Café Royal Books, Publishing Gems of the Golden Age of British Documentary Photography

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When I and my then partner had control of the book-buying budget for an Australian  university art school where we studied and then taught some years ago, I kept a particular eye out for what I termed “project books”, that is, photo books dealing with a specific topic, theme or project over a short period of time.

I theorized that project books might be good learning tools for our students in the absence of photography exhibitions of any sort in that city’s galleries, a way of gaining insight into how photographers think, see and work.

Few such books actually turned up and most photo books that passed over our desks then could best be described as retrospective artist monographs collecting the work of a photographer over the course of their career or at least a large part of it.

By the time our contracts at the university were over and the old guard took back their power with a vengeance we had a remarkable collection of books of photography, books on photographers and on related topics as well as filmmaking, but there was a hole that I wished we could have filled.

Photo book publishing has changed since and I have been out of the book-buying loop since moving back to Sydney where far fewer photography books and magazines make it to our shores compared to when I was living in London and reviewing and buying books for myself,  the magazine I conceived and cofounded, and the top-rank creative advertising agency where I worked for a time.

I was happy, then, to recently make the acquaintance of a reasonably new photo book publisher in the form of Café Royal Books aka CRB via some Facebook posts by Ella Murtha on the work of her mother, the late Tish Murtha.

Tish was one of Magnum photographer David Hurn’s first students in the famous School of Documentary Photography founded in 1973 and located in Newport, Wales.

The School trained many documentary photographers and photojournalists and employed a number of great photographers as teachers.

The School was recently moved from Newport to the University of South Wales in Cardiff under the course directorship of Paul Reas and David Hurn continues to work on personal projects after leaving in 1987.

Craig Atkinson, publisher of Café Royal Books, concentrates on the work of British documentary photographers, much of which has been unjustly forgotten in the years since the golden age of documentary photography in the 1970s and 1980s, and names with which I had been familiar during Creative Camera magazine’s heyday have been turning up in CRB’s list.

Besides Tish Murtha there are David Hurn, Ron McCormick who was also a teacher at the same School, John Claridge, Jo Spence, Brian Griffin, Chris Killip, Homer Sykes, Bill Jay, Patrick Ward and a number of less familiar but no less worthy names.

CRB prices its books at £6.00 each and also sells them on a subscription basis, averaging one book a week and they are produced in very limited editions.

One priceless record of some the finest photography of our times for the cost of less than two cups of coffee is surely well worth the investment.

If you have the means, I strongly suggest subscribing.

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