Reading Time: 4 min
Social Impact: At the forefront of the ‘Print’s Not Dead’ movement and a archivist of East London history as co-founder of Hoxton Mini Press.
The words ‘Print Isn’t Dead’ are likely ones that you’ve seen emblazoned on a poster or a magazine, but have a dogged determination in their instance that make them more suited to a banner at the front of a protest or the lips of a politician. The print renaissance has been slowly emerging alongside the riot of the technological revolution for the past few years, attracting the attention of coffee-table-book fanatics and seasoned bibliophiles alike. At the forefront of this quiet protest are the small publishing houses, the mini presses, if you will, that are tenaciously keeping this industry alive as champions of the tactile experience.
One such institution is Hoxton Mini Press, who have become near synonymous with documenting the rich cultural history of the city’s most richly creative community. We met co-founder Martin Usborne to learn more about how Hoxton Mini Press has become the megaphone at the front of the material revolution:
“Hoxton Mini Press was built on something similar [to Paradise Row] a love for the community. I was originally a photographer by trade when I shot the first Hoxton Mini Press book: I’ve Lived In East London for 86½ Years, which is obviously a celebration of the area, but, for me, it was very much a celebration of ‘the physical book’.
In an age of e-books, virtual objects, social media, it’s really quite easy to think that print is dead, but we not only feel it’s the opposite, but now is the time to celebrate the physical object.”
If a book is a celebration, the office for Hoxton Mini Press is a Miami pool party (with table service). The walls are stacked from floor to ceiling with an already impressive back catalogue of just under two years. Cradling coffee cups in our hands, we ask Martin how the Hoxton Mini Press journey began:
“At the time I was a photographer, my wife was working in a gallery. We were both fascinated with artworks and fine art books but not the price point, the way they didn’t communicate well and that they were mostly selling to a closed audience.
We were interested in making affordable hardback books with that same fine art quality.”
So, why East London?
“Hoxton Mini Press actually came out of that project I did with the old man, it was the first book released and, to this day, is still our bestseller. But once that was done, I still felt there were so many photographers in East London: it made sense to tap into that community of artists and make more books. That’s the way I think about it: it’s like you don’t want to buy your tomatoes from South Africa, why not buy your books from the local shop in the same way?”
With projects such as the Portrait of Britain series, An Opinionated Guide To East London, it’s clear Hoxton Mini Press have their finger on the hyperactive pulse of the borough. A different facet of what makes the publishing house so special, and has earned them coveted coffee table spots around East London, is their historical collections.
“The series of books we have with the grey spines are definitely our most iconic: those are the ones that are all about East London. People either come to us to submit the older photographs or we find them online: we’re always on the lookout for new projects.”
With such a passion for documenting the history of an area, we assume that he’s a native of the East London area:
“I’m a native of London, but I’m a North Londoner. I’ve been living in the East since 2000 so: almost twenty years.”
What excites you about East London?
“The thing about East London, and I think that this has always been the case, is that its always been made up of a real mix of people: some are born here, some people move here, some are moving on.”
“In my slightly simplistic way of looking at it, West London has always seemed more polished and refined, but East London has that unpolished and unfinished quality; the idea of a ‘work in progress’. There’s a theory around the world the the east of a city is always the most creative: it tends to be the poorer area with more industries and more ethnic variation. If you look at loads of cities the East is always more creative: Manhattan, East London— there’s just something about East.”
When I ask what direction his photography career was taken, he jumps from his sear and starts to flip through the collosal booksheld behind us, he jokes to us between covers:
“The whole Hoxton Mini Press thing has decimated my photography career! I was working with dog portraits. My favourite work I created was called ‘Where Hunting Dogs Rest’.”
He plucks the hardback copy from the shelf and flips through its pages. Desolate highways, deep wells and anxious eyes stare back at us:
“The project was all about how we treat animals: these are all places that dogs that have been rescued, found or killed. And these are all dogs that in the 17th century were regal hunting dogs, but 200,000 dogs a year are killed and disposed of.”
Is this the next step perhaps for Hoxton Mini Press?
“I definitely want to get back into it, but as a movement, it’s difficult but exciting to know where to go next: we can’t stay in East London, but there’s so much you can do and so many places to go so we’re diversifying soon.”
With reems of pages that more that dwarf the forms of everyone in the office of five, it’s difficult to not discuss the ecological elephant in the room: the role the print industry has to play in the ever-important sustainability conversation. Martin agrees that it’s an important point:
“It’s something I think about all the time: it’s not ecologically perfect to make a book. I don’t have a perfect answer for that, but, for me and for many other , it’s worth documenting the culture, having a book is something very precious.
Is a book totally necessary in a world with so many ‘things’, definitely more than 95% of the things we buy. For me, the book isn’t perfect but what it is is a precious object. Books are no longer just about information and learning; they’re about gifting, collecting, identity, decoration, they’re now much more than their literal content. There’s so much about how they’re made, written and owned that goes beyond anything the virtual object can give.”