"I’m not so open to the idea that everybody deserves a book," Michelle Dunn Marsh told PDN, a photo industry news source, in an interview in August.
Dunn Marsh is also not so open to artists and photographers having to pay publishers just to get books made, and made well.
So she invented a third way: Books that are curated, selected, and subjected to the standards of a publisher, but crowdfunded.
Each book has to pre-sell 500 copies at a flat rate of $50 each in order to go into production. That covers the costs of making the book. Then, Minor Matters hopes to sell a few more books on top of that.
If they don't pre-sell, then no matter how much Dunn Marsh believes in the projects she's selected, the books don't get made. As Dunn Marsh, who also happens to be the new executive director of the Photo Center NW, told PDN,
This is not about charity. This is not a nonprofit organization. This is saying to people that if you value this product, you should buy it. And I think that is a small distinction, but it’s an important one. Many of the pitches that I receive from Kickstarter start with: “Help me do X.” And while I have a charitable nature, I am an American, I was raised in a capitalist society and I believe that we really operate by putting our money where our mouth is—and I want art to be valuable.
Dunn Marsh calls her company Minor Matters. She launched it quietly and softly earlier this year, giving it, you might say, a "minor" launch. By using that name, Dunn Marsh is drawing a lineage back to Minor White, the photographer who co-founded Aperture magazine in 1952 and edited it until 1975, applying exacting standards to the leading publication of what was still an art form fighting for recognition and respect. Dunn Marsh worked at Aperture in New York after having grown up in small-town Puyallup in a Burmese/Irish family; she also got her book experience at Chronicle Books.
The name also refers to scale. About making a place for smaller things to still count and be counted. From the PDN interview:
Aperture is the right fit for some, Taschen or Chronicle are the right fits for others. I’m not looking to do books that are going to sell 10,000 copies, frankly. We’ve developed a more boutique model. It’s not about taking away from what those institutions are doing, it’s about adding to it.
The first artists with books on Minor Matters—envisioned books, fully conceptualized but not yet physically produced—are David Hilliard, Eli Hansen, Joseph Park, Larry Fink, and Anna Mia Davidson. Fink and Hilliard have shown at museums and had major publications of their works before (their Minor Matters books are specific projects: Kindred Spirits and What Could Be); for Davidson, this is her first. Hansen is a hard-edged conceptual sculptor; Park is a painting virtuoso whose book is on his style of "prizmism." You can look at images and descriptions of all four available to buy (Davidson's is coming).
And now there's a live Seattle launch, Saturday from 4 to 6 pm at G. Gibson Gallery. Park and Davidson will be there, surrounded by the current exhibition of puzzles of provisional Arctic architecture by Eirik Johnson. Check it out and consider buying a book that wouldn't exist if you didn't.