Studio Visit: Pau Wau Publications

May 24 2015

We love print. But there’s print and then there’s innovative, imaginative boundary-pushing print. Among the handful of studios around the world pushing the boundaries of what books mean, how they’re made and what they contain, Pau Wau Publications runs with the best of them. This longtime favorite, run by Andreas Laszlo Konrath and Brian Paul Lamotte, is one of New York’s scrappiest and most dynamic art book publishers and has worked with a long list of distinguished artists.

Maggie Shannon shot Pau Wau at their Brooklyn studio and we talked Sunday Routines, finicky Risographs and dream collaborations.

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Andreas

Hometown: I grew up in a satellite town North West of London called Chorleywood.

Current Location: Brooklyn, New York.

How do you take your coffee?

I only started drinking coffee about two years ago, and have graduated from lattes with lots of sugar to straight up espressos without any additions.

What’s your Sunday routine?

Well if the week goes well and I don’t have any work to do, usually I’ll do some silly house chores like laundry, groceries, and all that boring stuff – and then hopefully see some friends, go for a bike ride, and check out a museum or show, hopefully read a book… If I’m lucky this will go to plan. Otherwise I’ll be in the studio working on something photo or book related!

Describe your style in a few words.

I probably dress the same as I did when I was a 14 year old skate -rat, basically like a skateboarder meets someone who dresses far too young for their age.

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Brian

Hometown: Orinda, just outside of San Francisco.

Current Location: Brooklyn

How do you take your coffee? 

Americano with bit of milk but if I’m feeling fancy a Macchiato.

What’s your Sunday routine? 

Coffee, books, farmers market, some eggs & toast and a bike ride if possible.

Describe your style in a few words. 

Lots of denim, mostly black or white.

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Let’s start with the backstory. You guys founded Pau Wau in 2009 — what were you doing before that? 

ALK — I’d say Pau Wau was already in embryonic stages in 2008. We’d been discussing making zines for a while, originally there was actually four of us involved. We’d meet up at Acapulco, this Mexican restaurant in Greenpoint to discuss photography and such. Once we got rolling with the zines, it ended up just being Brian and I really focusing on it. Things haven’t changed as far as what we did before Pau Wau: I work as a photographer and Brian is a designer—that’s how we pay the bills. Pau Wau is something we do on the side as a passion project more or less.

BPL — Yeah before that I had recently moved from San Francisco and was working at a photo studio with Andreas doing some design work. We started Pau Wau shortly after we both left as we had a desire to collaborate and complimented each other quite well.

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What’s the story behind the Pau Wau name? 

BPL — It came to me in the shower one morning, we used to always call meeting up at Acapulco a “pow wow”.

ALK — Brian thought this would be a good name for the publishing imprint, as our beginnings revolved around that tradition – a sharing of ideas. Neither of us have American Indian roots, and recently got some flak for the name, but really it was just an innocent decision and we genuinely think the idea of a Pau Wau is perfect for what we aim to do with our zines and books – it’s all about collaboration.

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I once asked Adrian Shaugnessy why he insisted on making books in the digital age and he responded, “I take the Umberto Eco line on this: ‘The book is like the spoon, scissors, the hammer, the wheel. Once invented it cannot be improved. You cannot make a spoon that is better than a spoon…’” Why does Pau Wau do books? 

ALK — Well I certainly don’t think we’re trying to improve on the book format, we’re not inventing anything that hasn’t already been done. So I suppose yes, it’s kind of like the spoon idea. As far as why—it’s certainly been a reaction to the online platforms that seems so dominant these days. Our first zines consisted of photographic material that only had a life online, so the point was to take them off the screen and find a new context for the work. The book or zine format is something designed so specifically for story telling, so it’s an amazing way to create narrative within the work, a structure that allows you to control the way the viewer sees the images. I liken making a book to listening to an album; you can flip through it backwards, or from any point in the book, much like skipping songs on a album, but really the artist has intended you to turn each page in a certain order, much like a musician wants you to hear the album in the sequence they selected.

BPL — As Andreas mentioned it was a desire to take things out of a digital context and create something tactile from it. From a design point of view I get to experiment and do things I would never have a chance to do in my commissioned work. From a publishing persective there is always more work being create and more people to work with. It’s less about improving and more about satisfying a desire to continuously challenge ourselves and share that output with others.

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What’s the idea behind the “Muses” projects? Small creative world: Lasse Dearman and Charlie Engman have both shot for our magazine, Human Being Journal. 

BPL — The idea came out of this small single sheet booklet we made with some images Andreas had taken over the course of a day of his then girlfriend getting a haircut. We gave it away to friends and had a really good response from it, people just liked the tangible factor of folding and opening it in addition to the simplicity of the idea.

ALK — From there we wanted to create a yearly series with which we could approach 5 photographers, curated into a single package. Every photographer has at some point identified with the idea of a “muse” – so it’s very straight forward, we ask them to submit work based on someone they would consider their muse; friend, boyfriend, girlfriend, sister, brother, mother, child… We curate it in a way where we have some variety, in terms of the photographers aesthetic, and are they established or perhaps emerging artists, we like a variety – it’s nice to put a “name” next to perhaps a less known artist. We try and be diplomatic with our selections. We just released Volume 4, and after 5 we will stop the series – that will be 25 photographers whom have contributed. We think it would be nice to then combine all the series into one larger volume..

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How do your collaborations come about? Do artists pitch to you like a traditional publisher? 

ALK — Both happen, usually it’s a very organic process. We don’t have any specific ways of working. Sometimes projects fall into our laps, other times we seek out a artist or photographer whom we know has an amazing body of work. It really depends on timing, are we in the right head space to work on something, do we meet someone who’s into our stuff and presents us something really amazing – it’s all based on luck I suppose. We don’t really have a schedule, apart from the book fairs, that’s a good time for us to hunker down and produce something new for, otherwise it’s just a feeling. We run into people, perhaps a conversation occurred about working together, then a year later we’ve got a new book… Hopefully it doesn’t feel too forced, I think it helps that this is not really a “business” to us, so we can afford to work on things we really like, rather than something that will be a seller.

BPL — Really it’s impossible to say, it’s mainly just what Andreas and I are feeling at a given time. We may want to explore a certain idea or type of work and somehow, someway a project comes about. We’ve had people pitch, we’ve been introduced, we’ve reached out and everything in-between, there’s simply no rhyme or reason to it. Controlled serendipity if you will. 

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You worked with Todd Jordan on a book about the late NYC skateboarding legend, Harold Hunter. 

ALK — Yep! We have done a couple of projects with Todd in the past, he’s the best. He mentioned he wanted to do something with this single roll of film he had of Harold when they were both riding for Zoo York back in 1999. No one had really seen the photos Todd had. As it was Harolds 40th anniversary coming up, we decided this would be a great project to collaborate on. It was nice because Tony Cedertag from Library Man (whom Todd is good friends with) actually designed the layout, so it was even more collaborative than usual.

BPL —It’s nice seeing how that book resonates with some many people, particularly in New York and who knew Harold. I think more than any other project we’ve work on it connects on a very basic human level.

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I started my career at the Italian agency that represented Gavin Watson around the time he released the seminal book, Skins and Punks. What was the project Pau Wau did with him? 

BPL — That was also a Muses project, our friend Lele Saveri had introduced us and he was also part of the set that year. His work is particular impressive as his muse was his brother Nev, so you have this span of him being a teenager to an adult, that juxtaposition and time is something we hadn’t really explored in the series to that point. 

ALK — It was pretty amazing, the images must have spanned over 20 years. I really love that zine!

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Tell us a bit about your most recent project, Infinite Power. 

ALK — Infinite Power is our latest book by David Brandon Geeting. He actually lives close to our studio, and it was one of those natural things – we had just spoken a few times about working together on something, and finally it started to happen. It’s quite an ambitious volume, it spans 3 years of his work, plus we made it a real “book” rather than a zine. It’s over 120 pages, full colour off set – we’ve only started doing volumes this large in the last year. Before that everything was made in-house by hand. The production on this  was entirely out-sourced, and we made 500 copies, which for us is a lot. We started out making zines in editions of 50, so it’s a totally different process, in terms of design, layout, editing, production, and distribution. I suppose we’ve grown up a lot.

BPL — We were both interested in what he was doing and knew him through some friends of friends. I was actually having a conversation with his girlfriend at the same time he was talking to Andreas about possibly working together on the project two years ago at the LA Art Book Fair. It was fitting that it came out a year later at the same fair. Working with David was really great though, he gave us a huge amount of freedom with the project which is why I think it turned out successful.

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Is there any type of subject matter you absolutely wouldn’t cover? Does Pau Wau have a politics? 

BPL — Nothing is really off the table, the nice thing about publishing independently is we have full control over what & how we publish. There are definitely somethings we would have to think twice about but in general it’s case by case and we’re fairly open minded. 

ALK — Not really. If the images are good, why wouldn’t we? I don’t believe in not showing an image, if it has something to say. Having said that, I’m not interested in something that’s just purely about shock-value, just for controversies sake, that’s not interesting to me. But if there’s some work, that might be a risky subject, or something political, that has good intention, and passion, then yeah of course we’ll do it. Image making has to move you!

You guys have a risograph in the studio! Do you do much in-house production? 

BPL — In regards to the RISO as much as we can as long as it’s not broken! It’s a really finicky piece of machinery but provides some truly incredible results. The smaller edition projects we still make in-house but for the larger volumes we using the machines to create a high end maquette. It’s really helpful to see and feel how the book will come together and to also live with it for a bit to make proper revisions and changes.

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ALK — Up until a year or so ago, we were pretty much doing everything in-house, or down the street at the local Staples or Kinkos… We’ve used the Riso on some fantastic projects. The machine is a nightmare to use, it always breaks down, but Brian’s got it down to an art. When there’s a project that makes sense to use it on, then it’s worth risking the process on it, since it creates such beautiful prints. There’s been a few times where I thought Brian was going to throw it out the window!

Anything really cool in the pipeline?

ALK — Brian actually just printed a whole project on the RISO, Lanscapes by Lele Saveri, which is actually being published by Dashwood books. It’s going to be really amazing, the images and prints look incredible. We’re hopefully also going to work on something small and limited with Daniel Arnold later this year, and also a few other small things in the pipeline. DBG’s book was such a large commitment we’re going to take it a bit slower this year. We’re also going to have our vending machine which we made for The Newsstand project come to life again at the MoMa in November.

BPL — Yeah other than that we have special editions of Infinite Power & Landscapes in the works and will be participating in a couple fairs this summer, 8-Ball Zine Fair in June & Blonde Art Books in July (at Signal).

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Pie-in-the-sky dream collaboration? 

BPL — Wolfgang Tillmans

ALK — We had asked him about doing something once, it didn’t happen, but that would be a dream indeed! Also, just working on finding young new talent, people who have drive, who just want to make great stuff! We’re super inspired by the next generation of photographers, artists, and zine makers.

Photography Maggie Shannon