Sipke Visser On Doggies And Indie Publishing

Recently we crowd-funded our new book Pop-Up City: City-Making in a Fluid World, that will be published in May this year. One of the rewards we offered to backers of the Kickstarter campaign was a special interview on this blog. This post is the second in a special series that features some of the generous people that helped us make the book happen.

Sipke Visser is a fine art photographer working and living in London. He just published his second book called Doggies about the London’s dog subculture, which he crowd-funded at Kickstarter. His first book Return to Sender was recently shortlisted for the internationally acclaimed Aperture First Photobook Award. We talked to him about dogs, independent publishing and his ambitions as a photographer.

'Doggies' by Sipke Visser

How did you come up with the idea of publishing a photo book about dog shows?
“When walking in my neighborhood I saw a sign advertising a dog event. I’m always curious about these kind of niche activities, and decided to take a look. The event seemed to be very interesting. I like dogs and I like people. This is what the dog event is about; what happens when dogs and people are together. The events featured in the book are all about the passion of the dog owners for their breed. They’re very enthusiastic, which inspires me. Dog owners have a stand at the event to advertise their breed. Visitors come in to see and hug the pets. After this first acquaintance I found out that these events are also very interesting from a photographic point of view. I started to visit them more often while bringing my camera. Altogether I visited four of them for the book.”

You’re living in London, how does the city inspires you in the way you approach your work?
“My first book (Return to Sender ed.) is about things that I came across while living in London. So In that sense the city is a huge source of inspiration. But when I would have lived somewhere in the countryside I would have got my inspiration from there. What I see and what crosses my path is what makes up my work.”

'Doggies' by Sipke Visser 'Doggies' by Sipke Visser 'Doggies' by Sipke Visser

Why did you choose to crowd-fund Doggies and how did it work out?
“Besides a good way to get a project funded, crowd funding is also a great way to reach out to both the people that already follow my work, and to new people. This worked out pretty well. It’s not only about money. Also the personal contacts that I got out of the campaign mean a lot to me. One guy for instance backed the project for a thousand pounds. For this pledge he receives all the pictures that are in the book in a fine-art print. I didn’t know him before. It’s nice to hear about the story’s that evolve from my work. This close connection with people that buy my work feels really good.

But it must be said: running a crowd-funding campaign is a hard job too, it requires 24/7 attention and goes with ups and downs. One of the downs was my effort to reach out to the dog-lovin’ community in Britain. I sent out over a hundred emails to dog clubs to ask if they would share my project on their Facebook pages. But I didn’t get a single reaction, which was disappointing.”

'Return to Sender' by Sipke Visser 'Return to Sender' by Sipke Visser

Your book is independently published. How was that experience?
“The best thing about publishing a book independently is that it really becomes your book. You’re the one in charge and you can make it the way you want it to be. I did however have great help from the designers of Kummer & Herrman, who did an excellent job in designing both Return to Sender and Doggies. In general publishers can’t mean much for starting authors like me. There are so many photo books, and their focus will always be on the more famous photographers. On the other hand I had to do all the distribution myself, which means a lot of extra work.

A big share of the sales is via my own website. Besides that I reach out to as many specialized bookstores as I can, both in the UK and internationally. Most stores will probably order only a couple of copies. But now that I’m publishing my second book I can rely on the network that I built up with the first book. Since I was shortlisted for the Aperture First Photobook Award, with Return to Sender, the interest in the book is growing, also internationally.”

'Return to Sender' by Sipke Visser 'Return to Sender' by Sipke Visser

What is Return to Sender about?
“For about three years I picked addresses randomly from Google Maps. I sent to those addresses a handwritten letter and a photograph I had taken over the past years. All in all I sent out 500 letters, all over the United Kingdom and some to the US. Return to Sender documents both the pictures, the letters as well as the reactions came forth from this exercise. The reactions were completely different from one another. I received grateful as well as emotional or even angry letters in return. One picture I received back torn to pieces, but also a friendships developed from the project. It’s all documented in a 512 page hardcover book.”

Do you have any plans for a new book?
“Another project that I’m currently working on is about airplanes flying above London. In the end they’re just metal boxes full of people. I always wonder where they’re going and what the stories are of the people inside. That might just be my next book. We’ll see….”