Oi Polloi

Interview: Craig Atkinson of Café Royal Books

Published: Tue Jun 18 2013

Southport has got a lot going for it. Not only is it home to some of the best beaches in the North West and arguably some of the best donuts in the Northern Hemisphere, it’s also the proud home of Café Royal Books. Founded all the way back in 2006, Café Royal make black and white (and very occasionally colour) photography and illustration ‘zines on such varying subjects as Scottish landscapes, black-faced morris dancers and Preston Bus Station. Seeing as they’ve been firing out ‘zines left right and centre in the last few months I thought I’d chase down head honcho Craig Atkinson for a quick chat in cyber-space.

First of all, how’s it going?
Good, thanks. Just eaten a hidden chilli so trying to be calm.

What got you into making books?
I started to make them as a way of exhibiting. Very briefly, I used to paint but decided to ‘give up’ and try to work around the gallery system. Books became the perfect space, easy to disseminate, collectible, affordable…

As well as publishing your own stuff, you put out a lot of other people’s work. Are these people you’ve found or do they come to you?
A mixture of both. In a very self-indulgent way, I make the books I’d like to collect.

Even with all the different artists involved, there’s a strong look that runs through all the Café Royal books. Is this a conscious decision or is it just a coincidence that all the people you work with make high-contrast, black and white images?
The images sent to me are only ever edited by the artist. Some are high contrast and some otherwise. The print process adds a little to the blacks.

Image from Monoliths, Sculptures, Fun and Death by John Claridge

Café Royal is firing on all cylinders at the moment, with a few new books coming out every week. How do you manage to put out so much stuff?
Yes it’s really busy at the moment. Too busy in some ways. I used to publish 15 titles a year. Recently it’s been two a week which is too much alongside lecturing, my own practice and family. I’m slowing to one a week and might go to one a fortnight. There’s just so much great work but I think I need to rest more!

What books have you got in the pipeline?
Several by John Claridge, Homer Sykes and myself. Joni Sternbach, Luke Overin, Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert, Phil Maxwell… Most look at Britain, or change in Britain. Joni’s takes a similar view but of a place in New York.

Image from Someone Else’s Skiing Holiday by Craig Atkinson

For the last few years you’ve been doing a series of books made up of photos you’ve found. Where are you finding all these gems?
I look all over for them. A few people know I’m after them so keep them back for me but it’s so infrequent that there are any images left on the film. Now digital is getting more popular it’s even rarer.

You’ve also been documenting Preston bus station for a few years now. To some people this might sound a little dull, so what is it about this building that interests you?
Well it’s a weird one. It’s just a place that people pass through, so there’s a constant change. The building is a classic example of Brutalism and Modernist design. It’s a vast place and I think it’s that vastness, and the people that attract me to it. They’re getting funny about people taking photos in there so I tend to avoid it now which is a shame. Plenty of other places though! I’ll have more books on the subject out soon, probably another four in total.

Image from Preston Bus Station: Lost and Found by Craig Atkinson

New ‘zines are cropping up all the time and self-publishing fairs are busier than ever. Why do you reckon this is?
Because it’s easy to print some stuff and staple it together I guess. People come and go, they try it and do it for a bit and move on which is fair enough. There aren’t that many really well considered and finished publications about, in this context at least.

Seeing as we’re a clothes shop, let’s round this off with something clothing related. What was the best item of clothing you’ve ever owned?
Ha, random question. I like simplicity in all aspects of life — clothing included, so I don’t really have a best. I just wear Clarks Originals, 501s, polo shirt, Japanese / French work coats. I’d happily buy a few of the same thing and wear the same each day!

For more on Cafe Royal Books, head over to their homepage here