In the world of contemporary photography, we often see the same work passed through the hands of festival runners and gallerists for months on end, until the next season’s selections are determined and promoted in awards, exhibitions and—increasingly—books. While the photobook market has undoubtedly experienced a boom in the last decade, this increase in demand spreads many publishers too thin, resulting in quality compromises and the meaningless production of quick, easy, profitable products. But in the past few years, if you’ve found yourself coursing through the trails of larger markets on the European festival circuit, you might have noticed a magnetic duo standing behind a table full of remarkable publications, each emanating a darkness of their own through mysterious covers and complex bindings. The books reach up from their designated surface as dark characters in their own right, quarried, carved and sculpted from the minds that make up the small team that calls themselves Void.
With a studio and gallery space in Athens, Void has become a household name in the photobook publishing world, despite their short existence. Founded just three years ago, the group has worked with renowned photographers like Antoine d’Agata and Joan Foncuberta, while also crafting projects with lesser-known artists who share their passion for experimental publication. This balance between experience and naïveté is exactly what keeps Void’s content so raw. Sifting through each of Void’s books, there isn’t a palpable difference between their better-known selections and emerging talents—the same blood, sweat and dedication is given to each artist, producing the best possible outcome no matter the name.
Of course, there is a uniformity across their selected photographers. Void favours grittier work that some might find difficult to digest, but the foundation of each project resides in their unwavering high quality. The styles of each book are not uniform, ranging from zines to newspapers to hard and canvas covers, but each publication acts as the perfect ecosystem for the elected work, allowing it to live and breathe comfortably within the confines of their design choices—even if that means using six different printing techniques and eight different paper stocks to make a single object.
The three pillars that make up Void are Myrto Steirou, Sylvia Sachini and João Linneu, a trio of friends who met through photography workshops in Paris and Athens and immediately hit it off, bound together by their interest in elusive, hallucinatory and dark visuals. Before Void, none of them had worked in the formal publishing world, so when they decided to make books, it was a decision provoked by passion alone. Growing up in Brazil, João dabbled in the production, distribution and consumption of fanzines before training as a designer and moving to Europe. Similarly, Sylvia pursued a career path in marketing and communications, while Myrto studied International Relations and Politics—all three of them slotting their personal photography practices in on the side. While the latter two reside in Athens and are the public faces most often found at major festivals and events, João works with them remotely from his home in Lisbon. When they decided to band together and make books, they had to learn everything from scratch, reading how-to manuals and watching YouTube videos about binding, starting with zines and branching out into more ambitious modes of production.
“When you look at the first things we made, you can tell we were still figuring out how to put this stuff together,” explains Myrto. “We had a lot of references for styles we liked, so if we were drawn to something, we would try to replicate it, whether it was a type of binding or folding that stood out to us. We went through a ton of resources, trying to find any instructions we could get our hands on.” João adds, “I think we learned a lot in those initial stages, and by starting with zines, we quickly internalized the obvious things that we needed to know, building up our knowledge and ability to take on bigger projects. Mistakes are important—we had no idea what the possibilities were. It was like our own personal training through failure, which eventually evolved into success. I think if we went into this already knowing about publishing, we wouldn’t be as experimental with our books as we are now.”
One of Void’s most impressive publications is their collaboration with artist Olivier Pin-Fat, titled Meat. The book is comprised of multiple paper stocks containing offset, silkscreen, letterpress, photocopy, risograph and digital printing. When the trio first brought their idea to a printer, it was immediately struck down as impossible. Their solution? They hand-bind each copy of the book themselves, subverting the mainstream modes of publishing. Void credits this seemingly rogue decision to their initial days of experimentation, and not taking “no” for an answer to their proposed vision.
“When we were first told no, we thought, maybe this is too complex?” reflects Sylvia. “But when we envision a project in a particular way, and are told it is only economically possible to create with certain types of paper, printing and binding, we cannot just submit to these limitations and compromise our vision.” João is quick to note, “We are a self-funded independent publishing house that caters to a very specific kind of photography that isn’t commercial. Not only are the photographers we choose operating in an alternative reality—we also choose to create books that are not necessarily mainstream. Our own decisions must always match the photographer’s works. We don’t want people looking at our books and thinking a compromise had to be made because of some financial decision. We will always find a way, even if means way more work on our end.”
The group’s attention to detail and refusal to compromise is exactly why artists approach Void with their images. Unlike many publishers, the group doesn’t promise to churn out replications of a dummy already put together by an artist. Instead, they stipulate that once a photographer trusts them with their work, the book-making process becomes a fully collaborative experience. “The truth is, most people approach us because they know what we do. They see what we have already done, and they are certain that our style suits them,” explains Myrto. “Of course we respect an artist’s work, but if you are coming to us to create an object, you need to trust us with the design. We aren’t comfortable putting out a book that isn’t one hundred percent our own identity as much as it is the artist’s. If they disagree with a decision, we can find a way to express their view together, making sure it results in our vision as a collective.”
Ensuring their own creative passion is satiated alongside their artists’ is how Void maintains their selective quality. “We are doing this job because we are having fun, since we certainly aren’t getting rich,” João explains. “If we weren’t passionate about the things we were making, we wouldn’t be pushed to continue.” The commitment to produce publications on a regular basis—especially when printing and binding a number of them by hand—is unbelievably time-consuming. This means that most of Myrto, Sylvia and João’s personal photography projects have been pushed aside to facilitate Void. “Because it’s so time-consuming, these projects need to be something we want to create and be heavily involved in,” Sylvia explains. “It’s overtaken everything, and we love it, so it’s important for us to feel involved on a deep level.”
While Void has evolved exponentially since its inception, the team still embraces their rough-around-the-edges origins. One project that has remained a thread throughout their production is a set of newspapers, brought together in a series called Hunger, each issue containing works by individuals who Void deems “hunger artists”—a term affectionately appropriated from Franz Kafka’s short story A Hunger Artist. Working with photographers to create the volumes through open calls, proposals and workshops, each issue of Hunger is a chapter of Void’s philosophical exploration, perhaps the purest example of their own creative drive acting as the vessel for others’ work. “Kafka’s short story says something interesting about the state of photography today, and putting together a newspaper alludes to the rapid pace of ideas in the media,” explains Myrto. “We wanted to find artists who still pursued their practice vigorously, despite the realities that come with being a starving artist.” João reflects, “That text means a lot to me, and it is super relatable—it taught me about being resilient, especially coming from the countryside in Brazil. So many different moments in my life relate to story of the starving artist, and it’s all about getting through those obstacles.”
This isn’t to say that Void has been a universal remedy to obstacles—more often than not, it presents the group with more hurdles than solutions. “Doing something like Void is a fucking struggle,” João continues. “We really struggled to be accepted at first, and I brought Kafka’s text to Sylvia and Myrto because I felt like it was about us—not only about us as Void, but also us as photographers. Photography is no longer what it once was, from a professional point of view. When people pursue photography now, or approach us about a project, it’s not because they are going to make money off of it. It’s because they love doing this kooky shit as much as we do, even if means they might die of starvation.” Void’s epilogue issue for Hunger was just released this summer, made in collaboration with artist Michael Ackermann, and has already almost sold out. They are currently working day and night to bring all of Hunger’s back issues together into a box set, which will premiere at this year’s Unseen Book Market and Printed Matter’s NY Art Book Fair.
Aside from the final instalment of Hunger, Void has worked nonstop this summer, traversing the festival circuit with a number of brand-new publications. As they continue to work on each project, the trio also plans to host a series of workshops in Athens and Lisbon with artists like Todd Hido, feeding their universe of creativity for established and emerging artists alike. While their intense workdays and unrelenting commitment to their craft promise no room for consistent sleep in the future, their drive is a contagious force, evidenced by the artists who continue to work with them, singing their praises in the wake of each publication. “Sometimes I look at what we are doing, and I get excited all over again,” Sylvia reflects. “I love doing this thing—it feels like it’s ours. I feel like I’ve found joy and a voice in doing it.”