accessible. Personally, I’ve always been angry about how simple our
cultural understanding of war is. This book is meant to challenge a lot
of those assumptions.”
Although van Agtmael self-published the book, it wasn’t exactly
a DIY project. Production was “a massive collaborative effort” with
designer Yolanda Cuomo, photographer Bonnie Briant, “and dozens of
photographers and writers whom I sought guidance from. The point
wasn’t to work in a vacuum, but to have final say.”
He met Cuomo through her work for Magnum and Aperture, and
says her expertise was indispensable to the project: “She knows all the
publishing houses, the papers, binding, cover textures, stamping and
embossing techniques—in short, everything about the process. I didn’t
know much, but I know what I like.”
To fund production and printing, van Agtmael raised $60,000 by
dipping into his own savings and borrowing from family and friends.
He didn’t attempt to get a bank loan. “I thought it would be too much
of a pain in the ass,” he says. He also decided not to try to raise money
with a Kickstarter campaign because “I didn’t want to get bogged down
with sending out a lot of different rewards.” But in retrospect, he says,
a Kickstarter campaign might be worth the effort because it builds a
following of people with “more of an emotional stake in the process.”
Most of the money went toward printing the book, which had
a print run of 2,000 copies. Van Agtmael says separations, printing
and shipping totaled about $40,000—about $20 per copy. Although
he could have saved money by having the book printed in China,
where printing costs are particularly low, he decided to work with
Graphicom, a Vincenza, Italy-based printer, “because of their deep
experience, fast turnaround, and excellent proofs,” he says.
“I didn’t compromise on anything, which was why the cost-per-book was so high,” he says.
The remaining $20,000 of van Agtmael’s budget went toward
building a website, storage space, travel expenses to Italy to be
on press, and fees for Cuomo and for Andrea Smith, the freelance
publicist hired to promote the book.
“I hired Andrea because she did so brilliantly with Mike Kamber’s
book, Photojournalists on War. She also has a network of contacts that
Magnum and I don’t have,” he says.
He notes that his non-printing expenses may not have been typical,
but because of his business relationships with various providers, “I
was given pretty good rates,” he says, including by the designer.
Disco Night Sept. 11 is being sold through the Red Hook Editions
website, as well as the Magnum Photos Store. At press time, the price
was still at the $45 level.
Emma Phillips’s SALT
When Melbourne, Australia-based photographer Emma Phillips was first thinking of turning her series of minimalist, salt mine landscapes into a book, she spoke to a couple of small publishers.
She had a very specific idea about what she wanted the book to be,
however, “so it seemed easier to work through the process on my
own” and self-publish the book, she told PDN via email. She also felt
it was “difficult” as a young photographer to approach publishers
“who have no idea who you are and convince them that your work is
worth their time and money.”
Phillips says she didn’t think about the cachet, distribution and
marketing a traditional publisher might offer her. “I just tried to make
a book that reflected my vision.” She says she wasn’t even particularly
concerned with whether the book would appeal to anyone beyond the
photography community. “To me the important aspect of creating is to
put something out in the world so that any person may experience and
ABOVE: The front cover and some inside spreads from Emma Phillips’s self-published book, SALT, a collection of her landscape images of salt mines. After researching
different printing processes, Phillips chose to use offset printing and produce 500 copies of the clothbound book.