.

‘Out Of The Ordinary’ by Iain Sarjeant. Occasionally I publish my own work through APP… including 3 volumes of my long term project Out Of The Ordinary, a journey through everyday Scotland.

’The Code For Flowers, The Last Star To Shine’ by Al Brydon. The cover of our latest release, and the fourth book we have published with Al.

TC: What’s next for Another Place Press?

IS: Essentially, I would like to carry on doing what I’m doing if I can… releasing 6 or 7 books a year and a range of new zine titles too. I do also have a few ideas for ways of developing APP in new directions which I hope to take forward soon!

TC: Thank you Iain, Document Scotland are huge fans of Another Place Press and it was great to hear from you.

To see all the publications by Iain visit the website Another Place Press work and keep up to date with them on Instagram and X . You can see more of Iain’s work on his website and via his social media on X and Instagram.

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Categories: Interviews

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