With this interview we are inaugurating a series of talks with workers in the sector - booksellers, event and exhibition curators, picture editors and critics. We intend to widen the perspective on contemporary photography through their work, too, in addition to that of professional photographers.
MiCamera is amongst the largest bookshops specialised in photography in Italy. Based in Milan, its shelves accomodate both new, second-hand, out of print and collectors’ books.
Because of our interest in the photography publishing industry, we at Phom have interviewed the founders and managers of this bookstore, Giulia Zorzi and Flavio Franzoni.
What’s the meaning of being specialised in photography today?
Today’s editorial panorama is a great deal more varied and differentiated than in the past. Such high-to-medium-end brands as Steidl, Aperture, Schirmer-Mosel and Twin Palms that have always fulfilled the needs of enthusiasts now run along with dozens of small editors who publish just a bunch of high-quality books a year. Not to mention the crucial relevance of a few other phenomena: e.g. the maze of self-productions, the revival of old titles fueled by such projects as Martin Parr and Gerry Badger’s Photobooks (photo-books that illustrate other photo-books), and - last but not least - the irrepressible interest for collecting rare editions.
I believe that today’s difficulty (which is simultaneously a big opportunity) lies is in managing to follow this ferment - and to translate it into a good selection for the audience.
At times it turns out to be a team-work where it’s clients who make recommendations and ask for titles, upon discovering them through blogs or lists of some sort. Actually, I think that’s how I’ve come across the most incredible books.
Where does your interest originate from?
From the passion for art, photography, books, travels, cinema, music and trout fishing…. Actually I came up with the idea of MiCamera right after a day of fishing in Val Trebbia around 12 years ago.
Could you describe the photo-books market? What did it use to be like and what’s it like today?
Going back to the my initial point, the Internet is the authentic revolution that has allowed the international audience to get to know smaller realities. Today there are a number of possibilities related to photo-books, ranging from specialized festivals like Offprint, Kassel and Fotoleggendo to dozens of variably eloquent blogs and forums of the likes of The Photobook, Broken Spine or Self Publish Be Happy...
In addition to that, we offer a large series of “physical” sectoral libraries representing different countries. That is to say, there’s no longer room for excuse and both authors and editors are required much higher standards of attention to the products’ quality: the once more patient market is now unforgiving. Right now it’s impossible not to find a book that is at least interesting on MiCamera’s tables.
We known you well for your attention to self-production techniques. What’s the future of photo-books in your opinion?
The increasing awareness and culture of the book as an object and the undeniable, pressing reality of digital volumes will inevitably lead to a compromise - which may result in the establishment of more and more exclusive editions. Simply think of the fact that a number of books by well-established authors sell an average of 1,000 copies - which may go down to 200 or fewer in some cases.
In addition to your work as booksellers, you’re also involved in exhibition activities, you run workshops and you’re particularly keen on emerging artists. How do you tie these initiatives one to the other?
Everything is absolutely interconnected. All topics intersecate and chase one another. Exhibitions are increasingly connected with projects formerly appeared on books, and oftentimes we’ll translate an emerging artist’s project into a book.
Workshops often deal with the editorial and photo-books world. For instance, Andrea Alessio (the author of the exhibition we’ve just opened and of the book published by Nazraeli Press) reached MiCamera through a workshop with Jessica Backhaus. What really matters is to never stop seeking and getting to know a good author.
You also keep a section for rare editions. Could you tell us what makes the collection of photo-books tick in Italy and abroad?
The reasons behind collecting are well-known. No matter if it’s about collecting books or stamps: the desire to own things is unstoppable. In recent years, photo-books have been gaining more and more attention by appearing in auctions, exhibitions and specialised books that push people to invest on little treasures. This interest has always been quite high abroad, whereas it’s probably commencing in Italy just now.
According to your personal experience, what’s the photo-book market like outside of Italy?
There are high-quality editors, lots of industrious authors, specialised festivals, editorial spaces at events and fairs... There’s a lot going on...
You are based in Milan. What’s the city’s response to your initiatives?
I suppose it’s a positive one. Considering we don’t have many terms of comparison, it’s not an easy answer to give, though. However, there is a strong participation to our initiatives - and we are getting more and more well-known abroad.
What do you see for MiCamera’s future?
We’re very focused on the present and the immediate future. We have just celebrated our tenth anniversary. We’re leaving for Paris/Offprint in two days to present Andrea Alessio’s book Before You, Santa Claus, Life was like a Moonless Night and Lorenzo Tricoli's Support Your Locals - plus a string of other authors. Support Your Locals will be displayed in Lucca the following week (we’re currently finished the video for it). At the end of November we’ll participate to SPRINT! here in Milan and then we’ll curate an anthology of Italian photography for a renowned editor. Simultaneously we’ll continue on with our association and bookshop’s activities - exhibitions, meetings and workshops. Hence we’ll be quite busy for sure! As for the rest, we shall see.