Hannah Watson, Director
Introducing the Selectors for the BA Phase of Graduate Photography Online 2019: we talk to Director of Trolley Books, Hannah Watson.
Tell us about your job? What does your core role at the Trolley Books involve?
I am the Director of Trolley Books and TJ Boulting gallery. I am a one-woman-operation since Gigi Giannuzzi, founder of Trolley died in 2012. After he died the dynamic shifted from being a duo to having to fulfil all roles, so I've learnt how to be things I maybe thought I wasn't before. The beauty of being a small independent photobook publisher is that you can be involved with all aspects of making books that you love, from meeting the photographers and finding the projects that excite you, to working on the layout and design with them and the designer, to going to print in Italy (involving copious prosecco and amazing food to ease the stresses of getting the printing perfect). The downside is the financial pressures and the difficulty of selling and distributing books. We're called Trolley because almost twenty years ago we started off with a trolley full of book dummies at Frankfurt book fair to save money on having an expensive stand and sometimes I wonder if we've evolved much beyond that. But that suits me, the trolley is the ultimate expression of freedom and innovation.
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 studied History of Art at UCL then started working in contemporary art, writing reviews of exhibitions and was drawn to photography. Writing and photography together lead me to books and Trolley, I already had a few of their books and I particularly remember opening Ghetto by Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanrain, seeing the title page and thinking 'Trolley', that's a weird name for a publisher??
How do you decide on what makes an interesting photograph or photographic project?
A kneejerk reaction, you feel excited. Analysing it rationally, something unique in the alchemy of form, composition and content.
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?
The work comes first, then the words. Keep it brief, factual and to the point, don't over-theorise your own work. Think of the statement as a segue into the images, make it easy to read and make you want to return to the images with better understanding of the whole series.
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?
It should enable you to see your work in the context of your peers and previous historic and contemporary photographers. Use the time to research and study other artists and photographers. Also don't just stick to photography, it's more valuable and interesting to have a holistic approach and look at painting, film, sculpture, cinema, fiction, science, just be open. Photography is a very small world and it helps to look outside it, this helps keep photography as an evolving and relevant art form and industry.
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?
Any graduate from a fine art course will find it hard to leave the support structure of a degree with peer and tutor guidance, so try and keep it going, have people whose opinion you trust. Finding employment and monetising photography is a constant struggle so find out how to make it work financially and get a job that leaves you some time on the side to work and gain experience. It might be a slow burn, there is no major rush to have a book out until you are ready.
What advice would you have for someone interested in working in your area of photography?
The whole success of photobooks in recent years was driven by self-publishing, so if you are inclined to try it yourself and innovate with no money it is possible. But it's not exactly the easiest industry in the world so go to book fairs and see what is out there and how other people are doing it. Most publishers are like Trolley, a one-man-band or small operations, it's a fun community but only because we can get together at book fairs and moan in the pub.