• Unseen - GOST Books Publishing Award
• Deadline: August 23rd, 2022
• Category: Photo Book
• Prize: Printing / Publication / Distribution of your Book
• Entry Fees: Yes
• REGISTRATION: CLOSED, Click HERE For More Opportunities
What makes a good photo book? How much time goes into making one? We spoke to Stuart Smith, director of GOST, about why he started his own business ten years ago, how he chooses a project, what he pays attention to when editing a book, and about the first edition of the Unseen GOST Books Publishing Award on the upcoming edition from Unseen. But the conversation was mainly about the necessary trust between a photographer and his publisher.
You started as a designer for Phaidon Press, then became an independent designer. Why did you decide to become a publisher?
When I left Phaidon and started working as a freelance designer for publishers like Aperture, Thames & Hudson and individual photographers, I soon realized that I could only get so far with the design of a book, without the involvement of too many cooks in the kitchen. I once did 35 different cover designs for a book and presented them to the client. What happened was you get ten different people deciding on the cover, and as with most things decided by committee, they picked the worst cover. My first lesson was never present anything you don't actually want to be chosen.
Similarly, within bigger publishing houses, you have a salesperson choosing what they think might sell the book. For example, for magazines, there is almost always a face on the front cover because that's what sells, but not when it comes to niche books. If I started looking at everybody's opinion, I'd end up with something mediocre and ordinary.
You started GOST a decade ago – how did you set about? I believe the first GOST published was a photobook by Mark Power, why did you start with him?
I started GOST with Gordon McDonald after he left Photoworks. At the beginning we did a few smaller books, in terms of size, as they are cheaper to produce in terms of how many pages you get to a printing sheet. For example, if I did a book at a size of A4 and 100 pages, at the size of A5 I could do 200 pages for the same cost. They were also simpler to produce as digital files were not very good at the time. So there were a few technical issues which were overcome quite quickly. That's also why I started working with Mark Power, because I had done three books with him before, outside of GOST, and with photographers, I’ve found that once we have mutual trust it makes the next book you do together a lot easier.
How do you pick a project?
When I see something fresh or different, or has been approached in a simple and intelligent way - that's what I'm looking for. GOST’s books are based within documentary photography, which I really I like, but I also like documentary photography that has leanings towards an art bias.
How do you proceed once you’ve decided to take on a book project?
Having studied photography myself, when I start designing, I tend to look at it from a photographic point of view. The pictures are key. The edit is key. That's my starting point. We only know what type of book we have when we have a sequence. If someone sends me a design for a book, what I say is, ‘Okay, you've sent me your book’s ‘A’ edit. Can I look at your B-edit?’ So they’ll send me a 1000 pictures. Now, what tends to happen is if the original design had 100 pictures, I would change 20 and that's is all, but that 20 changes the whole tone of the book. I'm choosing pictures for the flow of the book, while photographers are choosing pictures to make sure that everything looks great. And they might not necessarily understand that a book has a rhythm, a breathing pace and a flow.