Craig Atkinson on spotting unseen and never-before-seen photographic gems

Of the 500 books Craig has published – each representing the work of a different photographer – it would be a daunting task to pick just a few favorites. Plus, Craig is super indecisive: “If I told you a favorite now, it would be different by lunch.” So we picked out a few of our favorites currently on display at the Martin Parr Foundation, and asked Craig to give us his take on them.

The first is an image taken by Sophie Gerrard at the Tunnock teacake factory in Scotland. Craig is instinctively drawn to the image as he’s a bit of a fan of Tunnock’s teacakes himself. He tells us that his family experienced a mini-crisis when the factory had to close during the lockdown and a “global shortage” of tea cakes ensued. Moving more seriously to the task at hand, Craig notes the interesting contrast between the factory’s clinical machines and the more humane, imperfect arrangement of the cakes on the conveyor belt: “I like the look on the worker’s face like if she was supervising mildly disordered children. ”

Next is an image of the wonderful photographer-restorer Charlie Phillips, well known for his role in documenting West Indian culture in post-war London. The image depicts a young man standing in Westbourne Grove tube station. Despite his hiding, he sports a pair of dark sunglasses – a detail that amuses Craig. “Charlie took this in 1967, I think in his early twenties – he had been in the UK for about 15 years, I think,” he adds. “A lot of Charlie’s archives are missing, including photos of Hendrix. It’s such a shame and it reinforces the importance of scanning, printing and archiving work.

Finally, there is a dark image of a lonely building in Manchester taken by Dragan Novaković. The photographer submitted his work to Craig some time ago and since then Café Royal has published several zines featuring his photography from London and Manchester. “The Manchester work fascinates me,” he tells us. “It predated me by a few years and no matter how many times I see work like this, I’m still amazed at how much everything has changed in such a short time.”

500 books off and many more in the works, Craig is working on a new collection of zines he calls the World events. The new project will allow him to publish work that does not fit his usual series, while maintaining loose ties to Britain and Ireland, whether by photographer or subject. It will showcase documentary photography between 1960 and 2010 and, like all of its series, will rely heavily on submissions, “which I always encourage, from all photographers – of all races, creeds, genders and backgrounds, well known or under -represented”. he concludes. “I want the series to be a true reflection of life and the photographers who were working at the time.”

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