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Books: Mr. Chris Pichler, Nazraeli Press founder

Nazraeli Press mission

- Let us begin with Nazraeli Press’ foundational mission. Why it was so important opening a publishing company devoted to art?

Nazraeli Press didn’t really start with a mission at all. I have enjoyed reading and looking at books for as long as I can remember; I became interested in photography at an early age; and I always preferred the idea of working for myself to working for another person or company. These three factors merged naturally when I graduated from university, and I suddenly found myself publishing. I started with postcards and moved on to books. I don’t remember a particular moment when I thought “I want to be a publisher”. It just seemed to happen by itself.

- What do you think is the role your company plays in the current art publishing market?

Most of the books we publish are about photographs, and photography is only a small part of the art publishing market. Within the field of photographic book publishing, I think we play a small but worthwhile role. In selecting book projects to publish, we try to strike a balance between books on the work of well-known, established photographers, and books by upcoming or under-recognized photographers. Nothing pleases me more, in terms of work, than publishing someone’s first book, and watching it do well.

- Your publications have been described as exquisite, elegant and selected. What do you believe are the foundations of this idea?

Those three adjectives – exquisite, elegant, and selected – are very subjective. For one person, a book made from obviously expensive, exotic materials, with a striking design, may seem elegant. To me, a book that merges naturally with the work it contains, made from modest, easily obtainable materials, that serves the work without overshadowing it, is something elegant. Let me give you an example: a couple of years ago, we published the book “Japan” by Michael Kenna. The book has a Japanese feel – very simple and understated – but it is housed in a traditional folding Japanese slipcase. We wanted the book and slipcase to be covered in a silk-like material, but silk itself is very expensive, and we wanted to keep the book affordable. After some research, we found that we were able to purchase a very inexpensive silk-like material from the garment district in Hong Kong, and use it to bind the book and slipcase. This material is actually produced to make women’s lingerie. But it served this unintended purpose perfectly.

- During these past fifteen years Nazraeli Press has witnessed the digital development of both photography and publishing. Have these changes affected the original idea of your company?

I think that the digital advancements have made publishing much easier, and therefore more democratic. This is a good thing. But of course, digital technology, like any other technology, is simply a tool. It allows publishers to put layouts together more quickly and inexpensively; do their own typesetting; send files to overseas printers by email rather than by courier; and of course to offer their books on-line, via a website.

What digital technology can’t do is to make an uninteresting book interesting, or an unmarketable book marketable.

- The increasing use of internet has altered daily life habits in a very short period of time. One of them is the way in which news now is received: online and in a customized way. What do you think should be currently the function of art paper publications in relation with the online ones? Is there something that had to be changed to fit better to these new times?

The internet provides a very useful way for people to distribute, and receive, the news. But nothing compares, for me, to actually sitting down in a comfortable chair and reading a newspaper or magazine. I suppose that’s because this is the way that I grew up, and there’s something so familiar about it. It’s also due to the fact that, like most people, I have to spend more time working in front of a computer monitor than I’d like. When I want to read something that’s not work-related, I prefer it to be a tactile experience. I have a hard time imagining the internet actually replacing ink-on-paper, especially with regards to art publications. The challenge for art paper publications, I think, is to present images and words in a way that takes advantage of the 3-dimensional world in which we live; this is something pixels on a computer monitor simply can’t compete with.



- Your photography publications show a wide variety of styles: documentary, abstract, urban, intimate, etc. On the other hand it seems that Nazraeli Press books are not mass market products. What kind of audience they have?

Nazraeli Press books are definitely not mass market products. I don’t say that out of elitism, simply out of practicality. Most of our books are printed in editions of one or two thousand copies; by their very nature, they will reach only a limited audience. And I think the audience that is interested in these kinds of books is limited in number. We don’t really aim for a particular kind of person. From the beginning, I’ve felt that if a book of pictures is interesting to me, and thoughtfully made, then it will be of interest to a thousand or so other people as well. Our books are distributed in many parts of the world, and the individual customers I’ve met at art fairs and book fairs are surprisingly diverse: starving students who may skip a meal in order to buy a book, standing next to well-to-do art or book collectors who scan the shelves and want one of everything. The diversity is refreshing; I hope that it means we’re doing something right.

- Looking back to the initial years, which changes –in social and cultural terms– do you think your audience has experimented since the beginning of the company until now?

That’s hard to say, because I started publishing in Germany 16 years ago, and moved back to the US 9 years ago. So the changes I’ve seen could be geographical, or they could be due simply to the passing of time. I would say that people have come to expect more from these kinds of books now than they did a decade ago. For a variety of wonderful reasons, we are living in a time when it is fairly easy to publish books independently, and to distribute them internationally. This has enabled a vast number of interesting books to be published that simply wouldn’t have been feasible before.

- Publishing for an international audience should be a delicate task. How does Nazraeli Press deal with possible cultural differences depending on the different areas of the world? From this point of view, do you think is it possible a "global" publication?

Different books do well in different parts of the world, and it’s always a surprise to see where a particular book finds its market. We deal with cultural differences by being fairly “hands-off” as to how distributors in various parts of the world sell our books to their customers. Regarding a “global” publication: I travel a lot for my work, and it’s interesting: a book or movie or piece of music or even a take on world events can be ubiquitous in one country, and virtually unknown in another. I think that’s something to be grateful for; it’s the differences between us that keep things interesting.


Work selection and relations with artists

- A publisher acts, in some way, like a collector or a gallery owner. Do you feel comfortable with this comparison, or on the contrary do you think there are some crucial differences? If so, what do you think are the main ones?

While I have some very close friends who are gallerists, I don’t think that the comparison is apt. For one, I don’t actually enjoy being in most galleries or museums. They always make me feel out of place. Also, books are generally inexpensive and intimate, and most important, quiet; with some notable exceptions, gallery spaces feel very formal, and resound with echos, and somehow feel expectant. I always wonder if it’s okay to just look at the pictures, or if it’s okay for me to ask questions, or if I’m expected to buy one?


- Which are the criteria to choose the artists selected for your books? Does market have any kind of influence on the final selection?

Marketability naturally plays a role in the decision making process; if I don’t feel many people will want to buy a particular book, then what would be the point of publishing it? The basic test is to ask myself: does a very similar book of pictures already exist? If not, would it be something that I would like to have on my bookshelf at home? Is it a book I would spend my own money on, if I saw it in a bookstore? As my personal interests evolve and change, so do the answers to some of these questions. That helps to keep my job interesting.


- Please, tell a little bit about how is your relation as an editor with the artists who you work with. Does it have any influence on your multifaceted involvement with arts, not only as a publisher, but also as an artist or an art critic?

I tend to work very closely with the artists whose books we publish. Most of the books I design together with the artist, usually shoulder-to-shoulder in my office. It’s a part of my job that I enjoy very much. With each new artist we publish, I learn many new things, about their lives, their interests and goals, the part of the world in which they live, the subjects they enjoy photographing. It’s probably a time of growth for both of us; certainly it is for me. And this affects the way in which I see the world, and it’s something I’m grateful for. I’m not very much interested in art criticism, though. I think that good work rises to the surface, regardless of what critics might say about it.

- What specific characteristics should have a photograph to work properly in a book form? Or contrary to it, do you thing any photograph can be published?

That’s a very interesting question, because I have seen projects that are extremely powerful as prints, but that lose something important when presented in book form, and don’t work well in that particular format. Conversely, I have seen groups of images that probably wouldn’t hold up well on a gallery wall, but that find their natural home between the covers of a book. Sometimes it’s for obvious reasons: if a photograph needs to be huge in order to function well, it’s probably not going to function well in a book. But other times it’s for a more subtle reason; a group of pictures may need the intimacy of a book format, for example, or the interactive turning of a page lets them tell their story in a way they simply couldn’t do inside a frame hanging on a wall.


- Do you publish only done photographs or you also ask for specific projects thoughts for publishing? In case of both, what is the difference between working with a made to order work or a yet done one?

We’ve never commissioned anyone to go out and photograph a project for a book. In the end, it’s not so much the subject matter, as the way a photographer deals with it, that is most interesting. A photographer may very well make pictures with the idea of a book in mind, but for someone to need a guarantee that it will be published would probably indicate that they are more interested in having their work published than in making pictures for their own personal reasons.


- What new projects are you currently working on?

We publish around 25 or 30 books each year, so at any given time we are working on many projects simultaneously. Today, I’ve been working on a book about the former Zeche Westfahlen coal mine in Germany by the Japanese photographer Naoya Hatakeyama; a book on Hokkaido by Michael Kenna; a book of botanical still lives by Ron van Dongen; and a book on Sokcho by the Korean photographer Boomoon. A nice, diverse, international selection!