EAST IS EAST
How an East London octogenarian inspired a book publishing business
Hoxton Mini Press, as the name suggests, is a small independent publisher making art books that are as distinctive and diverse as the East London area it aims to celebrate. Started in 2013 by Martin Usborne and Ann Waldvogel, they have has just released their seventh and most ambitious book to date, Makers of East London, that features the stories of various craftspeople working in the neighbourhood – from pointe shoe makers, indigo dyers globe-makers and sign painters to spectacle manufacturers and bell foundries. We took the opportunity to ask them about their own craft…
How did Hoxton Mini Press get started?
Martin: It started with the book about Joseph Markovitch (I’ve Lived in East London for 86½ Years). I met him in Hoxton Square probably eight or nine years ago. I thought he was a good person to photograph because he stood out so much from the hipsters and wannabes in the area. I approached him thinking he was down-and-out or drunk, but of course he wasn’t. He turned out to be the original face of the area, so I thought I should make an on-going project about him and we became friends. I spent the next five years documenting, interviewing him and talking about the area. I then had an exhibition of the work – I’ve always loved beautiful books and I remember wanting to put this story into a book form. I sat up pretty much all night, from five in the afternoon to five in the morning, learning InDesign, putting together a layout for the book and sending it off to a printer. It came back just in time for the exhibition and there was something very satisfying about seeing the story in a book, the physicality of it. I made 750 copies, put it out to local shops and it sold out incredibly quickly. It occurred to me that maybe there’s more stories to tell about East London that can be made into book, and that there were other photographers and writers that can do the same, so gradually organically the company evolved into making books about the area.
Are they particular themes is there a process in the way you select? Or is it fairly intuitive?
Martin: It’s fairly – in fact very – intuitive. It’s visually led stories about East London.
Ann: The tie to the area has been our only firm and fast requirement, but I think it’s more about wanting to publish books and projects that we really love, that we can get behind and that really speak to us.
And after the first book was published, was the realisation that there was a real appetite for this type of book empowering for you? Ann: It’s been really nice to see how wide the market for the books has been as well. They are very local and very niche, but they have a pretty universal appeal and are selling all around the world. It’s not something that I really expected when we started.
Martin: I think it’s fair to say we don’t really know why people are buying the books – is it because it’s a gift or because they like to collect the series? Is it because of the photography or a nice object? Probably it’s all of the above. We do it because we like the idea of making something that feels like a special object, to have and to own and to collect.
In terms of the aesthetics and styles, how has that evolved over the last two years? Did you have quite a clear idea about the layout? Martin: We wanted to bridge an aesthetic somewhere between classical, traditional book design, and do something a little more modern. We like to use quite a restrained design so we’ve put as little as possible on the front cover – we haven’t put a subtitle on any of our covers and we’ve centralised all the text. And on the back we put a single block of text because there’s something about stripping back to the essentials that seems good.
How does the process work with the writers and photographers? Do you work effectively as creative commissioners?
Ann: With Makers of East London it was different to any of the books we’ve done in the past. Before we’ve always published a completed body of work. It’s been a mix between us approaching photographers having seen their series and also us taking submissions. So the smaller books are, now in hindsight, much easier to do than something like this! But with the Maker’s book, Martin and I had the idea for the book in-house and then we approached Katie Treggiden and commissioned her to do the writing and then did the same with the photographer Charlotte Schreiber, so it’s been an entirely different process to what we’ve done in the past.
Do you have a personal favourite?
Martin: I’ve got a real soft spot for Drivers in the 1980s – for me it really encapsulates what we do, which is very local, very niche and quite playful.
And there are some great moustaches!
Ann: And their hair! There are some pretty good jumpers in there as well.
So was Drivers from the photographer Chris Dorley-Brown’s archive?
Martin: Yes, they’d been sitting in a drawer for a while.
Ann: I can’t remember what I was looking for. But I was on Flickr trying to find an image to illustrate something totally separate and Chris has all his photography on Flickr. He really likes to interact with the Flickr community, but he had just a few pictures online. We got in touch with him and apparently he had the film developed but then had stuck it in a drawer and not looked at it for about 25 years. It was quite fun for him, as well, to be revisiting these images.
How about your favourite Ann?
Ann: That’s tough. I think at this point I feel pretty wedded to the Maker’s book because it was a year of our lives that we were working on this.
Do you have a favourite maker?
Ann: I don’t know that I have a favourite but I often say Bellerby & Co, the globemakers, just because I think what they do is so beautiful and intricate.
I had no idea that anyone was out there making globes by hand anymore. But I think what I was struck most by in the research for the project was – by just how many people there are in the area that are making it on their own and doing something that they love; which I think is quite brave and admirable.
I think it was the sheer breadth of the different types of craft that we were able to find.
A ‘hole-and-corner’ lifestyle is one lived on one’s own terms: in solitude; a quiet space of your own. Do you have a hole-and-corner?
Martin: I have a hole-and-corner. My hole-and-corner is 3am, because that for me is a time when there’s nowhere to be and nowhere to go. I have space to create without pressure from it having to be something or be somewhere and that’s I think when I feel most creatively awake.
Makers Of East London is out now in hardback.
Written by Katie Treggiden
Photography by Charlotte Schreiber
Published by Hoxton Mini Press. £30