VOID is an independent publishing house founded by three photographers Myrto Steirou, João Linneu and Sylvia Sacchini in 2016. Their focus lies on photobooks and educational programmes done in collaboration with both established and emerging artists. Together, they also run a series of book-making workshops called “Impromptu” through which they share their expertise and vision in the field of photobook making with upcoming talents. Currently, the project is editorially driven by Steirou together with Linneu who is in charge of photobook design.
In conversation with Discarded Magazine, Myrto Steirou reveals VOID’s approach to the medium of photography, the details about their forthcoming titles and advice to photography talents.
Since you are based in Athens, Greece and João in Reykjavík, Iceland, how did the idea of VOID become materialized?
I first met João in Paris in 2016. He was then living in Sao Paulo, and I was living in Athens. A year later we were both in Portugal printing zines in photocopy places in Lisbon. He now lives in Reykjavik, and I am back in Athens.
A state of flux has been part of Void’s identity since the very beginning and so changing places, or long distances have never been a problem for us. I guess we always knew that this was going to be our reality, so we learned to work around it.
Before Covid we used to travel and meet each other in places for festivals or where we were holding workshops, but this feels so far away now. I think I am so used to seeing him on screen that seeing him again in person would be a surprise for me. All that is to say that VOID was never a project bound to a specific place and after almost six years of working together, we have managed to harmoniously coexist and share our ideas in the virtual space – even though that also means that we have put a large amount of money in the pockets of courier companies when exchanging ideas at this distance!
I would say that dark aesthetics and existential bodies of work might be your signature features. How then would you describe your approach to photobook making and what qualities you are looking for in an artist?
It’s very hard to escape ourselves: We are always drawn to dark stories about the human condition. Even though with time we have come to appreciate more subtle bodies of work, the way we started, and our first collaborations have shaped our identity a lot. We are now in a moment where we want to broaden our editorial line and add more colour to our dark palette.
Our approach to photobook making is very intuitive. Our gut is what we trust the most when we are making decisions. We love working with open-minded people that respect our creative input and are willing to “share” their work with us. We always say that from the moment we agree on working on a book together, the artist should be willing to share it with us. From that moment it is also our book.
Twice a year, you launch an open call (COOP) to search for artists with whom you might co-publish a project. This provides an opportunity for emerging artists to get the chance to get their work published as a debut photobook. Why do you think it is important to collaborate with upcoming talents apart from merely going for already established artists?
Debut photo books are something we are very passionate about in VOID. We like this raw energy that an artist’s debut book carries, and we are willing to bet on it, even though most of the time they are not our most commercial projects.
COOP is a project that we thought of doing because we felt we had plenty of creative energy but not always enough funds in order to take on more projects. It’s a model that suits better to people that want to experiment with self-publishing and they are comfortable with the idea of having to “work” for promoting and selling their book. I believe there is nothing more exciting than discovering a new talent or a new body of work you have never seen before. Because we run our own photo book-making workshops, we always run into projects we would like to publish, but there is only a certain amount of work that two people can do.
How much are you involved as a publisher in the process of creating a photobook with an artist?
Whenever we introduce the way we work to an artist, we always make it clear that since we don’t believe we will become rich from making books, at least we would like to create books we believe in. We would never put our logo in an already made book and press print. This is no fun for us. We did it once in the past and probably it is the book, we regret publishing the most.
I believe that the most important thing VOID can offer to an artist is our passion and ideas on how to make the best book possible with what we have. There is no compromise in that.
So, to answer your question, we are involved in every step of making a book. As an editor, I always want to dig into secret drawers and forgotten hard drives in order to make sure I have exhausted any possibilities for a book; and João can work endlessly until he finds the design that best works for each project. We love experimenting with material and sometimes we even make small changes during the day of printing the book if we are not 100% happy with it.
Could you please tell our readers what books can we expect in the coming months and your decisions behind choosing these particular projects?
There are 4 different projects we are expecting in the coming months, all very different from each other but equally exciting. ‘5 Dollars for 3 Minutes’ was photographed in the early 90s when Cammie Toloui was working as a stripper at the Lusty Lady Theater in San Francisco, to fund her photojournalism degree at San Francisco State University. It is a very powerful body of work that was never published before, despite its quality, most probably because people are not used to seeing men standing naked from this side of the camera. When we received an email from Cammie about this work, we couldn’t believe how this had never been published before, even though it was exhibited in places such as the Tate Modern in London, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York, and Camerawork Gallery in San Francisco, amongst others.
‘The Flood’ by Francesco Merlini’ deals with the reminiscence of the disaster that hit Tbilisi in 2015, and it is a deeply enigmatic book full of symbolism. We came across this work through an open call we did with the Italian FotoRoom.
Shortly after the summer, we are also going to receive Naomi Harris’ ‘Haddon Hall’, winner of the 4th edition FUAM Dummy Book Award, and second prize for 10th Kassel Dummy Award. 22 years in the making, Haddon Hall started when Naomi moved into Haddon Hall hotel in Miami to embed herself with the hotel’s residents, becoming their surrogate granddaughter. It is a touching story that has the hotel as its center, a place that was a winter destination for many seniors throughout the 70s and 80s and which is unrecognisable today.
Lastly, we are also working on a very ambitious project, the printed limited edition of the Bleak House e-zines that were curated by Brad Feuerhelm. We couldn’t have been more excited to collaborate with a great list of artists, but this project is also very exciting as an object, as it is going to take us back to the first days of VOID when most of the things that we did were handmade. So, I am happy and a bit scared of the challenge of binding all 12 zines into a run of 20 unique boxes. I think this is going to be a very interesting summer :).
What would be your tips for photographers who would like to turn their projects into a book form?
Find people that you trust to work with, this is probably the most valuable piece of advice I could offer right now. Good chemistry between artist and publisher is the key to a successful book :). We have always believed in collaborations, and we have never regretted it so far. Be serious but not too serious. Making a book should be a fun and creative process, so be prepared to lose control over your work a bit. Letting other people “read” your work can lead to many unexpected paths. And these are the ones we are always looking for.