Interview by Douglas Stockdale •
Kris Graves: Born and resides in Queens, New York
Introduction: I had an opportunity to very briefly meet Kris Graves during the last L.A. Art Book Fair, along with Aline Smithson who was completing a book signing (Los Angeles) from the Kris Graves Project Lost II series. Regretfully Graves was way too busy selling books. Knowing that we had an opportunity to meet up again when we were both Portfolio Reviewers for LACP’s Exposure Weekend in Marina del Rey, California in September, I recognized that this would be a great opportunity to spend more time to learn about him and his Indie publishing imprint.
Kris Graves portrait, above, by Kris Graves
Douglas Stockdale (DS) Kris, tell us about your background growing up and what brought you to photography and eventually to book making?
Kris Graves (KG): My parents met at an art-focused high school in Midtown Manhattan, at a time where there were not many careers in the visual arts. I pondered all of the subjects taught in school and art class was easily my favorite, and photography was magic to me. I also thought it would give me career options. I attended S.U.N.Y. Purchase College, which was an excellent experience and grew to love and understand a bit about photography. Afterwards, I started renting gallery spaces for group shows, which turned into me running a gallery with my cousin for a few years. During that time, I became interested in book-making as an art practice. It’s one of the only ways to keep artwork democratic. I wanted to make books that were limited but affordable.
DS: What do you envision for Kris Grave Projects as a publisher for the next five years? Do you accept unsolicited submissions from artists/photographers or do you monitor what is being exhibited to selectively approach a photographer about a project?
KG: We take submissions and are consistently looking at new work we see in exhibitions, online and through our homies. I choose most of the artists we collaborate with, some are chosen by jurors. The world is changing fast. We plan around a year in advance, with our eye on the second year. This year, we produced 28 (book) projects and next year it looks like half of that. If wonderful people keep supporting the projects, I will keep producing them.
Kris Graves, Portfolio Review, Los Angeles Center of Photography, September 2019 (photo: Douglas Stockdale)
DS: You now have a new venture in Long Island City that you just launched in August; an exhibition space and book store; what do you visualize for this space? Did you also have a prior gallery space in the DUMBO area of Brooklyn from 2009 thru 2011? How will this new space differ and why did you leave Brooklyn in 2011?
KG: My cousin and I ran a gallery in DUMBO from 2009 through early 2011. We left Brooklyn because running a commercial gallery is tedious and expensive, and not fun-filled. My new space is a book viewing room and event space, mainly open by appointment. We also run a small solo show program. It’s way more chill.
Kris Grave, The Artist
DS: How does photography and publishing support each other, and how are they at odds with each other?
KG: I think they are reliant on each other. No magazine or “non-computer image” art book would exist without photography. Personally, being a publisher has opened many doors for me and the artists we collaborate with. It has been very helpful in my own personal art career. Meeting people is imperative in our business and showing off our projects is a great way to do that.
DS: What goes into decisions regarding size of edition as to the size of potential audience?
KG: For better or worse, we don’t often participate in external marketing. Our main goals are to show our projects at a multitude of book fairs and sell directly to the collectors and institutions. The size of our editions is based on the number of books I think we can sell within two years. These days, we are finding our number between 250 and 500 copies.
Kris Graves, The Murder of Michael Brown
DS: If you could have one publisher’s wish fulfilled, what would it be? And what else would you be wishing for in the future?
KG: I would love to sell out of the books before they are released. How cool would that be!?!? Realistically, I just want the world to keep appreciating photo books. We have such a wonderful community of hard-working people.
DS: Do you have advice for photographers thinking about creating a photobook?
KG: Knowing the cost of making a book is important, you can base a lot of decisions around that. I would go to any bookstore with photo books, take note of each book you like, find the colophon, and see what printer made the book. Find out if the company still exists and ask them for a quote of your book specs on that same paper. A lot of publishers ask artists for money to help create the projects. If you do research, you will have a better understanding of what you find worthful.
You can get 100 copies of a 64-page, perfect-bound softcover, digital offset book for under $15 per copy. $1600 with shipping. If you sell the book for $25, you will pay for the project by selling 65 books and you will have 35 that you can sell for profit or give to collectors, museums, galleries, or libraries. When done properly, it’s a great business card.
In no particular order, here are some questions to ponder. Do you need a publisher? Why? What do you want to come from your book? Do you want to be distributed around the world? Is that important to you? Do you want to focus on selling your book to museums and libraries? How many copies of your own book can you sell? How much money does that add up to? Can you find the funding to make your own book? Have you laid out the work in a thought-provoking way? Is a book the best format for your project? Is it important to make money with your book?
I’m starting to ramble….
Aline Smithson, Los Angeles, published by Kris Graves Projects, Lost II series
DS: What are some of your proudest achievements?
KG: Graduating from university, getting married to my love, and being able to survive by surrounding myself with photography.
Kris Graves, Gentrification
DS: What is something unexpected that we don’t know about you?
KG: Kris Graves is not my legal name. I didn’t attend grad school. I photograph art collections for a living.
DS: Any last thoughts as we close?
KG: Hmmm…. We have an open call live on our website right now, check it out. And stay tuned, there will be a lot of big news throughout 2020.
DS: Kris, thank you for the opportunity to discuss your interesting photography work and how it relates to your book publishing.
KG: Thanks for the love. I do it for the people.
Kris Graves, Gregory
Bio: Kris Graves (b. 1982 New York, NY) is a photographer and publisher based in New York and London. He received his BFA in Visual Arts from S.U.N.Y. Purchase College and has been published and exhibited globally, including the National Portrait Gallery in London, England; Aperture Gallery, New York; University of Arizona, Tucson; Blue Sky Gallery in Portland, Oregon; and Brooklyn Museum, New York; among others. Permanent collections include the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Brooklyn Museum, New York; The Wedge Collection, Toronto; and Bryn Mawr College, Pennsylvania.
+KGP collaborates with artists to create limited edition publications and archival prints, focusing on contemporary photography and works on paper. We focus our publishing efforts on stories that empower the long forgotten and underrepresented. These stories deal with issues of race, policy, social awareness, feminism, culture, and wealth. Our goal is to make books and prints affordable to every level of collector.
Gallery Representation: Sasha Wolf Projects https://sashawolf.com/
Kris Graves Projects (website): https://www.krisgravesprojects.com