Wednesday 9 March 2016

GUEST POST: From Books to Printed Matter (A brief history of Highchair Editions by Edward Newton)

With the recent boom in self and small scale independent publishing, the book has, in many ways, taken centre stage in the world of photography. Everyone wants to publish a book! I, of course, was no different when I started Highchair Editions in 2011. It was set up with my brother as a self publishing imprint for our personal self initiated projects.

From the outset we made in our minds a clear distinction that we were making artist books rather than large volume trade editions.  There were a number of reasons that led us to print small editions. Firstly it was financial, followed very closely by what we felt was something of a creative restriction of producing something in volume as well as the unknown landscape of distribution and audience. As things began we were blind to many of the nuts and bolts of the process, we just wanted to print something.

At the start we were also led by the choice of printing technique. Inkjet printing for some is still something of a dirty word. Very few people seem to want to make direct reference to it. For us the process allowed us to find our book making feet so to speak in the fact that it offered us complete in house control over the production from making the early dummies to the finished publication. It also allowed us the opportunity, through a lot of trial and error, to print on a huge number of different non inkjet specific paper stocks. By doing so we were able to eliminate a huge number of options and discover a few real surprises.

Our first happy accident was to print on sugar paper, also known as construction paper and used today mainly in primary school art classes.  Its rough surface has a beautiful tactile quality which really lent itself to the work we were printing.  It’s rough but has stability and at 140gsm meant we could book stitch bind it and more significantly it printed well, holding black particularly well.

On the other end of the paper scale was a GF Smith paper stock Accent smooth, an off-white ‘smart’ paper with a significantly smoother surface than we had used before. It offered elegance in both presentation and print for a series of abstract, tonally subtle images.

We continued to experiment with paper options and moved towards using coloured stocks, albeit in shades of light brown, culminating in ‘The Light Was Rust’. This particular publication features work made in the Italian city of Palermo and uses a light straw coloured stock in two weights for cover and bulk. The shade and texture of the paper lend themselves to the tone and texture of the city itself, and, much like the place itself was an attempt to marry certain elegance with an informality and roughness.

My attitude to design and what constitutes a book has changed quite significantly in the five years of Highchair Editions, in fact we may now consider our productions as printed matter rather than books! A small but significant shift in attitude and approach has led to a variety of formats being produced, the main driving force being the aim to design specifically around the work and not have a one size fits all approach. We have always wanted to start from scratch each time we begin a project, and, in some ways react against the last one. With ‘This time next year’ we used a salvaged wall paper for the front cover, it was a book made up primarily of domestic scenes from around the house so the material lent itself towards feelings of the home. However it was also very pretty and as a reaction led us to make ‘Trampolines and Bouncy’ castles, an ugly book made up of ugly images!


More recently, any experimentation has been in format as much as with materials. ‘nothing at the moment’ is something of a follow up to the earlier mentioned This time next year’ and continues to explore the home and domestic scenes. The finished publication is part portfolio, part book, and is made simply of seven sheets folded and then housed in a small band, it is content driven, 14 photographs, no text.

It was stripping back the process to the bare bones, thinking about what the key components are and very much an attitude of less is more, an idea that culminated with ‘Unknown’. 


As something of an antidote to the white space of ‘nothing at the moment’ and ‘unknown’ we made ‘FORZA’.  The work, made in the Italian city of Genoa, covers every surface of the publication, a publication that functions as part concertina book and part poster. It’s loosely bound with elastic to fold out to reveal a larger image and can be read as individual pictures or a complete set. The format is simply two sheets of paper that fold down, with the smaller sheet functioning as a cover of sorts. It was made with the specific city in mind, in that it is compact with little space but if you begin to look it will reveal itself to you.

So as we continue to develop the practice of self publishing many of our original ideas and aims remain, in fact, very little has changed in terms of attitude and intention, this despite some changes in the landscape as a whole.  We’ll continue to pursue our own ideas and focus on image based content presented in the most suitable and hopefully interesting way as possible.

Edward Newton
(Highchair Editions)

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