Photography books for "less than the price of a London pint!"

Close-up colour photograph of hands hold- ing a knife and fork and a full English breakfast with a cup of a hot beverage on the table, alongside fruit preservatives, sugar sachets, butter and a bottle of sauce.
From Being British 1975-2005 (Image credit: From Being British 1975-2005 © Barry Lewis)

The Photographer's Gallery in London will display a new exhibition showcasing the impact that Café Royal Books has had on the photography community and the archive of British social documentary. 

Founded in 2005 by Craig Atkinson, Café Royal Books is a family-run independent publisher publishing weekly affordable photography books, enabling important photography work to reach more people. The work published often features previously unseen or overlooked work, with a strong focus on post-war documentary photography from the UK. Atkinson explains this in more detail in the below film with with Martin Parr

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Above: video with Cafe Royal Books founder Craig Atkinson and Martin Parr

Café Royal Books has a mission to make photography books more accessible, affordable, and no-nonsense, allowing the photography subject to be the center focus of the publication. Although the work published can span to areas overseas, the books are predominantly archives of the cultural and social change in post-war Britain and Ireland.  

Founder Craig Atkinson states, "I want them to be affordable, democratic, useful, and functional. I’m not into publishing decorative things or something so expensive that most people can’t afford them. Someone once said they’re often less than the price of a London pint, so I use that as a measure." 

Musical Float, from Notting Hill Carnival, 1974 (Image credit: Musical Float, from Notting Hill Carnival, 1974 © Chris Miles)

From Burnley 1970s (Image credit: From Burnley 1970s © Dragan Novaković)

Café Royal Books has published works by world-renowned photographers such as Chris Killip, Martin Parr, Jo Spence, and Shirley Baker as well as lesser-known photographers - an aspect that makes the books more special as it gives previously unseen documentation of different classes and cultures in the post-war era. 

The exhibition titled Café Royal Books will run at The Photographer's Gallery from Feb 23 - June 2, 2024, which will give visitors the chance to browse around 250 titles from the first 600 issues. The photography on display will showcase 'everyday scenes from cities across the UK, including Hull, Liverpool, London, Glasgow and Manchester'. 

(Image credit: Cover of Ireland 1972-73 © Markéta Luskačová / Café Royal Books)

(Image credit: Cover of Early Colour, Hulme Manchester, 1985 © Shirley Baker / Café Royal Books)

The work curated and published in the books provides an incredible window of what life was like, and not just the highlights, but what life was really like in unseen communities, captured by the people who belong to them. An example of this is Newport 1967–2008 by David Hurn. This issue documents an area of South Wales, UK that often does not get showcased as it lacks the easy-on-the-eye postcard opportunities often associated with Wales, but is where my Grandparents lived. Thanks to these books many people have a relatable document of what life was like for their communities in a time of great change - it also helps that the photography on display is fantastic! 

I would highly recommend catching this exhibition at The Photographer's Gallery if you can, as not only will it feature great historical photography, but issues of Café Royal Books will be available to purchase from the bookshop. But don't worry if you can't make it to London, they are also available online - for less than the cost of a London pint!

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Kalum Carter
Staff Writer

Kalum Carter is a UK-based photographer, writer, and photo editor. Kalum has been working as a freelance photographer for the best part of ten years, covering a wide range of assignments for well-known brands and publications in areas including portraiture, fashion, and documentary. 

Between commercial assignments, Kalum is currently working on a personal photography project exploring his connection to the Gower region of South Wales UK, as part of an MA in Photography from The University of West England.