The Mary Bisbee-Beek Mixtape
A number of years ago, Melanie McWhorter from photo-eye books told me I had to meet Mary Bisbee-Beek. Mary lives in Portland, Oregon, so when I was attending Photolucida, I made a plan to meet her for breakfast. That meeting led to an immediate friendship and an incredible ally. Mary has been a guiding force, not only for me, but for numerous photographers and clients, offering wisdom, help, and guidance through the photo book maze. She is a connector and an out-of-the-box thinker, coming up with creative solutions to a whole array of photo book related questions. Mary’s company is READ/SEE: READ for literary books and SEE is the arm that provides services such as publicity and marketing for photo books. She also does consulting for those who are are wondering about who to publish with or why photographers are focused on a particular way of publishing. She has worked for numerous clients including Schilt Publishing; Orion Press; Contrasto; Photo Works, New York, Invictus; Prospecta Press; Magical Thinking, Dewi Lewis, and many individuals.
Currently, Mary is working with photography in the areas of art and social documentary. Her goal is to help photographers strategize about the best format for publishing, including traditional publishing, self-publishing, or hybrid publishing. In addition, she can speak to the best ways to distribute and strategize marketing plans, sales, and publicity outreach.
Mary will be reviewing at Photolucida in April, and I thought it would be timely to shine a light on a very special person.
It gives me great pleasure to present The Mary Bisbee-Beek Mixtape.
Tell us about your growing up and what brought you to photography.
When I was a kid I stared at people, intensely…it was like I was trying to memorize a person’s face or if I could stare at them long enough I’d get some insight about whether they were nice or mean or smart or if they were loved or what their life was like…I really wanted to know, without asking.
I grew up in New York City, and so riding a city bus, or the subway was something that was pretty normal from a very young age. One day when I was about nine or ten I was on the bus by myself and there was a woman sitting across from me…and I was transfixed, I couldn’t take my eyes off of her — when all of a sudden she looked at me hard and said “Whaddya lookin’ at pie-face?”
I didn’t know where to look or what to say…I was horribly embarrassed…I’d been caught! And she frightened the daylights out of me!
Not long after that I found a Kodak Instamatic camera and I started taking pictures of friends and family and then when I was 18 I talked myself into a photo assignment from Bicycling Magazine to cover the World Championship races in Montreal — they gave me the assignment and then I had to find a camera! My boyfriend had a friend that was a photographer and he let me borrow a camera for the summer — it went well because the following year the magazine asked me to cover the World Championships again, this time in Liege, Belgium. I learned a lot from generous people in the press corps at those two events; and then took some classes when I eventually went to college.
What is your title and job description and tell us about a typical day?
I am a book publicist and marketing consultant, and I started my own company in 1992. In 2003, I took a seven-year hiatus to work in-house at the University of Michigan Press and then for a venture capital company called Literary Ventures Fund. In 2010 my husband and I moved back to the West Coast and it seemed like the right time to pick my business back up and so with a name change from Beeksbee Books (1992-2003) to READ/SEE (2010 to Present) I started to work as a sole proprietor once again. My clients have always been a mixture of literary (fiction, creative non-fiction, poetry), art (mostly photography) and some cerebral yet readable academic book publishers and authors. It’s a nice mixture and the books and projects always seem to get along together — really — it’s very rare that projects on the desk clash with each other and having the mixture guarantees that I’ll never be bored. A very important component for me! Which brings us to my day: Rarely is there a typical day there are similar components but hardly ever entirely the same, I’m e-mailing and talking to different people every day, whether they are authors or media people, or booksellers, agents, librarians, curators, bloggers…every day is different, thank goodness!
The similarities is that I’m generally at the desk by 7:30 a.m. every Monday through Friday, unless I’m in another city visiting a client or on a media trip; and I tend to work through the day. A great day is when I don’t have to leave the desk and can consistently run through the to-do list and cross things off. Late afternoon and early evening are for reading and thinking about the next day’s tasks.
What are some of your proudest achievements?
Good reviews and great coverage on NPR for my authors — the pitch that’s worked. Good communication with clients and on-going relationships with clients who look forward to working with me again.
I’m really interested in not only the work from a photographer but in the conversation, the history of the project and finding out what the photographer really wants to come from the review. I’m a champion networker, so I like to help build bridges for people, and if a photographer can tell me what they want I hope that I will know who their next conversation should be with. Some call me a consummate networker…someday I hope that the MacArthur Award committee will find me and give me a grant so I can help people make connections — all day long.
Any advice for photographers coming to a review event?
Be open. Don’t anticipate that the reviewer has all the answers but consider the conversation, ask questions.
What is something unexpected that we don’t know about you?
I am the New York State Cycling Champion for Road Racing (1969).
And since this is a Mixtape, what is your favorite song, band, and do you dance?<strong>
I absolutely dance.
I’m terrible at names of songs and bands, but I pretty much love anything that Roseanne Cash does; a great little community band in Ann Arbor, MI called FUBAR…most of the band were academics by day, except for the drummer…he was our accountant…great tunes for dancing from these folks.
And now Mary takes over:
Working in publishing is not unlike a year round Christmas; there’s always a new book to look at or something great to read. I’m crazy about Jane Hirshfield’s new poetry book called The Beauty everyone should read this book; and Cig Harvey has a new book of photographs coming out any day now, Gardening At Night; a writer by the name of Steven Nightingale has written a wonderful sketch of the history of Granada Spain. Ten years ago I worked on a novel called A Century of November about World War I and a father and son…and life. Books are a terrific way to learn and to escape and for laughter and joy, education and entertainment. One of the greatest gifts is the gift of storytelling and photographers and writers are some of the best storytellers that I know.
I’ve loved being interviewed for Mixed Tape, thanks for asking me.
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