Independent publisher Void has made a name for itself as a champion for unorthodox processes. Their team painstakingly produces hand-bound volumes in the form of newspapers and zines and carefully remodels physical projects into online exhibitions. All their work has one thing in common: honesty. Void’s co-founders expand on why that core value ties everything together.
Words by Eleanor Scott
Sylvia Sachini, João Linneu and Myrto Steirou first started Void in Athens, Greece in 2016, having, according to the latter, “no idea of where [they] were headed to”. The three friends come from mixed backgrounds, but what they have always shared is a passion for images and the stories within them.
“We do books for photographers as if we were doing one for ourselves.”
Having met each other while attending photography workshops in Athens and Paris, it’s not surprising that the first iteration of Void was not, in fact, a publishing house, but simply a studio space in Athens in which they hoped to host some small workshops and exhibitions themselves – but they didn’t predict the immense support and popularity of their humble events from the get-go.
“For the opening event, we decided to launch zines of nine young Greek photographers. The response to the zines was astounding and we felt we should give more importance to that. We can say that those zines were the open door to the books we are doing now,” explains Myrto. With that in mind, the trio decided to start a publishing house that now has its own dark, distinctive aesthetic – with risk-taking and supporting emerging talent, alternative processes and self-funded projects becoming core part of their DNA.
And while Void has now also worked with distinguished and acclaimed photographers such as Joan Fontcuberta, Albert Elm and Antoine d’Agata, they still maintain the fresh and guileless approach to photobooks and publishing that makes their work unique. “There’s no learning curve. It is actually a continuous learning straight line up. We learn every day about the business we are in,” explains Myrto. “From accounts and binding to printing and teaching, we are still learning a lot from doing … and this is a very positive thing for us. Such innocence makes Void an exciting experimenting laboratory.”
To say that there is one project that encompasses these core values above all others would be reductive, however, it’s almost impossible to mention the origins of Void without also mentioning their long-running experimental project ‘Hunger’. Inspired by Franz Kafka’s short story ‘A Hunger Artist’, the project began as a series of broadsheet-style publications. Each features the work of four photographers (some they approached and some they discovered through open calls) that Void defines as ‘Hunger Artists’ – those that “don’t choose to do their art but must do it. For themselves. For their passion”. Since November 2018, Hunger has also been available as an online exhibition on PHmuseum.com.
We recently spoke to Void about the importance of honesty not only in your photographic work, but also with yourself as an artist, creator and collaborator.
How did you get to where you are now? How did Void become Void?
Well, what “Void is” is still quite abstract even for ourselves. Though, a big part of what Void is lies in the 3 members’ own identity, taste, and aesthetics. We try to shape Void from our own desires and ambitions. Meaning: if we are doing a workshop, we’d like to do one that we’d like to attend ourselves. We do books for photographers as if we were doing one for ourselves. We’d like this passion to be visible to those who get in contact with Void’s projects.
“Nothing is better than being able to answer: this book is about ‘that’ without doing mental gymnastics.”
What are the elements of a good photobook? How do you decide what to publish?
A unique approach to the subject, a coherent narrative, and honesty. Maybe the last one is the most important to make a good book. Nothing is better than being able to answer: this book is about “that” without doing mental gymnastics. Of course “that” can be a super complex subject. But the artist (and us, as publishers) should be able to answer with honesty. Also, we are mostly approached by the photographers we publish. To trial the projects we are investing in or not, the above-mentioned criteria are used.
How do you work with artists to develop their work into a photobook?
In collaborations, we try to be as open as possible to the artist’s desires. That said, we are extremely opinionative. We are not willing to publish a book that doesn’t have a dialogue with our identity. Our design decisions are driven to create a book that fits perfectly for the specific artist – avoiding formulas and easy tricks. In the end, we want something that is tailor-made to the artist, but still with our clear fingerprint. We regret doing the few projects we gave up too much on this.
Do you have a favourite out of all the works you’ve published?
We are 3 people and we would have to kill each other to come down to one title for this answer. But we could say that the project ’Hunger’ was an important turning point for us. We saw ourselves dealing with this giant project with complex logistics. [We were] excited with the new talents we discovered and glad to be allowed to collaborate with people we admired. Names such as Joan Fontcuberta were kind enough to say “yes” to this weird Void thing that approached them out of nowhere. It was an amazing project for us.
Any advice for photographers wanting to publish a photobook?
It is probably the worst answer ever given to such a question. But at the same time, very obvious: make sure that you actually have a book to be done. Sometimes you just don’t. Not all good photography series’ makes a good book. How will you know? That’s a tough one. But thinking about our earlier mention of honesty, if you feel you can clearly tell yourself what your book is about, without the need of Wittgenstein-level logic, you might be on the right path.