Café Royal Books

  • Text   Rachel Speed

Text: Rachel Speed
Curation: Craig Atkinson

“I wanted a way of exhibiting work more widely and without the constraints of a gallery” says Café Royal Books founder Craig Atkinson. Café Royal Books started ten years ago, it’s “something in between zines, photobooks, artist books, and info pamphlets” and published independently each week in the North West of England.

Rhyl Caravan Parks — Stephen Clarke Cafe Royal Books PYLOT Magazine 02

daniel_meadows_welfare_state_international Cafe Royal Books PYLOT Magazine 05

The books focus on ‘aspects of change’ from 1970s forward, across the UK and beyond. I asked Craig why it was so important to him to preserve these stories: “A few reasons. I wasn’t around when some of this was shot. I think ‘important’ is subjective – interesting fits better, for me at least, because I’m seeing things that pre-date me! They can also be used as a learning tool. The books collect the work that galleries in the UK missed, mainly due to it not being ‘fine art’. One of my main reasons though, I suppose is philanthropic. The majority of these pictures are sitting in boxes with no purpose, no viewers, and it’s important they get seen. Galleries, museums, and libraries collect the books, which allow more people to see.”

Colin Thomas — Dog Days Ceredigion Cafe Royal Books PYLOT Magazine 04

The content for each book is sourced through submissions and “chasing artists and photographers”. Of the more than 200 archives Craig’s produced, I ask if he could pick a favourite: “My favourites are the archive boxes of 100 books. I can never choose single books really, and if I didn’t like the work I wouldn’t publish it. Café Royal Books is just me, so I can only publish work I like. Self-indulgent maybe, but I need to enjoy what I do.”

Cafe Royal Books PYLOT Magazine 01

Craig is also the author for certain archives. When I asked him where he gets his inspiration he said: “I like wandering and I enjoy new places, of which I have little knowledge. I take pictures to make sense of things quite often, which is why I draw too. When you become familiar with something or somewhere, you miss things – exploring something for the first or second time is often the best. I really like work about a thing, a place, or situation.”

David Levenson — Slightly Unusual Cafe Royal Books PYLOT Magazine 06

Café Royal Books has been praised as ‘making new history’ and ‘the most important supporter of British photography’; Martin Parr said it was “a great archive of much forgotten documentary”. I wondered how such praise impacts Craig: “It’s great that people like what I do. I do it for me, I make books of pictures that I like, and collectively the books do have weight I think. So comments like that are good, and encouraging. Sometimes you stop and wonder why you’re doing something, so they give you reassurance.”

John Darwell — Kearsley Power Station Cafe Royal Books PYLOT Magazine 07

The future of Café Royal Books? “Who knows?!” remarks Craig. “Although I’m starting to publish drawing again, which is how I started. I love publishing photography so that will go unchanged, but I need to work with drawing too.”

Café Royal Books are stocked worldwide, and can be purchased online here

Images courtesy of Craig Atkinson, Café Royal Books