«The prices we ask are below their gallery prices and the edition is higher – it is a chance to buy art if you can afford it». In conversation with bookstore manager Tim Mooij-Knip
Huis Marseille, Amsterdam, is the first photography museum in the Netherlands and has been exhibiting works by living photographers since its inception in 1999. The museum has a specialized photo-bookstore managed by Tim Mooij-Knip, where you will find a selection of national and international photo books by up-and-coming photographers. The museum and store take their name from the building in which they are located which was built in 1655 by the French merchant Isaac Focquier. In Amsterdam, at that time, house numbers were not prevalent, «the builder put the name of the city of Marseille on the front. The house is part of the Dutch Canal district and we have maintained its state». Prior to managing the photography bookstore, Mooij-Knip had an interest in the arts, and considers himself to be part of the post-punk, do-it-yourself music scene and this experience came in handy when running the museum store. «I have been educated as a social worker and started working at the museum reception. Huis Marseille has a small-team and we used to do our work in-house. We have grown since and work with professionals. I stayed, and am now the manager of the museum store. The store is a continuation of the exhibition taking place. We are able to expand that experience by giving visitors access to a publication that includes the works they have visited, with added context including other works related to the topic». The museum shop has evolved and developed over time, it had the benefit of a gestation period in which the museum formed its identity and built its collection. «We have seven-hundred-and-fifty works of artists. In the early years the in-crowd could find us, but in the last six years we have been outward oriented, benefitting from a sense of identity that was formed in the silent-years».
When asked to highlight the curation process of the store’s catalogue of national and international photography books, Mooij-Knip explains that, «I am by no means an authority on this subject. I immerse myself and unearth information in a book I find of value that will resonate with our identity as a museum. The subject matter has to cohere into a whole, while letting the images speak for themselves. The execution is essential – the paper, the printing, the binding, how clean the sequencing is. I tend to approach books as objects, looking at them from a store point of view». Mooij-Knip acknowledges that it is a balance as some photographers deliver a consistent oeuvre, supported by graphic designers, printers and binders who understand their process and work towards the best outcome. For other photographers, it can be less consistent «one book is worth-while and another I would skip, to my detriment: I appreciated ‘Approximate Joy’ by Christopher Anderson, but I skipped his book called ‘Pia’ that contained a slew of pictures of his daughter. That book sold out everywhere in no time and I did not have it». Mooij-Knip affirms that he is able to get books that are a task to find, like Of Mud and Lotus by Viviane Sassen, who they work with, the first editions of Deana Lawson’s Aperture Monograph, Jamie Hawkesworth’s Preston Bus Station project, Marie Tomanova’s Young American and Shaniqwa Jarvis’ self-titled book. Concerning the identification of new-artists to showcase, Mooij-Knip maintains that Huis Marseille tends to select photographers that have a solid-body of work. He explains that the museum Director, Nanda van den Berg is a fan of Instagram and sends him screen shots of books and artists she follows, which contrasts his taste. «I stay up to date by checking my list of one-hundred-and-thirty distributors and publishers every week. My browser explodes when I open it, but it gives an overview of what is released. People email me for feedback on their projects, which I am happy to do. When they complete working on their books, we give them a place in our store. I am waiting for the book of a Dutch photographer, Sabine Rovers, who made an edition about a cowboy she met. It sold out in minutes and we talked about a second edition. She will bring that one to the store soon».
For Mooij-Knip, an exhibition in Huis Marseille is by definition a collaboration between the museum and the photographer. «We are not a white cube in which you can install a ready-made exhibition. We have rooms with dimensions that vary allowing photographers to be involved. They appreciate the relationships involved in the work to make it possible, it is a chance to stand near to the work. When we collaborate, we think about ways of opening the work up». He highlights the opportunity for visitors to be able to make a purchase «a limited-edition artwork of the photographer. The prices we ask are below their gallery prices and the edition is higher, it is a chance to buy art if you can afford it». The interior of the museum consists of marble-floors and wooden-beams. When entering the museum, the first and last room to see used to be the front room of the house, «the ceiling is high and we have commissioned a contemporary-glass-artist, Bernard Heesen, to make a glass chandelier for our store. He has not made one before. Today, the first room people see is the publication we made alongside the current exhibition ‘Infinite Identities, photography in the age of sharing’ and a scarf I designed together with Coco Capitán». The customer profile for Huis Marseille is people who visit the museum and want to purchase cards and souvenirs, to photography-book collectors. «We have had customers who, without blinking spend money on books they value and those that complete their collection, but we have a regular customer who is a dishwasher. He visits on a regular basis and is building his photography book collection, but he can buy pieces or books that have gone on sale». When it comes to engaging with the community, Mooij-Knip states that people under eighteen are able to enter the museum for free. «We have a museum-card system in Holland, it allows card holders to access museums for free. In the last five years we have seen an uptick in young-people coming in. Due to the old-nature of the house, we are not wheel-chair accessible, but we reach out, as a museum on the canals, it can still be perceived as a space that is debarring». When asked to highlight an exhibition that was of significance, Mooij-Knip is adamant that the current exhibition, Infinite Identities, Photography in the Age of Sharing is his first choice: «eight photographers show how they approach Instagram. In 2019 we were the first to show an overview of Deana Lawson, with underwater photography by Elspeth Diederix. That was an exhibition that exuded power, accompanied by a publication».
The rewarding moments for Mooij-Knip have been contributing to the processes of making a publication: «it is not solely the photographer, it is the designer, the printer, the publisher, the lithographer, the binder, everyone collaborates». Regarding the future of photography as an art form, Mooij-Knip acknowledges that he views this through the lens of the bookstore «which is about slow-looking. The cliché is that images have become devalued, which is true because there is multiple». Visual literacy is evolving and it is of interest to note how photographers respond to this. «In books you see this with edits, paper or images. In the end, a book stays static and this guides the eye, if you have the time and energy to do it».IMAGE GALLERY