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Published on 22 July 2010

Mike Tsang - London Rare Booksellers

From towers toppling in cavernous basements to polished leather tomes in mahogany cabinets. London photographer Mike Tsang presents London booksellers in their natural habitats and sheds a new light on the strange and rarefied world of the book dealer: a testament to a unique and very British breed. Tsang who is fast achieving renown for his evocative portraits began his career freelancing in Tokyo after having received commissions across Asia. In 2009 he spent time in Africa on humanitarian and development commissions, culminating in a portrait project shot with the Dinka people of Sudan. He is now based in London and shoots a range of portrait and documentary photographs for clients such as BBC News Interactive, Tearfund, WWF, and a range of Japanese and Mauritian governmental and cultural agencies. The exhibition A Selection of London Booksellers started at Biblion Gallery in Mayfair (London) from 4th September to 2nd October, 2009 and will be presented a second time during the Stuttgart Antiquarian Book Fair from 29th to 31st 2010, before it tours several fairs and events throughout Europe.

"The London Book Trade"

By Sheila Markham

The (recently closed) Biblion Gallery was found within Biblion Bookshop, and provided a most congenial, intimate and extremely well-lit space for what is believed to be the first exhibition of its kind. ‘The London Book Trade’ is also the first solo exhibition of emerging photographer Mike Tsang, who is fast achieving renown for his evocative portraiture. The exhibition comprises twelve portrait studies of rare book dealers photographed in their widely differing working environments. A further selection of 11”x14” photographs is displayed in a portfolio.


The idea for the exhibition was conceived by Ben Houston of Biblion Bookshop, who acknowledged the influence of Sheila Markham’s A Book of Booksellers: Conversations with the Antiquarian Book Trade by inviting her to write the following introduction to the exhibition. “The rare book trade comes into focus in Mike Tsang’s wonderfully evocative series of portraits. A gift of a subject for a photographer, the trade is rich in individualists, united only by a love of books and a determination to preserve a certain way of life. For the rare book trade is more than an occupation; it is in today’s parlance a ‘lifestyle’ and one which has thrived largely unchanged since the Middle Ages.

The portraits capture in their sitters and settings a tremendous sense of resilience and strength, of permanence and continuity. There is no suggestion here of defeat in the face of the onslaught of modern technology. Indeed reports of the death of the book seem greatly exaggerated. The Internet has of course transformed certain aspects of bookselling. But it is only one of a number of recent challenges to confront the trade – the rise in high street rents, the fall in library budgets, the competition from charity bookshops… the list goes on. But as the exhibition reflects, there are still many different ways to sell rare books – old-established businesses, family firms, partnerships, and sole traders continue to serve the world of collectors, whose requirements remain unchanged - and not least of these is the age-old human desire for personal contact. Book collecting is a highly visual and tactile activity. The quality of the binding, the paper, the printing and the illustration contribute to the appreciation of a rare book – and stimulate the desire, and certainly enhance the pleasure of reading a wonderful or important text. It is no doubt amazing that you can read a novel on a mobile phone, but perhaps more amazing that you would want to. These photographs reveal the richer pleasures that await the collector who hunts in the corners of bookshops, and not in the margins of LCD screens. Where is the thrill of the chase in much of today’s online book buying? You can do a life time’s browsing in a few hours on the Internet, but surely this is the fast food equivalent of book collecting. Mike Tsang’s photographs reveal the book trade’s answer to the Slow Food movement. Here is a faithful documentary of the rare book trade as an appreciation of the finer things in life - the pleasures of connoisseurship, and the satisfaction of education through experience. While humanity still has a soul, there will always be a role for rare and beautiful books.”



>>> Picturing the London Book Trade – Michael Lieberman interviews Mike Tsang on Book Patrol

>>> London antiquarian booksellers on Youtube - Cecil Court, the passageway in London’s West End is packed with rare booksellers and a brilliant place to go to.

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