“He always strove to do what he felt in his heart and refused to be controlled by others and the results are inspirational…”
Interview by Ekin Sanaç
Originally published in Bant Mag. No:41, July – August 2015 issue.
With offices in London and Paris, First Third Books produces photography books on mind-blowing musicians, genres and subcultures. High in quality and limited in number these books serve as objects of desire for fans. First Third Books’ June 2015 production brings together pop music’s stylish icon Marc Almond’s 35-year long career with over 200 photos, some never before seen. As it is not possible to imagine neither new romantic nor pop music without Almond, this archival photography book is pure joy. We spoke to one of the laborers of the book Ritchie Franklin on the process of making of this book and the activities of First Third Books in general.
When did the idea of producing the photo book of Marc Almond’s career first occur to you? For how long did the production of this book take?
We had discussed doing a book about Marc several years ago, but we already had three books to complete at that time so it was not until September 2014 that we approached Marc to talk about doing the book. From our first meeting with him to receiving the finished books it took just over 10 months.
Can you talk about a personal admiration for Marc Almond prior to production of this book? How do you find him inspirational? How and when did you first get to know his work? What periods of his career especially has been attractive and inspirational to you?
We have been big fans of Marc since Soft Cell first appeared back in 1981. He dared to be different and pushed boundaries with his appearance and lyrics which was exciting back then, and we still find the Soft Cell years exciting even now. Marc’s early solo work is also still strong and relevant today – he always strove to do what he felt in his heart and refused to be controlled by others and the results are inspirational.
Photo: Pierre et Gilles
Had you been in contact with Marc Almond from before? Or did you get to know him through this project?
We got to know Marc from working with him on this project.
How involved has Marc been in terms of the selection of the images and in terms of other stages of the whole process of bringing together this book?
Marc was fully involved from the beginning. Prior to meeting him we had already spent three months researching photographers who had worked with him over the last 35 years – so we already had many potential images to show him. He was able to choose from what we had found and then balance it with selections from his personal archive.
Photo: Andrew Catlin
Photo: Euan Myles
What is Marc Almond’s personal archive like? Was it impressively comprehensive? As the First Third Books, could you describe how it has been to work with Marc and his archive, in preparation of this book.
Marc was worried that he would not be able to find everything he wanted from his own archive, as over the years much had been lost – so we were very surprised when he managed to find rather a lot! He had a lot of photos from his childhood and teenage years which had never been seen before, as well as some great ones from his years at art college which we have used in the book.
We sat down with him and went through everything he had found – he was incredibly easy to work with and very generous with his time – nothing was ever a problem and he spent a lot of time searching his home for more photos that he was sure must still be there somewhere!
The book includes works of various photographers. How do you evaluate your experience in terms of the co-operation from the photographers, during the making of the book? Was everybody collaborative? Have you had any difficulties getting hold of certain material?
Marc’s career spans nearly 35 years, so it’s natural that some photographers are no longer working or have passed away and others were hard to trace. We have connections with many photographers through our previous books, so each time it gets easier! Some shots done for magazines that have closed down are no longer in existence – most magazine archives were disposed of when they closed down unfortunately. In general, everyone we approached was happy to be involved and provided the images we asked for.
Photo: Paul Cox
What has been the most striking fact that you found out about Marc himself, or his career through working of this book?
We never fully realised what a genuinely charming and fun person Marc is – there is never a dull moment when you are with him and he is engaging and charming company. It is always slightly unnerving to work with someone you have admired and followed for so long – and you wonder if they are going to be a ‘diva’ – but Marc is very down to earth. While we were working on the discography for the book we were amazed to see just how huge Marc’s catalogue of work is – outside of his own solo career he has worked with an incredible array of artists and performers.
What was the one worthy lesson you learned during the production of this book, if any?
Tell us about how the First Third Books started independent publishing activities and what were your initial motivations? What are some turn of events that lead you to this kind of independent publishing?
We started the company as a solution to the real lack of well-researched and nicely produced photo books on the market. Certain genres of bands/music are overlooked for publications as they are not deemed commercial enough for large publishers to work with. As an independent company we can choose exactly who we want to produce books about and make it happen for ourselves and other fans.
What was your previous occupation before First Third Books?
Two of us come from design backgrounds – one in graphics and the other in product design – and one from production management.
Can you give us details on other people working as part of the team? How many people are working in terms of the publishers, the creative persons, and journalists? How has the team changed over the years, if any?
There are three of us in First Third Books – between us we create each book from start to finish.
Ritchie researches and locates all the photos, agrees the licenses with photographers and takes care of social media/marketing. Fabrice designs the layouts and Janet oversees the production process.
We hire a journalist when we need one – we have worked with the music journalist and writer Mark Paytress on this book, as well as our Genesis Breyer P-Orridge book. Mark is a great journalist and always gets the best results.
What is your work model like? Do you produce upcoming books with the earnings of the previous releases?
Each book operates as a separate project.
You’ve produced books on punk, Saint Etienne, Felt, Genesis Breyer P-Orridge and now Marc Almond. We see upcoming releases of Heavenly Recordings, Ramones, Siouxie and even John Grant. You do not only focus on the obvious inspirational artists and movements from the past years, but also on outsider subcultures and on today’s artists. How do you define “inspiring” today as the First Third Books?
We love visually strong bands and movements – they make the ideal subject for us. There are so many great bands out there, but not all of them are suitable subjects for one of our books. There also needs to be a ‘buzz’ around the band/artist, something that generates or inspires devotion in their fans. We need a ‘cocktail’ of inspiration, consisting of all of these ingredients, in order to make a beautiful book.
Are the musicians themselves usually your first contacts in realizing the book projects? Is it them that you approach first?
We are usually able to approach the band or musician directly or through a manager or PR agency – we have some good connections in the music business!
You strictly do not reprint any material. Why is that important? Do you find it challenging in terms of economics, or the vice, versa considering today’s conditions?
Our promise is that we will never reprint in the same format; we are supplying a high quality numbered, limited edition book and our customers are relying on us to ensure that what they have bought from us remains unique.
Have you ever come across to certain subjects, which you find very inspiring, but unfortunately it is not possible to get hold of the necessary material to produce the high quality photography book on them?
We need any subject we approach to be commercial – and if the artist is popular or inspirational then there should be material available – so the answer is no, we have not had to drop an idea due to lack of material. We have found occasionally that photos we want to use are no longer available in a condition suitable for publishing in a high quality book though – there are always challenges!
Photo: Jamie McLeod