The Short Version
The Velvet Cell is an independent photobook publisher with a specific focus on projects that explore urbanism, architecture and our modern way of living in cities. It was established in London in 2011. We work with photographers to support the publication and promotion of their work.
The Velvet Cell is based in Berlin, Germany. It was formerly based in London (2011-2012), Taipei (2013-2014) and Osaka (2015-2017).
To date we have published over 60 books, with a blend between up and coming photographers and seasoned experts such as Peter Bialobrzeski, Toshio Shibata, Greg Girard and Alexander Gronsky. I work closely with each artist and usually design the books myself.
When I’m not publishing new books, I’m writing about urban projects I like on my bi-weekly Transmission newsletter.
I also run The IndiePhotobooks Newsletter – a weekly newsletter that connects indie publishers with fans, shops and collectors. More info here.
In 2017 I also wrote the Indie Photobook Publishing Guide, aimed at teaching others all I have learnt in my years of book publishing. It’s free and you can read it here.
The Long Version
Since an early age, I was passionate about architecture, photography and books. As I got older, and started living in big cities such as London, Taipei and Osaka, I realised just how much we have become an urban species. According to the UN, over 50% of us now live in urban areas, with that figure expected to rise to 70% by 2050.
For me, this is a never ending source of wonder, and it brings to the fore many questions. Are cities our natural habitat? Do they represent progression or regression? What do our cities, created by us, say about us as people?
It seemed to make sense to try and combine my three passions into a publishing house.
The Velvet Cell exists to publish noteworthy photography projects exploring the social landscapes of the built environment in book form. Our purpose is to champion photography as a sociological and anthropological tool with which we can explore the modern world in detail.
We work with photographers and writers to create a platform for those who share these values.
We take pride in publishing intimate books with a vision, and working with both established and unknown photographers who have something worth saying. What began as a side project quickly grew into something far bigger than just selling photobooks, but the mission has always remained the same.
Back in 2009, at 21 years of age, I moved from Dublin to London. In the process I became fascinated with photography, living in a big city, and the reality of this modern world we have created for ourselves.
A year later, while searching in vain for photobooks that explored our modern world, I had a vision. What if I created a platform for myself and other photographers also interested in architecture, urbanism and modernity?
My idea gathered momentum as I discovered other small presses and realised that I didn’t need to be a Thames & Hudson or Taschen necessarily to fulfil my vision.
In 2014, we published the first book in the City Diary Series, Cairo Diary, with Two-Time World Press Photo Winner Peter Bialobrzeski.
How it Started:
The Velvet Cell didn’t start out with a formal business plan. On the contrary, I had no experience ever trying to sell something.
When I set out to begin The Velvet Cell I had no experience in publishing, photography or design. I learnt all from scratch, from one publication to the next. I even learnt code to host my first website (before the days of WordPress and Squarespace!). It was a humbling experience with many mistakes made along the way.After a year of publishing The Velvet Cell as an online magazine to a very small group of online readers, I published my first zine in 2011, in an edition of 40 copies. The sales of this zine funded the next, and the next, and the next, until here we are today, over 50 publications later.
A One-Man Publishing House without an Office:
Though I dream of having a small team one day to help grow The Velvet Cell, to date it was always been a one-man team, comprised by Éanna de Fréine. The Velvet Cell has no office, rather it is run from my laptop wherever I am in the world.
I have been lucky enough to live in London, Taipei, Osaka and Berlin over the past 7 years and run The Velvet Cell from my laptop at the same time.
The Velvet Cell is also a platform for me to self-publish my own works, such as Tales from Beneath the Arches, published in 2017.
Deciding to Stop or Keep Going:
There have been many highs and lows, but ultimately my love for a beautiful projects in print that make me think about the world in a new way, has kept me coming back to publishing.
Without doubt, my favourite part of The Velvet Cell has been the amazing photographers that I have worked. I have been fortunate enough too to work with many of the photographers whose work inspired me in the early days of The Velvet Cell, such as Peter Bialobrzeski, Alexander Gronsky, Toshio Shibata, Greg Girard, Alejandro Cartagena, Isidro Ramírez and Sander Meisner.
Helping to bring their visions to the world in book form is hugely fulfilling and it is deeply satisfying to see their books being met such great responses.
The Values of The Velvet Cell:
The Velvet Cell has never been a normal publishing house, in my opinion. We are theme-focused, not artist-focused. Our priority is to publish thought-provoking, beautiful, photography projects that lead the viewer to question our modern world and our place in it.With this in mind, our values can be surmised as:
1. Focus on the Mission. The rest will take care of itself.
2. Quality before Stature. We are committed to putting the quality of our projects first, no matter the reputation of the photographer. We are not interested in building a publishing house of unrelated projects by well-known photographers. The mission comes first.
3. Images Belong in Print. We believe there is no substitution for printed images, and there is no better way to present a cohesive photography project than in book form.
4. Keep it Simple. We don’t do overdesign!
5. Keep it Fresh. Each project should bring something new to the table.
6. Organic Growth. We are committed to growth that is a reflection of how we are valued by our fans.
7. Transparency. We commit to regularly sharing our process and decisions through our Journal and social media. We remain accessible and responsive to feedback and questions.
8. Connectedness. We want to build bridges between our audience and our photographers, so that we can each learn from another.
Mountains and Waters, our second book by Alexander Gronsky, was one of our bestsellers in 2016.
Sharing my Knowledge:
As a one-man team, there are only so many projects I can handle in a year. Thus, I am constantly having to turn away projects that I find very interesting. This pains me, but in today’s day and age, there is no reason why those projects cannot be realised through self-publishing.
Thus, since 2016, I have set out to share everything that I have learnt through publishing through our sister platform, IndiePhotobooks, so that it can empower and inspire others to self-publish their own books. My dream is that it can be a community of self-publishers dedicated to publishing beautiful, meaningful, photobooks.