Publisher’s Spotlight: Ice Fog Press
These past weeks have been 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.
ice fog press is an independent publisher of artist books and editions of contemporary photography of the North.
Photographer Macaulay Lerman interviews publisher and artist, Ben Huff.
Follow ice fog press on Instagram: @icefogpress
What was the first book you published, and what did you learn from that experience?
The first Ice Fog Press book was Fairbanks in Winter by my good friend Dennis Witmer. It’s a quiet set of pictures with a poem by John Haines. We off-set printed the book and staple-bound it with an embossed cardstock cover. It’s a wonderful little object. My intent, when I first conceived of Ice Fog Press, was to make handmade books. But, I decided to print this first book offset. In retrospect, I would have liked to have kept with the original plan. I enjoy the process of the newer books. Maybe, one day, I’ll publish a small run of the first two books as handmade objects.
What is your mission as a publisher?
I want to make thoughtful books that add to the conversation of the North in a way that wouldn’t fit a conventional publishing model.
The name, Ice Fog Press, comes from the phenomenon of ice fog that happens in northern climates.When combustion hits extremely cold air it forms a fog, pollution really, that sits at the surface of cities. It’s as beautiful as it is menacing. It’s what happens when man meets nature. I think of photography in the same way. This, Ice Fog Press carries that.
How big is your organization?
I’m a one-man operation.
Although, Eirik Johnson came to Juneau when his book Barrow Cabins was released. We spent a couple of days making the first several books together, had a small opening party at my studio, then fished Coho for a couple of days.
Barbara and her assistant Emily Sheffer (the publisher of Dust Collective) made the special separate special edition books, called Pine. Emily designed them, and she and Barbara made each copy by hand, and even included pine needles from near Barbara’s home in each book. I then include them with The North Woods in my studio. Covid kept Barbara and Emily from coming up when the book was published. I’m still hoping they can get here to spend some time. I like the model of having the artist here to help make the first few copies of their own book and celebrate a bit.
What are the difficulties that publishers face?
I think most publishers would say that distribution is the hardest element of publishing. And, I would agree. Beyond that, I think that my model is so different from conventional publishing that my issues are rather small. I’ve been very fortunate to have a customer base that is really understanding of our long lead times. I’m balancing publishing handmade books with my own artistic practice and travel. It’s a delicate balance.
Are there any publishing projects that have been particularly meaningful to you?
Each project has its own moments of grace. The creative process of sequencing the book with the photographer is the most enjoyable part for me. The art comes in the editing.
With prior books, I’ve known the work pretty well before we’ve started sequencing, and I had some notions of how the work might function on the page. With Barbara Bosworth’s The North Woods, the pictures were completely new to me. I’m a big fan of Barbara’s work, and to work with that newness was profound.
What upcoming projects are you excited about?
I’m in conversation with two photographers about working together on books. But, none of us are in a great hurry, and it would be premature to speak too much about them.
How many books do you publish a year, and how do you choose which projects to publish? Do you have a specific focus?
I’ve only published five books to date with Ice Fog Press. It’s difficult sometimes to manage time with my own work. So, I don’t put much pressure on sticking to a publishing schedule. I want to have the time and energy to do right by the artists I work with, and that means taking things slower than I would sometimes prefer.
How can an artist get their work in front of you? Do you have any advice for photographers?
I receive emails from photographers occasionally, and I try to be as helpful as I can. Honestly, though, there’s a lot more good work out there than I have the ability to support. But, I’m happy to have the conversation.
With my own work I’ve published with more conventional publishers, and I appreciate the issues that exist with a larger operation. I’ve learned a lot over the past ten years, or so, years and I try to be helpful to other photographers when I can.
What is the typical timeline of a project, from the beginning to the finished product?
The project drives the timeline. I’ve been fortunate so far to have good relationships with the artists I’ve published, and we haven’t put great pressure on timelines.
How collaborative is the design process with the artist?
I want the artist to be as involved as they feel comfortable being. My whole reason for starting Ice Fog Press was to have a space for that artist to artist relationship in making something. I work with artists who also make books an important part of their practice, so we already share a language.
I start with notes and emails, then an initial PDF, and then we just revise again and again until we feel like we’re finding the thread of the work. Once the sequence starts to feel right, I’ll make physical prints on pages to get a feel for the scale and cover treatment. Each step we’re checking in together to see how it feels. There’s no real formula. Just work and magic.
How is the financial side of the project structured between publisher and artist? Does the artist contribute to production cost?
I don’t ask for anything from the artist. Because these are all handmade books I can treat them almost like print-on-demand objects. Each book is comprised of inkjet printed pages and printed or embossed covers which I fold and hand sew. Our customers have been really good about the time it takes to get books in the mail sometimes. I try to stay ahead of things, but often if several orders come in at once I’m making books on that day to fulfill some of those orders. This enables me to keep the initial costs down, but they are not inexpensive books to make.
Material costs are high, and shipping paper alone is a big cost. Once production/material costs are met for the entire run, I split the balance with the artist.
What support do you give artists in terms of marketing or distribution? Do you attend book fairs?
I don’t do consignment, but do some retail with outlets that I know will handle the books appropriately. Our books are sold on our website and physically at my studio space here in downtown Juneau. I haven’t attended any book fairs. I plan to, but I’d like to have a few more titles to offer.
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