Hannah Watson is the director of Trolley, an independent publisher. Trolley was founded in 2001 and it gained recognition in photography as a medium for change. The publisher is hugely successful because it stayed true to photographers while honing a clear vision. They produce beautiful books with conviction and purpose and win numerous international awards.
Trolley is 15 years old this year and riding the phonebook wave. The company began when publishers were panicking over the death of books, but nowadays it’s not the same. People are really appreciative of print, print will ALWAYS provide what digital cannot offer. The physical.
Gigi Giannuzzi had started a publishers in the 90’s. Gigi was in the south of Italy for a summer, just as Nan was. And they decided that Nan had amazing photos from that summer. So they decided to make a book to publish in 10 years, called Nan 10 years ago. The photobook would have the pictures from that summer 10 years ago. The publishing house was called West End. West End folded in 2000.
In 2001, just after September 11th and after West End folded, He decided to start a new independent publisher. They did festivals and photobooks. He became known as the trolley guy. Because instead of paying for a stand at a festival, he ended up using a trolley (shopping cart) to put his book dummies in and go up and down the Frankfurt Book Fair grounds to gain recognition.
The first book.
Trolley likes to help photographers get their first book out. They strive on making their entrance to the world of phonebooks a positive and helpful one. Publishing the first book is a substantial step in a photographer’s life.
Philip Jones Griffiths created the photobook "Did Vietnam Inc.". It was a self initiated project on the war in Vietnam. He decided that it was too glamorous of a war. He wanted to destroy that perfected image and the idea that the war was fictionally built. Media won’t post stuff viewers don’t like. For the project, Philip kept returning to Vietnam. He has a huge appreciation for the Vietnamese people. Even after the war ended, you could still see the effects, especially in consumerism and of agent orange. It was toxic. The next generation of Vietnamese were then born with disfigured mutations caused by the biological warfare.
Griffiths also had a second substantial work that he wanted to make into a book. It's called "Agent Orange". He went back to visit the Vietnamese, accumulating pictures of the people and children. He really only had one of the images from this project published. He wanted to share these heavy photos of the victims. Their story needed to be shared. He tried to get it published. All the other publishers either said no, or that 120 pages was too long. But Trolley said that it wasn’t 'ready', but that it needed 160 pages. It contained images of the shocking effects of agent orange on the Vietnamese people.
He set the standard for what Trolley was all about. They were about taking risks, getting the hard to deal with information out there, and exposing the stories that need to be seen. No matter how controversial they are. Gigi and Philip had a relationship after this book brought them together. Gigi is no longer with us today, he died of cancer. But the relationship they had was special. Philip also died from cancer. He was working on a book design at the moment. And he died the day after they had stopped by to check in on the project he was working on. They both started as photo editors, not photographers, for a magazine called "Colors" (Italian). Trolley sets the tone of photographers, encouraging them to continue to create meaningful work. They give photographers the cache to do what they do, and publish it unadulterated.
Another book, "Ghetto", where he photographed 12 different “outsider” communities in Cuba, America, etc (?). Add more to this (and gallery) ("Scarti"- scraps version she brought in. Gone through the printer twice to clean the printer. Super intense colors since double the ink). Double exposure looking pictures.
Robin Maddock, another photographer that they have worked with, told Gigi that he’s colorblind when they were printing off the proofs for his book, "Our Kids Are Going to Hell". The book is made up of pictures shot in London of the police. It’s poetic. It’s about rockabillies, the in between, the people being busted, and the place. He had come to Gigi for advice on his work/project. Gigi always had the let’s do it attitude. Trolley prints with only one printer in Italy. They like the people their, it’s like home, it’s not digital, and it’s affordable. They are also conveniently in the Prosecco region as well.
Robin’s second book was "God Forgotten Face". It was more a personal documentary project about Plymouth (set in Britain). It has a similar style to "Our Kids Are Going to Hell" book. He even got his two books into Martin Parr’s photobook recommendations. His third book published in 2014 called "III" (3). He went to America to shoot a different style, unlike is last two projects. He went to LA, to the sun. Freeing himself of a subject. But Robin has a good knowledge of photography and he wanted to play. He took three white objects, a ping pong ball, milk, and paper. He places them in the landscape and photographs these. The dedication for the project is for Gigi, “who would have hated this book”.
Sian Davey really wanted to publish her work "Looking for Alice". She met Maddock, who encouraged her to contact Trolley. So she emailed them and started the book. They used Kickstarter. The photographs of her daughter who has down syndrome. The project is very personal, all done on film in her home. It has a very domestic setting, it's also very painterly. There is a Renaissance feel to the images. They aimed to raise £12,000, but raised £15,000 in the end. For reference, 1,250 copies cost around £12,000. So they made more copies, made limited edition boxes, and better shipping, etc. It only took them months, it was one of the faster books that Trolley has published. She didn’t have any finished design at all, she worked with a designer. She actually began to use the designer another publisher had recommended. It went all wrong, he didn’t understand the project. He made the book cold and in your face down syndrome. But she wanted it to be beautiful, about family, and love. More like a children’s book. She ended going with another another designer who had children children of her own. That designer picked up the right details, and was subtle. This book was about the work, not overly designed. Arguing is good if it’s constructive, so it’s important to be confident with your designer. It’s very personal and subjective. You have to work with people who understand what you want to do and what you have been doing.
Time to go share your work. Meet people, show projects.
Benefits of having a publisher: They help you distribute. They prevent you from having a thousand books scattered about your living room and no idea where to start.
Do you need a publisher? It is a very personal answer. Some have a certain outlook of what they want to do. Some people want to share it with designers. The upside is innovation. No limitations, a lot of creative freedom.
Sales Distribution: doesn’t exist in self publishing. You distribute. Photobook shops are so little, and there aren’t many who sell your book. And nobody sells it as well as you do. Nobody loves your book as much as you do. The publishing house isn’t supposed take care of it. They do small scale sales. Trolley’s most successful book is Gentlemen of Bacongo shot by Daniele Tamagni, an Italian photographer, ended up selling in Waterstones. She then had to learn how to sell foreign rights to Japan. Ended up selling out 20,000 copies. Even got royalties as a photographer. Very successful. Also rare.
Who to approach: Nobody is in it for the money. They do everything, there isn’t a team around them. They get together and moan about how hard it all is. But they love it. You just have to love books. There is no other reason for doing it. It’s just a passion.
Doing your research: go to portfolio reviews, enter awards, get noticed.
How to present projects: There is pressure to make dummies, but sometimes you just don’t always know what you want. Like when you have the project, but you don't have the context sorted out. The joy of working on that kind of project is the involvement of it all, not always being alone in the process. Showing prints is great. Bring in a box of prints. You can benefit by showing more of your work, rather than the work you deem “good enough” for your finished product expectations. Don’t ever say “I just need a publisher”. It’s a growing process.
Funding and Financials:
How much do books cost? Up to £20,000. But how long is a piece of string? You can make something cheaper, with less quantity. That should be enough for printing, design, publishing, proofs, some travel costs.
Look for funding: use resources such as crowdfunding and gofundme.
Recommended Fairs and Festivals:
New York- MoMA NYABF (art book fair)
Format in Darby and Birmingham
What is Trolley Up To?
Trolley has a gallery. It’s for emerging artists across all mediums. The book is the best way to look at photography. Only big names, expensive, not as comprehensive and vital. They now host the IPA AWARD in their gallery. Dominic H. was last years winner.
Juno Calypso and Felicity Hammond just wont the British Journal of Photography Prize and are currently exhibiting with Trolley.
59 riding house street, London w1w