Publisher’s Spotlight: Dust Collective
This month is all about books on Lenscratch. In order to understand the contemporary photo book landscape, we are interviewing and celebrating significant photography book publishers, large and small, who are elevating photographs on the page through design and unique presentation. We are so grateful for the time and energies these publishers have extended to share their perspectives, missions, and most importantly, their books.
Dust Collective, founded by Emily Sheffer, makes small edition, handmade photography books. The mission of Dust Collective is to support the work of photographic-based artists with a unique book form. Each Dust Collective book is skillfully printed and crafted by hand, showing a close attention to material and detail, and embracing the beauty of the printed image.
Today photographer Kellye Eisworth interviews publisher Emily Sheffer.
Follow Dust Collective on Instagram: @dust.collective
What was the first book you published, and what did you learn from that experience?
Eclipse of the Sun is a book I self-published in 2017. It set the tone for the Dust Collective books to follow. It was my first project using cyanotype, and historical images from the public domain; two methods I still work with today. It also contains a combination of materials, including vellum and Japanese inkjet paper, which adds to a satisfying tactile quality that I strive for in all of my books.
What is your mission as a publisher?
By working with a handmade process, and publishing very small edition sizes, I hope to create a thoughtfully crafted book that enhances photography’s connection to the beauty of the printed object.
How big is your organization?
It’s just me for now, but I’m hoping to expand to have a production assistant in the future.
What are the difficulties that publishers face?
Funding! There are so many brilliant artists, publishers, and designers out there. The real obstacle is figuring out how to pay for everything.
Are there any publishing projects that have been particular meaningful to you?
From Where the Sun Now Stands by Barbara Bosworth. The series of images are imbued with beautiful meaning. They speak of a deep connection to the land, the meaning of home, and the way that history lives with us. The way Barbara rendered the images in negative are hauntingly atmospheric, each with a black sun hanging over the Wyoming landscape. It was an honor to work with Barbara on this book.
What upcoming projects are you excited about?
I’m currently a second year in The University of Hartford Photography MFA. I’ll make a book as part of my final exhibition, and look forward to utilizing the skills I’ve gained by running Dust Collective to help bring my thesis project together.
How many books do you publish a year, and how do you choose which projects to publish? Do you have a specific focus?
I average about three or four books per year. I look for projects that aesthetically fit with the ethos of Dust Collective. I am often drawn to work that is made with alternative techniques, and highlight themes of time, weather, nature, space, and the history of photography.
How can an artist get their work in front of you? Do you have any advice for photographers?
I sometimes have open submissions for books via email, but usually I am connected to artists through word of mouth. Starting out with a project, I like to see a sequence of images in a PDF, and a short piece of writing about the work.
I would encourage any artist to avoid following trends, and instead make work that uniquely feels true to them.
What is the typical timeline of a project, from the beginning to the finished product?
I have about a three to four month turn around. This time includes testing materials, size, sequence and binding techniques. All of the physical properties of the book should enhance the work itself, and not overpower it, so there is a constant push and pull of refining design.
How collaborative is the design process with the artist?
It depends on the project, but I will always get approval and feedback on a design from an artist before deciding on anything final. Most photographers inherently know about paper, scale, sequence, and what’s best for their own work. Often though, as artists, we’ve looked at our own work for so long that it’s a relief to hand it over to a designer in order to get a fresh perspective.
How is the financial side of the project structured between publisher and artist? Does the artist contribute to production cost?
Each book is a bit different, but generally, if an artist contributes money to the project, they receive a percentage of proceeds from each sale of their book. I like to encourage a culture that pays artists for their work, so that’s an important aspect in how I financially structure Dust Collective.
What support do you give artists in terms of marketing or distribution? Do you attend book fairs?
A majority of my sales are made online at dustcollective.net, or at book fairs. I love book fairs, because the audience can actually pick up and feel the material, which is such an important aspect of the work.
Kellye Eisworth is a San Francisco-based artist utilizing the photographic medium to explore themes of memory, pain, vulnerability, and the concepts of innate and constructed identity.
Eisworth has exhibited her work across the country, including First Street Gallery in New York, NY; the MPLS Photo Center in Minneapolis, MN; and The Center for Fine Art Photography in Fort Collins, CO. She has also been featured in several online and print publications, such as Lenscratch, Analog Forever, and Fraction Magazine. Eisworth self-published her first book, PARDON MY CREEP, with collaborator Britland Tracy in 2020.
A Louisiana native, she received her BFA in photography from Louisiana State University in 2012 and an MFA in interdisciplinary media arts at the University of Colorado in 2016. Eisworth currently serves as an editor and managing director at Lenscratch.
Follow Kellye on Instagram: @kellyeeisworth
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