“SELF-PUBLISHED BOOKS DON’T PUBLISH THEMSELVES” – An interview with publisher/photographer Paul John Nelson

In our third installment of APPA Interviews, Archive Coordinator Sarah Pannell had a chat with Paul John Nelson; editor and photographer, and the man behind independent publisher Editions Ltd. Paul is the Archive’s guest curator for the month of August.

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[PJN – Personal IV]

SP: Ok, first of all, can you tell us a little about your background in design and photography, and your life prior to coming to Australia.

PJN: I studied Graphic Design at Kingston University just outside of  London, but I learnt much more from my peers than what I got from the £30,000 debt I seem to have incurred – as Joe Strummer once said “Without people you’re nothing.”

I think the community side of design and photography was what must have initially attracted me, that feeling of being part of something; and having a space to learn, communicate and articulate ideas about the world. I quickly learned while studying that I wasn’t interested in doing what I was told to do & that I had to find a way of pushing my way into something new that I could construct and learn from.

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[Stay Young Issue 3 detail]

SP: What triggered your interest in self-publishing?
PJN: Back in 2009/10 I started sharing my own photography online and enjoyed the idea of connecting with like-minded individuals on a platform (eg. Flickr/Tumblr) that encouraged and shared those connections. There were a few photographers & publishers that I was inspired by that were putting out really great printed material – such as Fourteen Nineteen, Holy Ghost Zine, Editions FP&CF and Nieves to name a few.

After seeing the documentary Beautiful Losers I had the realisation that anyone could achieve anything they set out to do and if people were into it they’d support it – so toward the end of my degree course my friend Nick (Blakeman) and I put on a photography exhibition and publication called ‘9 til 12’, which we self-funded and organised. I really enjoyed that whole process and the creative freedom of being able to do something that you believed in, or just for the sake of it. After that – I wanted more, but didn’t know what … So I started Stay Young, initially as just another lo-fi zine promoting photographers whose work I loved, and then my friend Alex suggested I start a publishing company to put it out on, so within an hour or two I’d come up with a name, logo and was buying a domain name!

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[Stay Young Issue 4 detail]

SP: Whats the general feeling and idea behind Stay Young? How has it developed and grown over 5 issues?

PJN: Each issue has somehow managed to gain more and more interest which is really great and quite humbling. It went from just being a collection of friends or people on my fairly limited radar at the time, to almost doubling audience and submitters with every issue. (Issue Five had over 520 submission from photographers from all over the world!)

I think with each issue I’ve had a little nagging disappointment with some of the decisions I’ve made – partly due to not finding someone else to bounce ideas off of – so I guess it feels like a constant learning curve and a process of development, trying to to improve each new issue, and learn from the mistakes.

I think that the whole editing process of Stay Young has been really beneficial – I feel as though I’m even able look at my own photographs with more distance and clarity now which I wouldn’t have had if I hadn’t edited and published other people’s work. It doesn’t necessarily mean that my opinion is any more valid than anyone else though, just a different perspective that comes from experience.

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[PJN – Personal VI]

SP: How has living in Melbourne influenced you as not only a publisher, but as a photographer?

PJN: After moving to Melbourne in May, 2013 I didn’t know what to expect. I thought I could squeeze my way into a design internship/junior role, much like I’d been doing in London since graduating, but that didn’t work out as easily as I’d envisioned. So I bottled up my ego, sucked up my pride and just tried to continue doing what I really loved – publishing and taking photographs.

One of the creative directors at a design studio I emailed before moving down under forwarded my email onto one of their designers and fellow photographer; Andrew Johnson (one half of Hillvale); Andrew was kind enough to reply, and said him and his friend Jason were setting up their own independent photo lab. So after a few emails back and forth while they were setting up their space and getting their processor up to scratch, I dropped by for a visit and haven’t left them alone since… What they’re doing seems to be just another extension of the brilliant creative/DIY mentality of a lot of people that I’ve since met in Melbourne! It’s truly inspiring to constantly meet new people that are doing what they love and finding a degree of success and happiness within that.

It’ll be quite a shock when I eventually have to leave to go back to England, but I keep saying I hope that I can take everything I’ve learned and the connections that I’ve made and apply some of those to the UK/Europe creative scene.

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[PJN- Personal VI]

SP: Editions Ltd. is your publishing arm – whats on the horizon for Editions? Do you find yourself focusing in particular on doing 1-on-1 collaborations with other artists?

PJN: During the 2013 Independent Photography Festival I met photographer Luke Byrne and he actually sent me an email not long after about a book proposal that he had in mind along with photographer David Boyson-Cooper. So I was psyched about that as they’re both photographers who’s work I admire, and we’ve been working on pushing that book forward for a little while now.

I’m also fairly close to finishing up the layout for another publication that I’ve been working on with Melbourne based illustrator Evie Cahir. I was already a fan of her work before she’d even emailed me, so I jumped at the chance of collaborating. We’re hoping to have that ready for some final (and very personalised) touches before the year is out.

Aside from those two publications (and countless other new ideas/projects I’ve had) I’ve also been selecting the images and playing around with designs for Stay Young Issue Five which I’m hoping to launch within the next couple of months. There may not be a sixth issue (I did say that after Issue Three though) but I have been playing with the idea of developing the photography zine/publication format and trying to incorporate more depth and maybe focusing on single photographers or projects and themes.

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[Sarah Soquel Morhaim – Year of the Ghost (II) detail, published by Editions Ltd.]

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[PJN- Personal VI]

SP: How does the photography and print scene compare between Australia and England?

PJN: I left the UK as a much more reserved and introverted individual and my participation in the photography/print scene was fairly limited, but when I first got to Melbourne I was constantly making comparisons between the two and was surprised by how open and supportive the creative scene was here. Everyone seems to know everyone else, and everybody is incredibly supportive of other peoples projects.

Australia is such a vast expanse of land, but sometimes it feels like there’s no distance at all and people seem to be making that effort to travel, explore and are very open-minded and forward thinking. Even after some of my own self-doubt I’ve been fortunate enough to have had people around me encouraging me not to give up, which has been really humbling.

I’ve kept my eyes on the UK and Europe though, and have even continued making connections with individuals and publishers back home so I hope that there’s something I can contribute to upon my eventual return and perhaps bridge the international/local gaps.
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[PJN- Jacobs Ladder]

SP: Your series ‘Jacobs Ladder’ is an interesting and personal account of your time in rural Australia; was it hard to adapt to living there after your time spent in Melbourne? Was taking photos a good release for you?
PJN: One of the greatest singular experiences of my time in Australia was the time I spent at Jacob’s Ladder Organic Farm up in New South Wales. I had to complete a compulsory 88 days agricultural work within my initial 12 months to earn a second year working holiday visa and was lucky enough to find this beautifully remote location in the Hunter Valley region.

I had reservations about being isolated in a country I wasn’t familiar with alongside people I didn’t know (this has been a re-occurring theme of my time in Australia) but I managed to make the absolute most out of the experience and found it to be incredibly rewarding. No matter how I describe the experience it always comes out sounding rather cliché, but I did realise in my time there the value and importance of certain aspects of my life and my place within the world as a whole.  

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[Stay Young issue 4 ready to post]

And finally, any favourite recent publications that you have your eye on at the moment that you care to share?
I’ve bought so many new publications and prints etc. since being in Australia that I know I’m going to have to post a box or two back to England before I leave! But alas, here are a few new and old publications that I’m into:

I’m really excited about receiving my copy of Issue Three of Mossless Magazine. It looks really well considered and brilliantly executed.

Also pretty hyped to see the release of Tell Mum Everything Is OK Issue 6 as I was a bit late to the game with TMEIO, but did manage to get a copy of Issue 5 – and it’s really great publication. I love the consistency and poetic simplicity that’s coming out from the French publishers.

I recently seem to find myself constantly looking back at Ed Panar’s website for inspiration. I love his photographs and the publications look seriously high-end! Just check out Golden Palms and Animals That Saw Me. I HAVE to get copies of them, somehow.

Emma Phillips’ Salt – such a beautifully researched project and articulately put together!

Ed Templeton’s new book, Wayward Cognition, is another one I can’t wait for because, well, it’s Ed Templeton.

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[Custom design – Editions Ltd.]

Find out more about Editions Ltd 

See Paul’s personal work here

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