I recently sat down with Bill Boling to discuss his publishing company Fall Line Press. Bill’s passion for small-press photography books shows in the collection he has published in a short time. In addition to the press, Fall Line offers a free reading room with a varied assortment of photography books in the gallery of Atlanta Photography Group. —Nancy McCrary
Nancy McCrary: You’re an attorney, a photographer, a husband, a father and now a grandfather. What possessed you to find time in this busy schedule to begin your own publishing company? And tell us about the process of doing just that. If there’s someone out there thinking of doing the same thing, what piece of advice would you choose to share with them?
Bill Boling:I’m a “picture-holic” pure and simple. I used to run to my Grandmother’s mailbox to be the first to get her LIFE magazine. I preferred comics to novels. I watched our Magnavox black-and-white TV until the bars and bulls-eye with the Indian Chief would come on at 11:30 indicating that all three of the channels had gone dark for the day. And then I would sit in the glow and look at that for a while. Kidding aside I think it’s just my passion for pictures and picture takers of all stripes that led me to this sweet folly. I have no advice – maybe “jump in the water’s fine!”
NM: Fall Line is more than a publishing company – you also have a reading room at the Atlanta Photography Group’s gallery – one I was just enjoying last week-end, actually. Is this your personal collection of photography books, and can anyone donate to this reading room?
BB: So glad to hear you’re enjoying the reading room! From the outset our publishing impulse was about building community and supporting picture takers and picture lovers using photobooks as the creative fire around which we could all gather. The reading room is built largely from my 25 years of collecting photobooks. It’s a joy to be able to share that collection. Maybe in some respects a good photobook is like that just-right stone that you throw into a pond; by sharing the books we increase the ripples that the book and its pictures carry out into the world. I’m excited to say that lately some of our friends whose books we sell and support are starting to gift books to our collection. This has been unsolicited by us and it’s so gratifying to see this unfolding. A favorite recent gift is from British photographer George Miles, who sent us his fabulous book Views of Matlock Bath, but also in just the past few weeks, amazing photographers Kathleen Robbins, Brady Robinson, and Ethan Rafal, to name a few. I hasten to add we have these books for sale as well and that is by far the “ideal” way to discover this work and build your own collection.
NM: The photobook, for many of us, is an economically feasible way to collect images we admire. Do you see the future of the photobook continuing to satisfy this demand, or do you think the internet will supersede the book for this purpose?
BB: Photobooks have a growing following and I see that trend accelerating in part because of the internet. Like vinyl records, photobooks offer art lovers and patrons a way to connect with work and artists they care about in a very intimate and personal way. The book’s codex form is an ingenious, ancient and rich vehicle for absorbing and connecting with pictures. You can hold a book in your hand and carry that about with you and enjoy it without having to recharge – try that with the internet! I think it was Marshall McLuan who pointed out that succeeding technologies do not eliminate their earlier iterations, they just transform them. Radio became different after TV – it didn’t go away.
NM: You were recently featured in our Photobook Issue with a photobook in the form of a can. Tell us about this project.
BB: Because They Come That Way included a quart paint can that was the key feature of an installation project I did in Allendale and Columbia, South Carolina, in 2005 as an homage to the 50th anniversary of Jasper Johns’ seminal painting “Flag”. Mr. Johns is from the small South Carolina city of Allendale. The can contains 48 5×7-inch c-prints of photographs and other “found” materials “curated” from the streets of Allendale. I usually keep a can around the Fall Line Press reading room if your readers want to see what it’s all about. The can was a wink and a nod to the “ready-made” aesthetic that was at the heart of Mr. Johns’ output and stance early in his career. He was once asked what he liked about the store-bought stencils of letters and numbers he used to mark and shape many of his paintings, drawings and prints. He replied that he liked the stencils and letters “because they came that way.” Also, using a can instead of more traditional containers such as albums, portfolios, or books, allowed me to give a hat tip to my Grandmother’s cigar box and hat box where she kept many of our most precious family photos.
NM: Free Fall allows a photography lover to collect four limited-editions by one photographer during one year of their career. And Fall Line Folios includes original prints as well as an essay about them. What can you tell us about the relevance of each of these designs?
BB: Free Fall and Fall Line Folios offer photographers and photo lovers alternatives to the book format for collecting multiple photographs and an essay-like photographic statement from an artist.
When Michael David Murphy, Fall Line’s first editor, and I first laid plans for Fall Line, we wanted to have a range of printed matter and platforms that would allow us to immediately begin publishing work by photographers we loved such as Laura Noel, Carl Martin, Maury Gortemiller, Nikita Gale and Angela West, to name a few.
Free Falls are signed, numbered and limited editions, but at very affordable price points. Fall Line Folios on the other hand are unbound, open, larger in format – each folio has a unique design both as to the hand crafted folio container and the direction of the portfolio. The folios are driven more to the presentation of fine art prints that are a collectable small essay of prints and that are likely to lead to a book at a later date. The folios are more expensive than the Free Falls or books of course. But, they are an affordable way for a patron to connect with the artist’s work and a particular project in depth and still affordably compared with the purchase of a single print from a gallery for example.
Our first folio “Tama-Re” by accomplished photographer, Anderson Scott, is a unique photo essay on the Nuwabian experience in Putnam County, Georgia. In addition to eight signed and numbered fine art photographs, it includes a beautiful letterpress printed and illustrated broadside with the artist’s statement. This folio is already bound for one museum collection and is being considered for and destined for several more. We are being careful to reserve editions for our supporters. Of course there is more information on our website and we are always excited to sit down with the handling copies and walk through them at our Fall Line space at APG. Just drop us an email to set up a time.
NM: What’s up next?
BB: Fall Line Press has a lot going on this year with several projects that have been simmering, to launch in the coming months. I’m really excited to have SxSE make the first public announcement here that we will be publishing this fall Debbie Fleming Caffery’s next book, Alphabet. Debbie has reached into her deep archive and made some new images to reimagine with us what an alphabet book can be when driven by beautiful, evocative photographs. This is a very personal work for Debbie and for us at the press as we have children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews in abundance and all around! Debbie has made a book with us that we will want to savor with someone special on our laps or alongside again and again. Brett Abbott, Curator and Head of Collections at Atlanta’s High Museum of Art has contributed a thoughtful foreword and the book has been designed in collaboration with award-winning book designer, artist and Fall Line Press friend, Laurie Shock. Debbie’s books always sell out quickly and this will be no exception. We are offering her friends and ours an opportunity to pre-order special signed editions, so I hope your readers will be on the lookout for that in following announcements and on our website.
NM: Bonus Question: What’s it like as an active photographer yourself to be using some of your energy and time to publish and promote the work of others?
BB: My friend and colleague Michael David Murphy, who supported me at the onset of this endeavor, was an inspiration to me. MDM, as we like to call him, has always engaged with art and poetry as an integral part of his walk as a human being. He has always given more than he takes and it is reflected in the quality of his work and his life. I thought maybe I should be more like that. Try in my small way to give back a little of all that I’ve been fortunate to receive. Another great artist photographer and “givebacker,” Stephen Shore, gave me an opportunity several years ago to study and learn with him in a special Masters Program at Bard. It changed my life as an artist and as a person. There are many more examples like this where I have received so much. It was high time to give back. I can point to SxSE, and to you Nancy, as yet another art, life giver. It is a great circle that we’re a part of – it enriches the other things I do – does not take anything away. Thanks for the chance to share about our press and the photographers we get to work with.