Photo: Thomas Roma and Anna Roma on press.
Thomas Roma is a Walt Whitman of our times, a Bard of Brooklyn, a poet-photographer who has documenting the people and places of his native city since 1969. The author of 15 books including Crave fave In the Vale of Cashmere, Roma is a master of the craft of bookmaking, honing his passion for the form with decades of hands-on practice, cultivating a body of knowledge and a wealth of wisdom channeled into SPQR Editions, a new photography book publishing house based out of his home in Brooklyn.
Created by Roma, his wife Anna, and son Giancarlo, SPQR Editions launches on Friday, September 28, 2016 with five books that are a meditation on a specific place, giving the audience something an experience that they can behold with their eyes and their hearts forevermore.
A classic book is greater than the sum of its parts; it is the transformation of a commercial product into an object of art. For many photographers, the process of editing, sequencing, design, and the intricacies of production can easily overwhelm as they are too emotionally entangled in their work to have the distance needed to translate a body of work into a book.
Here the Romas’ collective knowledge and wisdom serves them well, as have a perfect understanding of their mission and how to achieve their goals. Working with Industria Grafica Si.Z in Verona, Italy, everything from the size of the book and the number of pages to the duotone printing of the photographs and the retail price was fully conceived in advance in order to fulfill the mission of the publishing house.
Thomas Roma explains, “We make books for the reader, for the viewer. We don’t make books for the author, to tell you the truth. The goal is to make a book that people won’t throw away—to make a book that people need (obviously not everyone)—a book you can’t bear to part with. We are making books for people interested in a specific place. Each of these places could be seen from the outside as places that need a little extra understanding.”
Indeed, the first five titles from SPQR Editions are quiet investigations of the idea of place and the way in which it becomes embodied with meaning and mythology from the inside and out. Each of the projects selected goes inside worlds that are deserving of greater, more nuanced and thoughtful consideration. The books include Back of Town, by Stephen Hilger, which chronicles a New Orleans neighborhood devastated by Katrina and marked for demolition; Aftermath, by Yoav Horesh, which documents suicide bombing sites in Israel after their hasty repair; About Face: Picturing Tampa, by Kai McBride, which reveals a dystopian view of the city peopled only by the grinning faces on billboards set against strip malls, stagnant water, and shuttered dreams after the 2008 housing collapse; This, My Garden, Has Been to Me, by Dennis Santella, an elegiac document of the formal and improvised public gardens in Harlem during a period of rapid gentrification; and House, by Jeffrey Henson Scales, a vibrant reflection of life, history, and masculinity in the mirrors of House’s barbershop in Harlem.
Each of the books speaks to one another, not just in the consistent form that unites them as a collection, but in the work itself, offering a space for private meditation of the way we relate to the familiar and foreign places outside ourselves. Each of the books offers a private space for intimacy, for reflection on what we think and what we believe and how the view of the artist navigates the divide between illusions and reality.
Roma observes, “Most people have convictions without beliefs. They have it backwards. You have to start with functional beliefs. Like the Hippocratic Oath, which says, ‘First do no harm.’ That is beautiful. First do not harm—then you can go off in your convictions.”
SPQR Editions is founded in faith and in the belief that art serves a purpose and has a use in our life. Roma reveals, “The goal—the only one—is to make something that is useful. If you listen to Nina Simone sing ‘Mississippi Goddam,’ that song is useful. It will never go away because if a loved one dies, there is music for it; there are novels and films. When you fall in love, there’s art for that. When you’re afraid, in doubt, anxiety—there is poetry for all of that and you feel better. You think, ‘Oh my God, I’m not alone. I’m not the only one.’ If it is useful, it will endure.”
In this way, SPQR Editions has carved a niche in the world, creating a path that is driven by a need to connect the art to the audience in the service of something greater than the usual trappings of success. At a $30 retail price point, the goal is not wealth. By publishing first-time authors, the goal is not fame. By focusing on the tranquil spaces of humble locales, the goal is not status. Rather, by focusing on the ability of art to provide solace and strength to a public in search of peace, the goal of success can be met. “I believe in redemption,” Roma reveals. “Art has a redemptive quality and because of that, life is worth living.”
Book Launch and Signing: Friday, October 28, 2016 from 6:00-8:00pm. Affirmation Arts, 523 West 37 Street, New York. Curator Susan Kismaric and Thomas Roma will hold a public conversation on the contemporary photo book from 6:30 – 7:00pm on the evening of the launch. The five photographers will be present to sign their books and as well as co-owner of the press Grafica SI.Z, Nicola Simioni.
Miss Rosen is a New York-based writer, curator, and brand strategist. There is nothing she adores so much as photography and books. A small part of her wishes she had a proper library, like in the game of Clue. Then she could blaze and write soliloquies to her in and out of print loves.