Publisher’s Spotlight: ‘cademy Books
This past year we have been focusing on books on Lenscratch. In order to understand the contemporary photobook 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.
Built from a basement which no longer exists, the ‘cademy is an independent publisher focusing on photographic based books made in small editions. Maintaining a DIY ethos, we emphasize collaboration as a practice and provide a platform for self advocacy to and give a home to work that lacks one. ‘cademy is a labor of love founded by Shao-Feng Hsu, Nick Sansone, and Fernando Zelaya in 2019/2020.
The first publication under the name of ‘cademy was a set of three books released in 2021, each contribution made by the three founders: “Coastal Access” by Shao-Feng Hsu, “Riding On Air” by Nick Sansone, and “The Candle Burns Faster Every Year” by Fernando Zelaya. We knew fairly early on that we wanted to extend this platform to other artists, so through that process we treated ourselves as a test run and learned the logistics of running a publisher (how to have books printed/production process, setting up a website, working on promotional material, distribution, etc.).
What is your mission as a publisher?
As a publisher we focus on emphasizing collaboration as a practice and operating with a DIY mentality. We started this thing to put out our own work under our own terms, without external approval, and self-publishing eliminates the need to adhere to the preferences and requirements of traditional publishers. As artists, we understand that putting out work in this way can be daunting to do by yourself, so it’s important for us to provide support to others creatively and financially. More than anything though, we just want to have fun doing something we love.
How big is your organization?
The team consists of three people: Nick Sansone, Shao-Feng Hsu, and Fernando Zelaya.
What are the difficulties that publishers face?
Money is the boring answer, but a very real one. Time becomes an obstacle, too. The ‘cademy is a ‘built by artists for artists’ kind of deal, so managing schedules and organizing deadlines is especially important and at times can be challenging. We manage to make it work through a ton of Zoom meetings and PDF sharing.
Are there any publishing projects that have been particularly meaningful to you?
In 2020, during the pandemic/lockdown period, we began conversations for what would eventually become ‘cademy as you see it today. We formed this originally as a way to stay busy and make new work but grew into us publishing those things we worked on for real so the inaugural set published in 2021 is incredibly special to us. That then enabled us to expand the platform and we published books by Val Schnack, Poala Martinez Fiterre, and Cheney Orr in 2022, which was our first time publishing other artists’ work. This past May we released “Relaciones & Relatos” by Alex Morel, a friend and mentor figure, which for those reasons was a meaningful and rewarding experience. The most gratifying part of doing this is the opportunity to work with people we love and see their work come to life.
What upcoming projects are you excited about?
We’ve got some plans but are too preliminary to share just yet.
How many books do you publish a year, and how do you choose which projects to publish? Do you have a specific focus?
As of now we publish 2-3 books a year. The operation is small, so we try not to bite off more than we can chew. There isn’t a specific set of criteria we’re adhering to at the moment but there is a loose focus on ‘personal stories.
How can an artist get their work in front of you? Do you have any advice for photographers?
The email on our website would be the best way to reach us, but since we’re a small team we sadly can’t reach back out to everyone. Make stuff. Print your pictures out and lay them out on the floor or a table. Throw together book dummies. Put out a zine in an edition of 15 just for fun. Spend time in bookstores. Watch movies, read books, listen to records. Have fun.
What is the typical timeline of a project, from the beginning to the finished product?
Timelines have stayed around 5-6 months for each of the things we’ve worked on. That half year or so we spend working on the books tends to be pretty intensive. After initial conversations and receiving image files from the artists, we hold biweekly meetings, usually via Zoom, where we work on piecing together a sequence. After we get a general structure to the sequence of images we begin to play around with design elements such as image size and cover in PDFs and then move to the production period where we review paper samples and printing.
How collaborative is the design process with the artist?
Our process is incredibly collaborative from beginning to end. We work together as a unit on the sequence, design and production of each publication. Every step of the way we have extensive conversations with the artists about the book; what their vision is and how we can elevate, expand on, and achieve it.
How is the financial side of the project structured between publisher and artist? Does the artist contribute to production cost?
We don’t ask the artist to put up anything financially and provide the artist with 20 copies of their publications when they’re released. We don’t believe in pay to play.
What support do you give artists in terms of marketing or distribution? Do you attend book fairs?
We sell books directly through our website, have participated in a handful of book fairs over the last two years and have our books stocked at Printed Matter. We’re constantly growing our network and looking for new ways to get artists the visibility they deserve.
Is there anything else you want to tell us about? Feel free to add anything here…
We’ve had a lot of support from friends through the years, but we definitely want to give a shout out to: Nelson Chan who was generous with his knowledge and expertise which helped lay the foundation for the ‘cademy in the early days; Craig Mathis over at Printed Matter who’s been a big supporter of the press and has stocked every title since launch.
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