Pierre Bessard – Photographer & Publisher

Pierre Bessard, copyright 2011 Douglas Stockdale

I first became aware of the Parisian photographer, Pierre Bessard, when I had the opportunity to review his photobook, Wuhan Boiler Company Workers, an intriguing industrial landscape photobook sponsored by a Chinese company, Wuhan Boiler Company Workers. I will have to admit, I was initially very skeptical about a “company book”, but it turns out that Pierre had the artistic freedom to investigate this industrial space in China. Subsequent to that review on my next trip into Paris, we decided that we meet, which we have now managed to do on several occasions, and in the process discovering that Bessard has authored two other photobooks with a third in progress; currently in print are Behind China’s Growth published by timezone 8 and Journal de Chine published by Editions Glenat. As I became to know him as an excellent chef, a wine connoisseur with a wonderful cave that great bottles keep appearing from, a photographer, photographic print and photobook collector, and I also discovered that he was starting his own photographic book publishing company.

So during last month’s visit to Paris, I had the opportunity to discuss with Bessard about his new publishing house, Editions Bessard. We very quickly launch into the trials and tribulations of photobook publishing as he was preparing to launch his first title, the Australian photographer Max Pam’s Ramadan in Yemen, now due to be out later this year.

Bessard Editions, similar to many of the small publishing houses, is utilizing printers and binders in China. Unlike many others, Bessard probably has a better understanding of the Chinese publishing infrastructure, as he, his wife and two sons relocated and lived in Beijing for two years. Bessard documenting their experiences utilizing a photo-a-day intent, resulting in his personal account Journal de Chine. So suffice to say that Bessard is not a novice in Chinese printing organizations, yet he still encountered issues with his production of Pam’s Ramadan in Yemen.

As part of the background story, Bessard is focusing his publication house on providing luxury photobooks, incorporating four-color printing, even for black and white photographs, nice linen covers supported by sturdy sewn binding and encased in matching linen clamshell, with embossed printing. Thus, while printing in China to control costs, he was still seeking out the best printers that China had to offer. Bessard had selected a printer specifically due to the presence of one of the most talented pressmen that he had met while in China. There is a lot of tweaking on a press to ensure that when the ink finally dries, you have the intended results, if all goes well.

Even so, one of the issues with printing in China when you are not present on press and providing oversight for your press run, the results may not come out as expected. What Bessard had not expected was that his selected pressman would not be available for the printing of Ramadan in Yemen.

Even with the pre-production proofs in hand, enough of the interior photographs did not meet the contrast and printing quality for either Bessard or Pam. The book’s binding was perfect, the matching clamshell an excellent match, but the printing was dismissal. I had the opportunity to look at the proofs and compare them to the matching printed interior photographs. Indeed when the subject is already enveloped in dark shadows and low contrast situations, muddy printing made the image results much worse. So I found myself understanding why Bessard now has many copies of his first book in a French warehouse, while having the book re-printed again, and ensuring that his selected pressman will be present.

Thus Bessard’s has encountered the trials and tribulations of a photobook publisher, while he has yet to formally launch his first photobook. Nevertheless, the very good-natured Bessard always seems to be upbeat and in good spirits, even in the face of this kind of frustrating (and expensive) adversity.

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