Interview with Maxime and Claire from Éditions FPCF, publishers of Tell mum everything is ok.
Beginning with the most obvious question, what led you both to elect to self-publish a photography zine like Tell mum? My sense is that while we are more privileged than ever to be able to see greater quantities of new work by talented unknown artists of all types, perhaps publishers have or had retreated from dedicating regular and ample space to sharing that sort of work, and that this might have had some impact? Is it perhaps a means of bringing work together that would otherwise remain separate and unconnected outside the digital sphere?
Tell mum everything is ok is a project that was conceived of and designed with the idea of extracting work from the internet. We were also interested in books, design and fanzines, and at that time (in 2008-2009) there was a lack of photo projects like this in Paris, so we decided to launch our own. From the beginning, we also had this idea of encounters in mind, so we decided to launch our own review to let people meet new photographers according to the principle of showing a silent succession of images.
As you say, there is a bunch of great work on the web, and we are all very used to seeing a lot of pictures and images everyday. Maybe it would have been easier to make what is called a “webzine,” with a strong selection and portfolio, but it would have still been virtual. Extracting work to publish it on paper is really different, and mixed in with other contributions the pictures also take on new meanings…
Your publication has its origins in or deep historic ties to Flickr, but has, I think since its inception, sought to make precise editorial and thematic use of the work of those artists and photographers whom you publish. That’s something that Flickr groups struggle to effectively do in a systematic way – at least in my experience. Could you perhaps talk about your editorial interests, about the way you try to collaborate with and make use of your Flickr group or other groups up there, and about how you set about drawing out the shape of a theme or narrative in the work you publish in Tell Mum?
When we launched our first call to participate, Flickr was a good and easy way to share different contributions via the online gallery. All the participants were able to see the other contributions and it was also possible to have some interaction thanks to the forum included in the group. At that time, Flickr was a good tool, and we used it to spread the word about this project. In that sense, Flickr was only a tool for us and we were not really active parts of the platform.
Flickr is also a good way to discover the work of amateur photographers, and to be surprised by unexpected submissions. When we launch a call for participants, we do not have any ideas in mind in terms of what to expect. The contributions come everyday, and our moderation filters the pool of pictures. After weeks and weeks, an editorial line appears by itself and we are able to start to think about the whole book.
Of course, we are certainly guided by some pictures we really like during recent months, and they stay in our mind and can influence our choices, but every issue is really “made” at the end of the deadline and we never know what will be finally in the zine before this deadline.
You see, after five issues we’ve published a lot of different pictures, from unknown to well-established artists, and we can confirm that we are not taken only interested in one kind of photography. Thinking back to a few years ago, in terms of what we published, it is also a good way to see what ‘was’ the photography at that time. Of course, I don’t say that we “are” photography but like other publications we catch something from the air. I can’t speak about a trend, but much more about a particular mood, because we always tried to run away from it, despite the fact that we always are influenced by pictures, as I said before.
You have, I think, in excess of 4,000 photographs in the Tell Mum group on Flickr, and in excess of 3,000 members. Leaving aside considerations of how different photographers use the group (and what relationship they have with photography, whether professional, amateur, student, hobby etc) you must get to see a tremendous amount of work being made at this precise moment. How do you feel about that fact? What is your sense of the responsibility you have to the work that’s submitted, and what kind of view does it give you as to what work is being made, and what ideas are currently prevalent etc?
Yes, the moderation is a big job for us! Everyday we receive more than 200 to 500 pictures in the Flickr gallery. We have to moderate it everyday, and a lot of pictures don’t fit at all with the theme or with our editorial line, so I guess that there are also a lot of dissatisfied people, and we can totally understand that. We went on Flickr because it was a useful tool, as we already said. But, despite the fact that there are some really good photographers on this platform, there is also some terrible work…
Plus, a lot of people follow what we have already accepted in the pool, so we receive a lot of pictures that are very close to what we already have submitted! It’s a difficult and infinite self-perpetuating circle!
There are also some trends in photography, and as I said before, we are very reluctant to work that way… We don’t want to publish the same picture of a naked girl holding her bike (single speed for sure) in front of a forest over and over!! Or a still life picture (flowers – fruits – books) taken with a strong flash, and with vivid colors (for the last few months). I personally appreciate still life pictures, but I can’t bear it when I see that hundreds people start to do the same thing, and share it unscrupulously all over the Internet…
With Éditions FP&CF, we do not published a lot of projects in photography because we really want to publish strong portfolios. It’s a lot of work, and it’s hard to do something that is really sensible from the first to the last picture. If you look at our productions, you’ll see that we only published the books of Yann Orhan and Jeremy Jansen, because they were two projects that were really complete (whether you appreciate the pictures or not).
Everyday, I see that a lot of people started to make DIY zines or to publish some portfolios as books. It’s a good thing, and I appreciate this enthusiasm for photography, but I also see that a lot of projects are really made too fast, and show bad editing and uninteresting pictures which condemns the book as a whole.
With Tell mum everything is ok, we are not there to tell people if their work is good or not, but we have some basic requirements and we are interested in “artistic pictures”. After the issue #5, we have decided to make a break with this project because of the gap between what we receive and what we publish. We need to think about the future of the review and how we will reconcile the principle of open participation with the quality of the editing.
Just staying for a moment with this question of the Tell mum group or community, could you maybe talk a little bit about the geographic spread of your support, readership and contributions? I’d be very interested to know – to the extent that you can say – where your members are located, which are the places in which work is being made that’s submitted, and where your zines tend to be purchased? I think particularly with Flickr it’s evident that there’s a wide and deep community of passionate interest in photography in general, so I’d be keen to hear more about that…
Since the beginning of Éditions FP&CF, we wanted to open our projects to as many photographers as we could, and we launched our first call to participate both in French and in English. Issue #1 of Tell mum shows the works of various contributors from around the world. The review is really an international project, and the photographers we published are from a lot of countries, such as the USA, Canada, UK, Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Switzerland, Japan, Korea, China, Sweden, Austria, Russia, Australia…. It’s the same with our readers. We send our publications everywhere, and we also have some retailers in different parts of the world. This is the great thing with internet: you can spread your zine everywhere in the world. We would like to work more with Africa, but it’s hard. We are also looking for retailers in Lebanon.
We also profit from the support of our members that are mainly based in France, but also outside our borders. it represents a true base of support for us, because they bring a financial and non-financial support to the Editions FP&CF. The profile of our members is really varied, and we receive the support from everyone from students to professionals, from photographers to lawyers, and if it’s not a big community, it’s a really helpful one.
Can you perhaps tell me why it was important to set Tell mum up as a non-profit – what were the reasons motivating that choice, how it affects the decisions you make about publishing, and what if any responses that has produced in the artists whose have decided to submit work? Do people realise that you’re not seeking to make money from this venture?
The Éditions FP&CF is an association we run in our free time. We do not make any profits within this structure, and we are not paid for our work. It’s important for us because we only do all these projects in the spirit of creation and collaboration. It’s a sort of a co-production between the artists, us, and the readers. We need the trust and confidence of the artists that agree to contribute to our publications, but we also need the support of all the people who are interested in our work. I guess that people know and understand that we are not making any profits with Éditions FP&CF. All the money received pays for new projects. We’ve always works like this.
If the purpose was to make money, the projects would certainly be different. Here, we do what we really want, we only depend on our readers, and we do not need to seduce any advertisers or sponsors. All our productions are possible because people support us in buying our stuff and in becoming members of our association. They also exist thanks to the confidence of all our contributors, and because they accept to do this for free. If we made money, we would really like to pay the contributors, but we do not structure our projects to make profits but just to exist. Maybe one day Éditions FP&CF will stop because of a project that won’t work at all…
I think that around Issue #3 you began to publish the work of established photographers mixed in with the work of those other artists whom you’d been following and publishing before. It’s at that point that you start to see the names of a group of younger artists who have established themselves in different communities (online/gallery/commercial) but who are very much on the up, appear alongside artists who have had monographs published by major publishing houses like Aperture… Could you talk a little about the development up to that point, how those names began to take an interest in appearing, what that began to tell you about your venture overall?
At the very beginning of the project, we wanted to exclusively publish the work of unknown photographers, because it’s always more interesting to discover new people and new things. Flickr was also a good way to meet those people. But, as we said before, there is a real gap between what we expect and what we receive in submissions. A lot of contributions do not fit with our editorial line, so we decided to invite more directly photographers whose work we like. That said, we are not looking for known names but more for great and special works.
A project needs to evolve, and it’s normal to make some change after five issues. But now, we have reached a certain point and we need more time to think about it. We still want to have an open participation, but we do not have the time for the moderation, so we have to find the right way to work for Issue #6. There is also something that we have to consider: when we pre-select a picture, it could be quite a few months before we publish it in a Tell mum, and the picture may have been seen a lot of times on the internet (in blogs, portfolios, and so on), so that some people might believe that we “surf” on a trend, while in actuality we constantly try to discover new work.
What is the editorial process and design process like when you come first to picture selection, and then to the questions of sequence and sizing and the overall design of the issue? How have you dealt with artists who may have a particular interest in retaining some control or at least influence over how their work is shown and so forth? Have people been readily willing to simply put their pictures out there and see how you treat them?
We always start by selecting pictures from the Flickr gallery. It’s a way to stick with the idea of basing our first selection on the works of unknown people. So, we start by looking all the pictures pre-selected during the submission period and we make a first choice.
Then, from this first group, we continue the selection process to make a second group of 100 – 150 pictures. Then we work on combinations, confrontations and associations. Based on this selection we make a first layout on the computer and Claire ‘writes’ the story regarding the theme selected. This moment is very important because it’s the basis of the next issue.
After that, we contact the people who are pre-selected, and we ask for high-resolution scans. In general, we prefer to be free to propose our own design, but if someone wants a special arrangement it’s not a problem. If we need new pictures, we contact directly photographers that fit with the theme and the Flickr selection.
We never had any problems with a photographer regarding the design process, because we think of the ‘story’ in totality. That’s the deal if you want to take part in a Tell mum: you trust us and let us make a combination of your work with another contribution.
If we decide to print a picture on two pages, it’s also regarding the overall rhythm of the editing. Some pictures will be stronger with blank space, and some others need to be alone on a page. This is the difficulty of making a collective edition. But it’s also one of the moments we really appreciate.
The design of the collection is an echo of our way to process the work. The reading is silent, almost functional, and the simplicity of the design is meant to be evocative. The choice of paper, the color of each edition, or even the title of the magazine also says something. Inside, the design is clear to allow the photos to bond together. A ‘too talkative’ design would break that rhythm.
Can you talk about how Tell mum has affected your other titles and publishing activities? What sorts of opportunities has it opened up – what dialogues or ideas or new directions? Do you have a longer-term aim specifically in terms of publishing?
The Tell mum series let us meet a lot people and let us also publish different books like Memories, Miroir Noir by Yann Orhan, or recently Dirty Negative by Jeremy Jansen, with whom we also did an exhibition in Paris during his residency with us.
We are really happy that people agree to follow us and submit new works for each issue.
What can we expect from the upcoming issue? You began with True Story and Outsiders, then A Postmodern World and Waste Ground, most recently Stigma, but in all they have been publications where you’ve edited by subject and by formal association. Might you try something different, or is that a space you reserve for your other published titles? Do you have any ideas or new work that you’re planning to publish in the next issue and that you can share?
For now we cannot speak about the new issue of Tell mum, because it’s too early. But perhaps we would like to change a few things, like the format. After few months break, I can tell you that we will launch a new call for participation during the next winter. There will be some changes, but I guess we also want to keep the zine like it is, because it’s also our way to do things, our signature. We have to make the project evolve, but with the idea of keeping it as it was created few years ago. Big challenge!
It’s the end of a chapter, but the works goes on!
We are also working on a new photobook for after summer with a release party in a famous place in Paris. It will be a black and white photo book but I cannot tell you more for now…
Thanks to you both for your time!
You’re welcome, thanks to you!