Publisher’s Spotlight: Peanut Press
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.
Why another publisher in a world of “make your own book” publishers? Why another book publisher when you can simply upload photos onto a website and have instant photo books printed to order? Well, here’s the deal. We have no interest in making photo books just to turn a profit and stay afloat. We don’t want to make books that look pretty good. We are not selling our services. We don’t want to be in the “book publishing” business.
What we want to do, and are going to do, is make great books. We are going to make books for the right reasons. We are going to partner with great photographers to make the book they will love, that we will love, that exists for one purpose. Not to make money, though we hope it will, but to produce a beautiful and precious treasure that will put photographs first. The work comes first at Peanut Press, or we won’t get involved.
Today photographer Daniel George interviews photographers and publishers Ashly Stohl and David Carol.
Follow Peanut Press Books on Instagram: @peanut_press_books
What was the first book you published, and what did you learn from that experience?
Ashly: The first book we published was Charth Vader, and it was my first book as a photographer. I had this project about my son, and wanted to turn it into a book. I knew what I wanted it to look like, and didn’t want to lose control of the design process, so I asked David to help me self publish. He agreed, and we had a blast making the book.
I learned so much from the experience of publishing Charth Vader, but the most important lesson from that experience is that it should be fun. From then on we decided to help our friends with their books, in the hopes that they would have fun and love the finished product.
What is your mission as a publisher?
David: Our mission is to make great photography books for photographers that they can be proud of.
How big is your organization?
Ashly: Our organization consists of two people, David and me, but our extended family is so much larger. Our printer, Meridian Printing, is definitely a big part of what we do. We also have a network of amazing friends that help us get things done, from shipping to mocking up product images.
David: And of course our copy editor Max Carol and our Chief Distribution Officer Deirdre Lightfood are key contributors to the Peanut organization!
What are the difficulties that publishers face?
David: We don’t have that many difficulties, it’s mostly just fun. Probably the pandemic has been the biggest difficulty. It has slowed everything down and prevented meeting photographers in person. But other than that it’s been fun and rewarding. At this point in my life I really wouldn’t be doing any of this if it wasn’t a great experience.
Are there any publishing projects that have been particularly meaningful to you?
Ashly: They’re all meaningful! Of course Charth Vader means a lot to me, as it was my first book, and the book that started this company!
David: Being a part of the creation of a photographer’s first book is profoundly meaningful to me. Ashly and I have discussed this and we both feel honored that photographers put their trust in us.
What upcoming projects are you excited about?
David: Taking a trip to take pictures someplace that’s not the Northeast or Southern California!! We shall see where… But if you mean regarding Peanut Press we don’t do anything that we aren’t excited to do. I don’t want to commit 6-12 months to a project that’s not exciting.
How many books do you publish a year, and how do you choose which projects to publish? Do you have a specific focus?
David: We publish exactly the correct amount of books every year. Never too few and never too many. We are stickin to the “just right” philosophy of publishing.
Ashly: We do what we want, that’s our motto. Some years we have published two books, and last year we published nine books. This year we are publishing eight books! Every year is different. To choose projects, here are the criteria: Do we love the work? Is there a market for the work? Can we get through the project and stay friends with the photographer. It’s so important that the photographer trusts us enough to let us do what we do best. It’s really important that we feel like we can get through the project and remain friends with the photographer at the end. We also need to love the work. Both of us have veto power, because we both need to be on board.
How can an artist get their work in front of you? Do you have any advice for photographers?
David: That’s a great question. And I’ll be totally honest. If the photographer doesn’t already know me or Ashly it would really help them to know one of our friends. We only make a handful of books each year so it’s tough to get seen. However, we published Brian Day this year who Ashly had seen on Facebook. She showed me his work. I loved it!! We both have to love the work. So we contacted him. That’s not the norm but it happened this year. Another point I should make is that we ONLY want to see your photographs. We have no real interest in a pre-designed book. Personally I just want to see a group of photographs. If the photos are something we want to publish then we are open to discuss more. But show me 20-30 photos first. That’s all I need.
What is the typical timeline of a project, from the beginning to the finished product?
Ashly: There is a lot to making a book! David and I have different roles in the process, but we consult with each other constantly. We decide on the work to publish together, then he takes on the job of editing and sequencing. At the same time, I’m working with the photographer on a design that will tie together the intention of the book. We work together with the photographer on pre-press, so the images will be printed in the way that they want. Then we all go on press, which is exhausting! Some time after that, a truck shows up with books to sell. The process typically takes 6-9 months, but can take more or less time depending on what’s going on.
How collaborative is the design process with the artist?
Ashly: Setting the intention of the book is very collaborative between the photographer, David and me. We want to understand the mood that the work is trying to convey, and this is supported by the edit, the sequence, the writing, and the design. I really want to understand the photographer’s intention behind the work, and surprisingly, not all photographers know what that is as they’re going into the book making process. Sometimes design is also group therapy.
How is the financial side of the project structured between publisher and artist? Does the artist contribute to production cost?
David: We wanted to find a way that a photographer could get a high quality book designed, edited, sequenced and printed in the United States with no cost to them. In 2020 we started a new series we call Peanut Portfolios. We do not charge the photographer any money for their books and in fact we compensate the photographer for allowing us to make their work into a book. The 2020 series sold well enough to allow us to make eight more books for the 2021 series of Peanut Portfolios. We want to support photographers and with the Peanut Portfolios we can make beautiful books without cost to the photographers. A Win-Win for all involved!!
What support do you give artists in terms of marketing or distribution? Do you attend book fairs?
Ashly: We have attended book fairs, and we use our social media network to promote. Peanut Press has an audience of photographers and book collectors that are interested in the work we publish and know the quality of our books. That said, one interesting thing that we have found is that the best person to promote the book is the photographer themselves. Each photographer has their own network of fans, family and friends, and that is the audience that is most receptive to their work. In addition, getting the word out through articles, talks and book signings do a great job of boosting book sales.
Ashly Stohl is a photographer based in Los Angeles and New York, and co-founder and Publisher of Peanut Press, an independent photobook publisher. She earned a BS in Chemistry from UCSB, then returned to Los Angeles to put her science education to use, creating award-winning educational websites for NASA’s Mars Program Office.
Her first monograph, Charth Vader was published in 2015, was met with worldwide press and quickly went viral, with the trade edition selling out in two weeks. From this experience, Ashly co-founded Peanut Press, publishing fine photography books.
On the heels of her successful solo show, Days & Years, at Leica New York Soho, Ashly has released her second book of the same name. In addition, she has launched The Days & Years Project, a platform to promote the work of fine art photographers who photograph their children.
In addition to photography, Ashly is an award-winning photo book designer, contest judge and reviewer. She has reviewed at Center Santa Fe, the Palm Springs Photo Festival and Photo Plus in New York. She has lectured and given workshops on her own work at institutions such as Leica Akademie, The Lucie Foundation, The School of Visual Arts, The BYU Art Museum, The Penumbra Foundation, Columbia University, George Washington University, and the SPE National Conference.
David J. Carol is a photographer, writer, curator, editor, teacher, lecturer and publisher. He attended the School of Visual Arts and The New School for Social Research where he studied under Lisette Model. He was the first assignment photographer for The Image Bank photo agency (now part of Getty Images) at the age of 26. He recently retired after 25 years as the Director of Photography at Outfront Media (formerly CBS Outdoor) to co-found Peanut Press Books, a publisher of fine photography books.
He loves giving photographers a platform to share and discuss their work with the photographic community. He is able to do this as a contributing writer to Rangefinder Magazine and PDN as well as doing portfolio reviews at venues such as The Palm Springs Photo Festival, PhotoPlus Expo in New York, ASMP Fine Art, APA, Flashpoint Boston, Filter Photo Festival in Chicago, Slow Exposures Festival in Georgia, The Center for Fine Art Photography in Colorado and The Savannah College of Art and Design.
David is the author of four monographs, 40 Miles of Bad Road…, All My Lies Are True…, This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things! and his latest book, NO PLAN B. He also recently completed a trilogy of books, Where’s the Monkey?, Here’s the Deal! and All My Pictures Look the Same with Cafe Royal Books, London.
David’s other work experiences include editing and sequencing photo books, curating photo shows, and judging contests at magazines and universities, including the prestigious PDN Photo Annual since 2003. He has also given lectures/workshops on his own work and photography in general at SCAD, SVA, ASMP, photo-eye gallery, The Center for Alternative Photography: Penumbra Foundation, Out of Chicago Festival, PhotoPlus Expo, Filter Photo Festival, SlowExposure Festival and The Center for Fine Art Photography.
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