Interview: French publisher Chose Commune


You have two founders, Cécile Poimboeuf-Koizumi and Vasantha Yogananthan. Please introduce yourself to us respectively.

Cécile Poimboeuf-Koizumi was born in Paris, France, in 1987. Her experience overseas where she was raised instilled in her a strong interest for foreign cultures. Before starting Chose Commune, her vocation to support creation was heightened through various experiences in galleries, agencies and private companies.

Vasantha Yogananthan was born in Grenoble, France in 1985. His photographic practice addresses the space between documentary and fiction. His projects are developed over long periods of time and he only works analog. He is represented by The Photographers’ Gallery Print Sales (London, UK), Espace JB (Geneva, Switzerland) and Jhaveri Contemporary (Mumbai, India).


How did you start Chose Commune? Why did you choose this name?

We started Chose Commune as Vasantha was looking to publish his first series Piémanson. There was interest from several publishers but all were asking for personal funding. As we had a very precise idea of how we wanted to make the book, we thought we might as well publish it ourselves. From the start, we had the desire to publish other photographers and this is why we founded Chose Commune rather than just self-publish Vasantha’s work. Chose Commune comes from a latin expression which designates common good, that is to say something that belongs to everyone. For example, the air, the water, the sea, they are all common good. For us, the metaphor behind the choice of Chose Commune was that books shouldn’t be something you own but something that you pass along over time. Something that everyone can see and have.


Chose Commune was founded in 2014, but you haven’t published so many books. Why?

Since 2014, we have published 12 books. It may not look like a lot but we spend a lot of time on each book, from 3 to 12 months depending on the projects. For us, making a book is a very important statement. We don’t want to rush things and we want to be 100% sure that the work should exist as a book. We work on the edit and sequencing for a few weeks, put everything on a wall and let it rest there for a few more weeks before making changes, talking with the artist and designer, brainstorm again until we are all satisfied with the end result. It’s a long process that requires a lot of energy and dedication.


The long-term project “A Myth of Two Souls” by Vasantha Yogananthan is so exciting! There will be 7 books published from 2016 to 2020. Vasantha, could you please tell us about your inspirations of the project and why did you make your creation in India?

I first started shooting for “A Myth of Two Souls” in 2013. I made a few researches after completing my first project “Piémanson” as I was keen to engage on another long-term project. I was familiar with The Ramayana, from which I take inspiration for “A Myth of Two Souls” but it was not until I read it again that I knew I wanted to work on a contemporary retelling of this epic tale. I am particularly interested in The Ramayana’s philosophy. To me, The Ramayana is about love, loss, family, honor, success and failure – things we all experience in our life, no matter your beliefs or religion.


Vasantha, in your opinion, compared with exhibition, which characteristics make a book so unique? How will you consider the presentation as a book for photography?

The book form has been central to my work since the beginning. The series first existed as books, not exhibitions. I will start showing the whole series in two solo shows next year (Musée de l’Elysée, Switzerland and Chanel Nexus Hall, Japan) but up to now, it has been all about storytelling throughout a series of books. I think what makes it special is that the book format allows for a lot of experimentation and it has actually been a good practice for the upcoming shows. For books purposes, you can decide to crop some photographs, enlarge them, transform them for a cover too. But mainly, I think the editing and sequencing are the keys of powerful book making.


Your two new books, Halfstory Halflife and Behind the Glass are very cool, in whatever the project itself or its layout. Please tell us about the production of the two books.

The process of making Halfstory Halflife and Behind the Glass were completely different. 

For Halfstory Halflife, we got in touch with Raymond Meeks in 2016 and visited him in the USA in 2017. Once he knew what series he wanted to publish with us, we proceeded in a traditional way, sending sequencing proposals back and forth until the book was ready. The most challenging was the cover as we had to do a few try-outs before reaching the final result. Making Behind the Glass was very different in the sense that after approaching the author Alexandra Catiere, we had this idea of mixing different series from the past 15 years. We had to find a way to present the work in an imaginative way as the material was so different: from portraits to still life, mixed with photograms. The layout of this book was a nightmare, we spent almost a year working on it and had to make 6 dummies before knowing it would work production-wise.


In addition, I also particularly like Katrin Koenning and Sarker Protick‘s photobook Astres Noirs. It is full of dreams. It looks like a trip to space.

We noticed that a lot of people are drawn to both Behind the Glass and Astres Noirs. It happens often at fairs that customers would buy the two at the same time! It’s interesting for us because although the projects are completely different and the type of images too, we do think the two books relate in the sense that there was a strong editorial curation that made them the way they are.


Vasantha, you are a photographer and a publisher. When you choose your collaborating photographer, did the choice reflect your preference, in a way? I mean, will you choose them by your eyes from a photographer or a publisher?

I often get asked if I’m conflicted as a photographer and publisher. I don’t think it’s a problem for me as they are two separate things. When I judge a work, I have the point of view of the publisher. It would be too reductive and self-centered to only be interested in the works I feel a connection to as a photographer.


Did you have difference opinions in book production?

We never did! Of course there can be heated conversation as we’re both passionate about what we do, but we always agree. We often joke that if we’re put in two separate rooms and get asked to make a selection among hundreds of photographs, we will end up choosing the same.


Please introduce us the photobook publishing environment in France.

The photobook publishing environment has evolved in the past few years in France, probably in the same way as everywhere else. When we started Chose Commune back in 2014 there was huge interest in photobooks. We then noticed a slight decline but things seem to be quite good again, at least there’s a lot of initiative: new bookshops, small independent fairs...And also a handful of interesting publishers that emerged over the last few years.


Besides photobook publishing, what other practices will you involve with?

Vasantha is a full-time photographer, publishing is something he does on the side. He’s obviously very much involved in making his own books but for the other artists, he’s mostly there at the beginning of the projects as we always do the art direction together (who we want to publish and how). But on a daily basis, it’s Cécile who runs the publishing house. 


As a French publisher, you published book for Shoji Ueda. Why did you put your interest in Asia? Did you ever have attention on Chinese photographers?

We’ve always been very much interested in what’s happening on an international scale. So far, we’ve published photographers from a lot of different countries: Australia, Bangladesh, Japan, USA, Brazil, Russia...We wouldn’t say we have a stronger interest in Asia on a creative level but surely on a personal one as Vasantha’s father is from Sri Lanka and Cécile’s mother is from Japan and she also grew up mostly in Asia. But yes, we’re also looking at the Chinese photography scene and we feel there’s a lot of exciting things going on. We wouldn’t mind receiving more submissions from China but we also feel you have publishers doing a great job there!

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