Publisher Q&A2: Éanna de Fréine of The Velvet Cell

Earlier in the year we finished our "Publisher Q&A" series, featuring 12 short interviews with a range of publishers including Alec Soth, Shane Lavalette, and Jason Fulford on their presses and the state of the publishing market. It was a popular series, and we've decided to go ahead and add another 12 entries to the series with more conversations, including today's Q&A with Éanna de Fréine of The Velvet Cell, a London-based publisher of photography books.

Publication: The Velvet Cell
Location: London, England
Format: originally online, now in print
Type of publication: book

fototazo: What gave you the interest in creating an independent photography book publishing company? Did you know much about the publishing world before launching Velvet Cell?

Éanna de Fréine: I became interested in publishing purely to give a home to urban photography that I felt a strong connection with but yet found it hard to find in shops etc. I wanted to provide a platform for photographers who were interested in such a genre and get their work seen and appreciated. It is also a keen interest of mine and I wanted to create a community of sorts. I am reminded of a quote - "we publish to find comrades" though I can't remember who said it. I had zero experience before and it actually took a long time to get it going. I didn't know where to begin, how to print, design, how to make websites - all of this was completely new to me.

f: How much different has the reality been from your expectations?

ÉdF: It has been very different, but only really because my expectations and desires have shifted as I've progressed. I've found myself wanting to do more and more and often need to look back and remind myself of my initial expectations and how far and well I've done. But I think that's a general life lesson too. 

f: What is your process for deciding what work to publish and with which artists to work?

ÉdF: For me the process has been rather easy. Before going into print I ran The Velvet Cell as an online magazine - just to learn the ropes and there I found a lot of photographers whose work resonated with me through submissions and through Flickr. I have always wanted The Velvet Cell to be about the work and not about Names. When I made the leap into print I had already built up friendships with a number of very talented photographers whose work I had a lot of admiration for. Andres Medina, Sander Meisner, Sandra Croft, Thomas Albdorf were all from the online magazine. I was enthusiastic to work with them again and see the work in print. For me the relationship is very important in selecting a photographer.

f: What has been your biggest highlight so far with the company?

ÉdF: My biggest highlight has probably been publishing Botanica. With no disrespect to digital, it had been an ambition of mine for a long time to do offset and it gave me the confidence I needed to approach a lot of sites and shops that I had been perhaps previously shy to get in touch with. The reception has been great and I am looking forward to doing the next one. It has signalled a new departure for The Velvet Cell. Elsewhere, every time I receive a new book back from the printers and start shipping them out is always a big highlight.

f: What have you learned through the process of establishing The Velvet Cell that you wish you would have known beforehand or that you would pass along to others interested in publishing?

ÉdF: I think what I have learnt, but only recently, is to never hide what you are. It's easy to compare yourself with those more established and try to cover up, but one should simply be proud of their efforts no matter how small the result. I spent a lot of time in awe of those bigger publishing houses but it's important to just drive forward and your efforts will be rewarded. Also, another lesson - everything happens in its own time and you can't will things or force them to happen. Also you can't know everything beforehand; learning from mistakes is part of the process.

f: What are your next steps with The Velvet Cell? Where would you like to be in 5 years?

ÉdF: In five years I'd really like to just be doing more books, offset. I dont want The Velvet Cell to be the next Steidl or Phaidon, just to keep itself ticking over with a nice amount of books a year. If it were to allow me to do that that would be fantastic!