THE HISTORY AND MISSION OF THE FISHER PRESS
The Fisher Press was founded as a small photographic editions shop in Newport, Rhode Island in 1976. The photographer and printer Richard "Chip" Benson started it after having worked for a number of years in the darkrooms at the Meriden Gravure Printing Company in Connecticut. At Meriden, Chip pioneered new techniques for reproducing black and white photographs in print, using multiple tonal separations; work he continued on his own in the early 1970s before moving back to his hometown in Newport.
The press only lasted a short time before Chip took a job teaching photography at the Yale School of Art. He loved the science of printing, but was less interested in making editions for other photographers, which he felt they could be doing for themselves. Yale enabled him to teach his knowledge to young photographers so they could become the masters of their own media. He continued making photography books throughout his life however, in editions published by museums such as the Boston MFA, and the Metropolitan and MoMA in New York—institutions he had built relationships with while working at Meriden.
Chip was my uncle. He hired me as his press assistant during my junior year of art school in 1981. He was working at the time on a large, offset-printed book titled Photographs from the Collection of the Gilman Paper Company. I helped set up the press that the Gilman Company purchased for the job, and assisted on the initial color proofing for the project. At the end of that year, I dropped out of art school and left Rhode Island to study painting independently in New York. Chip tried to hook me up with a full time job at the Stinehour Press in Vermont, but I was too focused on painting to be interested in a full time printing gig in the hinterlands of the Northeast Kingdom. Even so, the year working for Chip had taught me a lot. Above all, I learned from him what a good print looks like—and that is a vital prerequisite to being able to make one.
In 1988, I moved to New Mexico to paint the landscape, and began exhibiting in galleries in Santa Fe. While there, I also worked part-time for the book designer Eleanor Morris Caponigro. I wasn't aiming to enter her field any more than I had wanted a career as a printer. But as had been true with Chip, Eleanor showed me what good books look like, especially with respect to the subtle curatorial art of image-sequencing, which is crucial to carrying a narrative through any picture book's layout. I was surely a vexing protegé for these early mentors, but both unwittingly set the hook of a now decades-long interest in making books about art.
In 1994, in hopes of finding a way to publish my own work in print, I got interested in the emerging field of digital imaging and desktop publishing. I bought a Mac computer, a copy of Photoshop, and one of the first crude inkjet printers made by the Epson Company. Over the next six years, as the technology became more refined, I honed my skills alongside it. In 2000, I used one of Epson's first photographic quality printers—the 2000P—to publish a folio of prints of my oil paintings. Since then, I have made monographs and catalogues of my own work, as well as a steady stream of books about other artists. These editions were initially inkjet-printed, hand-bound volumes made in small runs of 15 to 60 copies. More recently, I have made a pair of retrospective artist's biographies, and several museum catalogues in larger offset or Indigo-printed editions that I designed and had produced elsewhere.
The Fisher Press is not a traditional publishing house of the sort that selects and funds the production and distribution of books in exchange for marketing and copyrights. Neither is it exactly a for-hire service. I often do work on collaborative projects with other artists—books for which we tend to scare up the money together to get them published. In the main, the press is a curatorial tool for preserving and promoting my own art, the work of my prodigiously creative family, and of other artist friends whom I like and admire.
There is an old Taoist saying, attributed to Lao Tsu, that goes: If you give a hungry man a fish, you feed him for a day, but if you teach him how to fish, you feed him for a lifetime. I doubt Chip Benson was thinking of Lao Tsu when he named his press, but my own path as a maker of books under his old imprint comes in no small part from the skills and understanding he taught me. It is, in any case, a somewhat Quixotic project devoted to casting nets for like-minded people who will find some kindred meaning in the artistic things that I and my most admired friends and colleagues like to make.