It’s the end of the first week of the Advent Calendar and so far we’ve seen, coming out from behind the doors, some great photobooks that have been highlights for our team this year. Today, Joe Conway chooses a publisher, rather than a single book, in Cafe Royal Books.
I first encountered Café Royal after treating myself to one of their books during a series of talks at the Cheltenham Literature festival in 2013. The publication was made up of images from a found roll of 35mm film, on which were skiing holiday snaps from an unknown family. The book was entitled “Someone Else’s Skiing Holiday”. It was a simple idea, which produced an incredibly interesting outcome. This told me all I needed to know about Craig Atkinson’s solo publishing venture, whose uncomplicated and consistently designed books are a gateway to a huge variety of nuanced and socially important photographic projects. As a general rule the books are “laid out to a grid system, usually 28 pages in length, slightly under A5 size, originally but no longer hand numbered, predominantly black & white and affordably printed”, with an identical colophon on the front of each which has become iconic of Café Royal.
Run solely by Craig in the North West of England, Café Royal has been publishing its iconic black and white works since 2005, with a focus on documenting social, historical and architectural change. So far Craig has published a staggering 200 books and zines and the importance of this singular effort has been rightfully recognised with books being held in public collections including Tate Britain, the V&A and MOMA, New York,. The collection is eclectic, working with archive material as well as original series by photographers, prompting Martin Parr to describe Café Royal as “a great archive of much forgotten documentary photography”. Ever prolific, Craig has been releasing a book roughly once a week in 2014, meaning that a detailed look at his recent releases is beyond the scope of this review, instead we’ll have a look at our recent favourites and leave you to head over to their website to explore for yourself.
Spectators by David Walker looks at people looking. More specifically these images portray fans of different sporting endeavours as they themselves spectate the events. The sports range from Thai Boxing, to Football at Old Trafford, from Power Boat Racing, to Show Jumping and take place at venues across England. With scenes of kids watching Bike Racing and a fantastic portrait of an older gentleman with his betting slip at the Greyhound racing, the book feels like a celebration of the breadth of supporters whom sport as a whole has brought together.
Berlin 09.11.89 by Justin Leighton is a perfect example of the black and white documentary content that suits Café Royals style so well. Leighton’s black and white imagery presents a satisfying narrative of this pivotal point of European history and Café Royal provides the perfect context. It is books like this that make Café Royal the great archive that Parr mentioned.
“All My Pictures Look the Same” by David J Carol provides a much more enigmatic take on street photography. Equal parts intriguing and humorous, the book showcases a unique take on life through through Carol’s photographic eye. The quirky but skilled way the images have been executed means that somehow they come together as a solid group, and seem to feed off each other to become greater than the sum of its parts.
Café Royal Books are available for £7.00 and you can usually catch Craig at any good Photobook market!