In our series of interviews introducing the Selectors for the MA/MFA Phase of Graduate Photography Online 2018, we talk to Maxwell Anderson, Founder of Bemojake Books.
Tell us about some of the projects you're involved in, and in particular the work of Bemojake? What does your core role at Bemojake involve?
Bemojake is an imprint I started in 2010 when I self published my first book See You Soon. For practical reasons I thought it would be easier to approach bookshops as a publisher rather than as an artist. I quite quickly started publishing other young and emerging photographers' work under the imprint, and now that's mostly what I do. I am involved in all aspects of the book making process, from finding the work, to editing and design, press and promotion. My core role is not focused in one area, it really encompasses everything. I am currently in the final stages of publishing the Bar Tur Photobook Award winner, Monica Alcazar-Duarte with her work The New Colonists. This project is in collaboration with The Photographers' Gallery who, over the last three years, have chosen an independent UK based publisher to work with in realising the book projects of recent graduates. The Bar Tur Award has been a fantastic opportunity for emerging photographers to attain the support of experts and the funding to emphatically transpose their ideas and concepts to book form.
How did you make your way into the career you're now in? Did you always want to work in a field that involved photography?
I knew I wanted to be involved in photography from about the age of 16, when I failed my Photography A-level course. I did a BA in Photography, during which I honed in on the book form. I learnt to book-bind and spent lots of time studying the design, layout and sequencing of photobooks Troubled Land by Paul Graham was one of by favourite books around that time. It was the first book I understood that the sequencing can be as much the work as the photographs. During my third year of university I did an internship with the publisher Chris Boot Ltd, and went on to be Chris's assistant. I managed the company for a while when Chris moved to Aperture and finished off the last few projects we had going. After See You Soon came out (and it's sequel, Ten Days In July) I established Bemojake as an independent publisher with the book Celebrity by Kenji Hirasawa. The came at a cross over period where I was winding things down at Chris Boot Ltd, and weighing up my options for my next step. Because my work with Chris was so varied I found it difficult to place myself in a specific role in another publishing company. That's why I decided start my own imprint. Since then I have been balancing my time between publishing and producing books of other people's work, and making my own work.
How do you decide on what makes an interesting photograph or photographic project?
I think, like most people, I go off instincts, That's maybe what distinguishes publishers from each other. I just have faith in the idea that, if I like the work for whatever reason, there must be other people who share a similar taste. I don't worry too much about whether something will be popular or not. I think this demonstrates a lot of trust between myself and the artist I'm working with. I guess we both have to believe in each other. I also try not to define what it is I look for in work, because I don't want to limit myself, but I suppose from an objective point of view the work I like is both visually appealing and conceptually compelling. A collection of visually arresting pictures are pleasing, but I soon get frustrated by them and they lose my interest. Equally I want to be stimulated by aesthetics to guide me through a concept.
As regards the photographer's statement, what are the most important things for you to know about the work? When it comes to showing their work outside of University, have you any tips on how graduates should prepare their work and the supporting material that accompanies it?
I really do find it important to know what's going on behind the images. As I mentioned, the concept is important to me. It doesn't have to be immediately obvious in the initial presentation of the photographs, a description will help me start to run ideas through my head about how to get the concept across in book form. However, I don't want to receive pages of writing, because that will put me off. A short, concise explanation of what the work is about, in two paragraphs. If I'm interested I will ask to find out more. And then there's the quantity of images. I want to see enough individual images to reassure me there's plenty of material to work with, but I also want to desire more. I would say 5-10 images at first. Don't send a fully designed book either. That leaves me no space for creative input, which doesn't excite me. I will want to factor in my taste throughout the process.
In your view, what are the kind of qualities that completing a degree course in photography should endow an individual with? Aside from specifically technical skills, what is the difference that having a demographic of emerging photography graduates makes in the world?
There should be a theoretical development and maturity that will hopefully help anchor your work with sincerity. Although I would encourage people not to consider the whole canon of photography when making their own work, I would hope a degree course will arm you with the ability to contextualise your work when you need to. For all the time you get your head down and produce your work in your own headspace, you have to shrewdly step in to the 'photo world' to get your work out there and to get people on the same page.
What are the challenges you see facing graduates from photography degree courses as they make their way into the world at this point in time?
Overcoming the expectation that things will happen immediately. And when they don't happen immediately, not being dismayed but the enormity of competition that's out there. Then understanding that it's not a competition, that you have to keep believing in yourself and what you do, but also always improving and taking each turn as it comes. There's a speed about things these days that to most of us is very unsatisfying, but can seem desirable. It's important not to get jaded by trends.
What advice would you have for someone interested in working in your area of photography?
Always say yes to opportunities that come up early on. You still have lots of time to discover what you enjoy and what you don't. Start getting involved in the 'community'. Go to the events, the fairs, the book launches… Chat to people. Ask people's advice.