Book Market Statements: Sebastian Arthur Hau

by Unseen September 15 2017

Since the 2017 editions of Unseen Book Market and Photobook Week Aarhus take place during the same weekend, we are launching a joint discussion on the role of the photobook market today. The project Market? What Market? is kicking off with a series of three entries on Unseen Amsterdam’s website, written by guest contributors Gerry Badger, Olivier Cablat and Sebastian Arthur Hau. Conversations surrounding the issues raised by the authors will continue during the roundtable discussions in Aarhus and Amsterdam, and all content will be made available to download in an online booklet after the main events, including additional unique materials by Natalia Baluta and Carlos Spottorno.

Details for the simultaneous roundtable events are as follows:

Photobook Week Aarhus
Getting It Out There: Publishing and Distributing the Photobook
Fri 22 Sept

11.00-12.00

Unseen Book Market
Making, Sharing, Selling: The Photobook Market Today
Sun 24 Sept
16.00-17.00

In our last discussion, Sebastian Arthur Hau takes the stand and shares his views on founding major photobook markets Cosmos and Polycopies, and his perspective of todays photobook community.

When Olivier Cablat and I set up the first Supermarkt as an offshoot of the Rencontres d'Arles in 2009, it was an exhibition of 12 photographers and 5 independent publishers. We certainly didn't imagine it would soon become Cosmos - the primary photobook market in Arles hosting more than 90 publishers each July since 2014. We also never imagined there would be an emergence of a wave of new book publishers, or a renewed interest in different forms of photography from all over the world.

Over the years we have shifted the focus of the market, from wanting to present publishers that bring the best and most experimental books to actively discussing and promoting diversity and inclusivity. The reason for this shift is rooted in the fact that we have become less interested in our own filters and more interested in unexpected and challenging exchanges.

In the beginning, it was important for us to bring the best books to the Arles Photography Festival, and event that initially had no interest in them. But it evolved into Cosmos - a very dynamic event that includes exhibitions, talks, performances, participatory online projects and a photobook market that is the largest of its kind in Europe. Every book counts for us, and we try to be attentive to every little detail. Cosmos was created as an open, shared space and continues to be just that, without barriers or separations. Communication is non-hierarchical, where different forms of photography exist next to one another, and the form of each work asks a broader question, acting only as a temporary solution.

Polycopies, another book market that I have run with Laurent Chardon since 2013, is organised according to our own personal ideals about collectors and makers. We often baffle the average visitor with our complex layout, which is almost like a blown-up bookshop located on a boat. A carefully curated selection of publishers along with limited available space are the guiding principles of this market.

For us, a market place is not a calm space solely made for transactions. The music we play, the food and drinks we sell, the discussions we organise, and the collaborations and presentations we coordinate, are all based on the principle of participation. The people we work with search for ways to realise projects together, rooted in an exchange of knowledge.

I am of the generation in which community plays a prominent role. A sense of belonging is strong for us – be it in politics, social media, and social or artistic projects. The post-WWII generations were different – they idealised quitting, running away, and cutting ties. Our generation wants to belong and be a part of something. I wholeheartedly buy into the rhetoric of the photobook community, but I can say very little about it. Do we have principles, ideals, or shared interests? When there is too much talk about book prices and prizes, values going up and down and best-of lists, I lose hope. Everything feels quite empty and commercial. Isn’t it true that we share internationalist, inclusive, pacifist, democratic ideas? Doesn’t the open-mindedness of books require an open-minded community, ready to engage in difficult topics?

I'm discussing community partly because I shy away from more complex economical questions. Each time a reporter asks me about ‘the photobook bubble’, ‘the self-publishing boom’, or inquires, "Are there too many books?" I have to hold back my emotions. People using words like ‘boom’ and ‘bubble’ seem to think within the economics of Silicon Valley, but applying these macro-economical questions to photobooks doesn’t work.

And yet we search for ways of living off of our art and craft, and as photobook market organisers, we have to work out new and better ways for books to find their way into the greater public. Analysing the market certainly is a good idea.

I remember a gallerist once telling me that photobooks are just vehicles for selling physical prints or works. Countless people have told me that there are already too many books. I'm sure my fellow book dealers, publishers and artists have suffered from this disregard of photobooks. Maybe what we should uphold is the Utopia-in-progress community that is ours: open-minded, ready for unexpected encounters and meeting others, and finding out about the world. Books are just one part of this communication.

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Sebastian Arthur Hau worked at the Shchaden Bookshop for ten years. For the past five years, he has written the photobook reviews section of Foam Magazine. Hau also founded the bookshop at Le Bal in Paris, running it for five years. He has organised and curated a number of exhibitions on photography and books, and helped coordinate the photobook markets Polycopies, Cosmos and Yellow Magic together with friends. He teaches a regular Masterclass on Photography Books for the Magnum Agency.