Ensemble: Marseille’s new home for independent publishing

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Loose Joints open a physical space for books, editions, events and exhibitions in the southern French city

Ensemble, a space for books, editions, and photography, conceived of by Sarah Piegay Espenon and Lewis Chaplin of publishing house Loose Joints, sits along a backstreet of Marseille’s vibrant Vieux Port neighbourhood. Espenon and Chaplin founded the independent publishing house in 2015. Initially based in London, they relocated to the southern French port city two years ago and quickly fell in love with it. “We were eager to develop a more international and contemporary space for photographic discourse here,” they reflect. The advent of Covid-19 put this on hold until Ensemble finally opened at the start of the summer.

Loose Joints’ approach to publishing is distinct and fresh, initiating projects with emerging and contemporary artists and completing everything in-house. They work collaboratively with practitioners to conceptualise, design and produce photobooks, enhancing artists’ existing ideas for publications and sculpting sequences from large edits of work. “I spend a lot of time just researching,” says Espenon. “We sometimes approach artists who might not yet have an idea about how to develop their work into a book, but we can see there is something interesting there. So we will reach out to them and initiate a dialogue, which often becomes a conversation that will develop over many months, or even several years.”

Ensemble's interior.
Ensemble's interior.
Ensemble's interior.

The design and name of Ensemble, translating as ‘together’ in French, reflects Chaplin and Espenon’s collaborative ethos, and the pair also worked with other artists and makers to shape the space. They invited the Dutch designer Dirk van der Kooij to present and sell his sculptural lamps, chairs and tables. Meanwhile, the illustrator Miguel Porlan drew Ensemble’s delicate logo: a trio of birds resting on a pile of books set against a deep green. The industrial designers CP-RV also helped Chaplin and Espenon establish a fluid interior. All furnishings, custom-designed by CP-RV, are movable and modular, providing a place to host performances, exhibitions, talks, film screenings, events and more.

A burnt orange accordion wall composed of paper divides the bookshop from the publishing studio behind; a literal representation of the conversation between both spaces. Although the pair do not intend to run an intensive exhibition programme, Ensemble also hosts small shows. An installation of work by Jack Whitefield [below] currently occupies one wall: two large drawings created with traces of charred gorse, four photographs, and a pile of charred gorse resting on the floor below. The work evokes Cornwall’s wild landscapes – a creative power in Whitefield’s work. A soft riso-printed publication titled FURZE accompanies the installation, showcasing the project in its entirety. 

Ensemble is somewhere visitors can engage with Loose Joints’ titles (Espenon and Chaplin have another four books planned for this year, including one with Deutsche Börse-winner Mohamed Bourouissa) alongside independent publishing from all over the world. The pair also envision it as a place people can experience contemporary photography more broadly. “It’s an experiment,” they say. “There is no other space in Marseille dedicated to contemporary, independent and international photography publishing; Ensemble should be somewhere people can discover new and innovative approaches to photography and take something away from visiting.”

Ensemble can be found on 7 rue du Chevalier Roze, Marseille 13002. Loose Joints’ titles can be purchased via their website.