NAME Brian Griffin
JOB Portrait & Commercial Photographer
WEBSITE Brian Griffin
PROJECT Black Country Dada
“When I left home at 18 to go to college in Manchester, I said to my Mum, ‘I’m going to be more famous than David Bailey.’ It didn’t work out that way.”
If you bought a Depeche Mode record in the 80’s and 90’s, chances are that Brian Griffin shot the cover, as well as dozens of other iconic album covers. In a career stretching more than four decades, Brian’s been recognised with awards that range from Life’s photographer of the decade, to best photobook of the decade.
Brian’s just launched his self-published autobiography at the Format Festival, Brian talks about the joy of total control, the financial pressures of going it alone, and why his self published zines are still selling 40 years later.
“In what seemed like five minutes the sky changed and the sun broke through. Quickly we took a Polaroid, looked at it and almost fainted with shock and delight. We were witnessing an incredible image that would become one of the greatest colour images ever captured by a camera.”
Over the course of his career, Homer Sykes has published more than a dozen photobooks of documentary photography, as well as 30 zines with Cafe Royale Books. He also ran a small press, Mansion Editions, to publish his own work.
How different was writing an autobiography rather than working on a photobook?
The autobiography was a massive task, it took me a year to write it for a start because I’m not a writer. It was hard to try and be my own editor, to decide what to use and to make all the sort of decisions you have to make when making a book. Then I had to decide on all the images because there are 200 or 300 photographs in the book. The design was done by The Cafeteria, in Sheffield, and it was their expertise that got me through that and the editing of the book.
So it was a massive undertaking, you could multiple making a photobook by 3 or 4 times. And then I had to raise all the money.
Have you self published before?
My first self published book was Brian Griffin Copyright 1978. It was a thin, stapled affair and I printed 500 copies but at the time it didn’t sell and I’ve still got a lot of them at home. But over the last 10 years it’s started to sell quite well at lectures or talks, or via my website, I sign them and send them out.
Then in 1988 I published Work, which is now a very famous book but at the time didn’t make a splash. I printed 1000 hard back copies which had a record inside, and 3000 softback copies. And because I was doing a lot of commercial photography back then I could afford to spend something like £30,000 on it, I dread to think what that would be today. We had a big launch event with several hundred people, and we sold just one copy. A single copy.
Personal Work Journal features photography projects & photobooks from around the world.
Why do you keep doing it, what motivates you to get your work out there in book form?
You don’t do it to make a lot of money, that’s for sure. For example this book is a 216 page hard back book, all produced from analogue photographs and it took a year to write, plus all the costs of the designers and printers. I could only afford to make 750 copies and by the time you’ve paid for everything there’s very little left in it.
What’s the attraction to self publishing?
You’re so fulfilled when you receive the first copy, when you open the box and you smell the paper and the ink. You can feel all the energy that you put into it. You just feel incredible.
And secondly, for the new one it feels incredible to have ever written it, I’m not a writer but I’ve written 40 50,000 words in this book, that’s almost as much as a a novel. And I did everything on the book apart from design it. It feels like a legacy. Taking a great photograph is the best feeling of all but this comes pretty a close second.
Have you been shooting new projects? What are you working on
I’ve been doing a lot of fashion in the last few years. All I ever wanted to do was to be be a fashion photographer, which is a is really weird thing to admit. When I was 18 I left home to go go to college in Manchester in 1969, I said to my mother, I’m going to be more famous than David Bailey. It didn’t work out that way and I became a business photograper. But gradually I’ve been getting into fashion, I’ve been shooting it on and off for most of my career but not full time.