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The pioneers of aviation were never lonely

Sunday, October 29, 2017


Who: Makina Books
Where: London, United Kingdom
What: Independent Press


Push your shoulders and hands under the surface of the water. Subcultures, independent cultures, others.

Can you tell us a bit about how your press got started?

I wanted to find a home for some photographs I’d taken of friends at DIY Space For London – a cooperatively run social centre that opened in the Autumn of 2015. Inspired in part by Daniel Meadows’ The Shop on Graeme Street and Derek Ridgers’ club portraits, I had been running a free portrait studio there and documenting the building – but after moving away from London I didn’t know what to do with the pictures. Since becoming interested in photography I've been interested in its ability to ‘age well’ and using it with books as a way to make stories and document what people and places in my community look like. I’ve always liked editing and sequencing other people’s work, and I think books are the best medium for showing work – so I decided to make a small bookwork showing the first 11 months of the space. I called it A Lamp in a Window after a Truman Capote short story and the book enabled me to reconnect with friends and exchange letters. I sold them all and decided to do more with the ‘manifesto’ to be enthusiastic about friendship, accessibility and community and with the business goal of being as affordable as possible but attempting to make enough on each title to do another one. Since May 2016 I’ve been able to publish 8 books, a cassette and organised a touring exhibition with sound.

How did the name come about?

The Plaubel Makina was a camera popular with a ‘second-wave’ of British colour documentary photographers (e.g., Paul Graham, Anna Fox, Paul Reas) in the 1980s and 1990s – especially those coming through the West Surrey College of Art. I love much of that work and in particular the way those photographers used photobooks and self-publishing as a medium to share their projects at a time when photography exhibitions were rare. In 2003 my Grandmother, Nell died and I wanted to buy something I could remember her by – so I bought a Plaubel Makina with the money she left me.

What types of publications do you put out?

I don't have a type, but all the books must show something that isn’t being recorded elsewhere. To date, this has included a subtopian anti-map, with sound by MIDDEX, a study of paintings engaging with notions of disability by Richard Phoenix, photographic short stories by Martha Orchard and Oliver Fisher and an on-going portrait exchange focussed on liminality and gender non-conforming narratives called Outskirts which is Edited by Flo Brooks. Outskirts is the biggest project to date and we launched it in collaboration with an exhibition at The White Cubicle Gallery. All of the output has been by friends of mine – but I have a list of people to approach – I make a set of badges with each book but this isn’t a set rule and I try to do all this without thinking about it too much – but I really care about each title and hope others will pick up on that enthusiasm!

Can you tell us about the space where you run your whole operation from? Is it an office space, a kitchen-table/bedroom operation or just from inside a smart-phone or a laptop?

I started Makina in my front room in Glasgow and then it travelled back to London with me when I moved back here. It’s now based in my bedroom / studio on an old table that was painted pink by my friend. The mailers and books live in the cupboard under the stairs and I work from my laptop. To the left of the desk is a Jane Bown photograph of Samuel Beckett; I worked with Jane on her photographic archive before she past away in 2014 and it’s nice to have this picture and convene with her!

Can you tell us a little bit about the city in which you are based and what influence, if any, it has on your press?

I try to make Makina a project outside of London – but I do live in London! In recent years I’ve reconnected with the South-West where I am from, and I have friends all over through playing music – so Makina can go with me where I go. I don’t think London has an influence, other than it’s a challenge to get by here and the people I am surrounded by are doing amazing things in it.

Do you see any commonality with the world of independent record labels and independent presses? I suppose we’re thinking about how the two things share an independent spirit, small run fanzines/photocopied magazines, merchandising etc?

Absolutely! I was lucky enough to experience fanzine culture in my teens and still have friends that I made through this network. My first job had a photocopier and I’d spend hours using it to make things. Everything I do with Makina is a product of these early experiences making zines and writing letters to people–drawing on envelopes. Zines enabled me to find like minded and supportive people at home and further afield. I think now more than ever with so much visual information online it is important to make something real.

These days every writer can get connected to their own social-media channels and promote and publish their own work, what do you see as the best role for the independent publisher now? Or don't you think that much has changed?

I don’t really know – but it is great that it is even easier to make something from beginning to end on your own and share it with others. I suppose a role is to support more interesting stories and work being shared, focusing on new as well as older material and these days there is less of a risk in doing so.

Do you focus a lot on distinctive cover-design and take a lot of time over the interior of your books or is it just about getting the words out there in any form?

I worked with Patrick Fisher who did the layout to Outskirts to develop a look for Makina. He based it on some old rainbow tape and a bunch of other things we like. The aesthetic is really important, from the look of the book to the oil pastel scrawls and rubber stamps on the envelopes.

Finally, please tell us about a few of the next things that are due to come out?

I developed an exhibition with Flo Brooks and Richard Phoenix called Outskirts–Astigmatism–Acutance and we borrowed a 1970s touring model from the Camerawork collective. They used to laminate exhibitions and send them out in the post to a network of places (shops, laundrettes, DIY spaces etc) – we are trying to do the same with a poster version of our show. The exhibition is work from three of the books I have published and each piece has been fully audio described by Caroline Dawson. It’s been shown in Plymouth and is on in Exeter now – then it is going to be at the LESS bar in Toronto next year. If you want to show it please get in touch!  Our next book is a series of photographs and text called Screaming Fatal Truths by Joe Briggs; Joe goes to a lot of shows and all of the pictures were taken on film in the last six months at various punk shows. Flo Brooks has a solo show opening at Cubitt Gallery next month also.

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