Café Royal Books is the one-man publishing house of the Briton Craig Atkinson, based in Southport, Great Britain. Craig founded the publishing house back in 2005. His main focus is on documentary photography, often socially critical or political, covering Great Britain and Ireland. Café Royal Books has already published hundreds of books. It’s actually more about magazines, about „zines“, a little smaller than DIN A5, with a few dozen pages and usually without text. Many of the publications show pictures that have not been seen before, the topics are diverse. There are collectors who deal with the publisher’s books and many of the publications are found in well-known libraries and collections. Around 70 volumes are added every year.
When asked what his publisher’s books are all about, Craig replies: „The books need to be affordable – they’re cheaper than a London pint, accessible, useful, utilitarian … They need to matter – they need to function. They’re not ‚just‘ picture books, they do more than that, and as a series they are used so widely as info, research, social history, fashion, film… They need to be simple and straightforward, and as neutral as possible. ”
In the meantime, the publisher also publishes books that deal with other parts of the world, such as New York – and so I ordered three New York volumes as an example, namely:
Bob Watkins: New York City. 1980-2005.
Janette Beckman: New York. 1994-2009.
Douglas Corrance: New York. 1970s-1980s.
All three volumes have a length of 36 pages, which of course doesn’t sound like much, many zines that I know already have significantly more pages, but this short length makes this series something very special: Even more important here than with any other photo book is the „editing“, the selection of images and the sequence of the images. How do I tell a documentary story with a few dozen pictures? How do I create a well-rounded overall idea of my topic? I can only say that the photographers managed to do this exceptionally well in the three copies.
Incidentally, I also find it exciting how the layout is refreshingly variable and convincing in terms of design in view of the limited possibilities of the small format and the limited number of pages: Watkins‘ magazine creates a beautiful frame with white borders, many pictures are drawn over double pages, portrait formats bring variety to the design. The design of Corrances‘ color photographs is similar: the white borders ensure uniformity of the design, some pages have – cleverly chosen – two landscape formats on one page. Beckman’s magazine is even more variable in terms of design: the square images are interrupted to the edge by full-page portrait formats or double-sided landscape formats. And in order to use the space sensibly, the back of the book is also part of the book design of all three volumes.
All three volumes have in common that there is no text in the book – I think that is also part of the basic principle of the magazines. The only text can be found on the title – author, book title, publisher’s notes. That leaves me a bit torn: I would love to find out about the background, the history of creation, details about the author, classification of the individual images, etc. with one or the other magazine, but well, that’s exactly what has to be taken into account when editing: The pictures have to speak for themselves.
The print and the paper is cheap but still very beautiful, of course it’s not an expensive print, you can see it from time to time, but I don’t really care, I know what I get for £ 6.50.
Of the three volumes that I ordered, Bob Watkins‘ “New York City. 1980-2005“ is most convincing photographically (but the other two are definitely worth it too!): Watkins delves deep into New York street life, he is close, the pictures show a narrative unity, you can literally smell the dirt of the New York streets of the 80s, the pictures show how rough the city was back then, homelessness, old-age poverty. Nevertheless, I think there is a small flaw in the “Café Royal Books” system: The New York of 2005 is completely different from that of 1980. And so at least a classification of the year would have done well.
In any case, I have become a big fan of this small, fine book publisher and I hope many other readers too – are threatened with collecting madness when it comes to this wonderful publisher’s offer. And here are a number of issues that should interest the reader:
Yan Morvan — London Subculture Punk & Protest 1979–1981
Martin Shakeshaft — The Miners’ Strike 1984–1985
Roger Taylor — Petticoat Lane London 1966
Syd Shelton — The Battle of Lewisham August 13th 1977
Andrew Moore — The Troubles. Belfast 1980s–1990s
Graham MacIndoe — Ballinasloe Horse Fair 1988
Hugh Hood — Glasgow Streets
Colin McPherson — Berlin After the Wall 1992–1994
Janine Wiedel — Iran 1976