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Sunday, April 14, 2013

Steidl, mostly--



Earlier I was fooling with my post for Sunday. It had certain pronounced leanings toward transcendence and also gardens, and then somehow suffered metamorphosis and turned into a rhymed, metrical poem. Thus it departed from the blogger-plane of existence. And that is The End, or perhaps a beginning, as it travels on and I start another post entirely.

How to Make a Book with Steidl

Last night I watch a documentary about German publisher Gerhard Steidl, and though it is a bit repetitive and hypnotic in the way of many documentaries, I found that the repetitive and hypnotic elements perfectly fit the account of Steidl's obsession with perfection in the making of books. It's also rather exhausting to contemplate his dedication as he travels from Göttingen to Vancouver and New York and Los Angeles and Nova Scotia on quick work trips, visiting photographers, artist, designer, and novelist. (The film features Steidl with Günter Grass, Karl Lagerfeld, Edward Ruscha, Robert Frank and June Leaf, Khalid Al-Thani, Martin Parr, Jonas Wettre, Joel Sternfeld, Jeff Wall, John Cohen, and Robert Adams.)

Directors Gereon Wetzel and Jorg Adolph capture Steidl's confidence in his own skills and book-creation lore. They convey his love of the book, his determination to catch every aspect of book pleasure--the fragrance of different papers (if treated properly in printing), the sound of one heavy page falling onto the others, the touch under the hand, the instinctive grasp of how to make book design fit its subject. The publishing house that is Steidl reaches a rare level in the quality of paper and printing, and the freedom to pursue any design. It is very impressive to see.

The film also made me appreciate how lucky I am to have done book covers with interesting artists. In particular, I felt how lucky I have been to do books with Clive Hicks-Jenkins of Wales (Thaliad and The Foliate Head) and some first-rate book designers, including Elizabeth Adams and Andrew Wakelin and Burt and Burt.

Addendum: After reading artist Marja-Leena Rathje's comments, I have thought to mention that Clive has a number of fine-art books with the UK's marvelous Old Stile Press. You can scroll through posts on both those books and the ones with more commercial printing by going here. All are beautiful.


"All our books are designed and produced under the same roof. These days, very few publishers run their own printing presses. I, however, firmly believe in this noble tradition, as it enables me to follow and oversee every aspect of a book, from the artist’s initial idea to the final product. Thus, I can ensure a quality standard that would otherwise remain elusive." -Gerhard Steidl

Steidl found his vocation as a printmaker at the age of 17. I love that--love that he found his passion at such a young age and has held to it so long. I feel perfectly congruent with that sort of obsession! It won't be long until he will have been in the business for fifty years . . .


  1. I've heard of Steidl and his fantastic quality work with books, and enviable association with many well-known artists. I didn't know or had forgetten that he is in Gottingen which is not far from the town my husband was born and where my late father-in-law studied at the Gottingen University.

    It would be wonderful to have a book published by Steidl, but also so wonderful that you had the books done with Clive!

  2. Hah! Was not even thinking in that direction! Just fascinated by the account of him... I love any story about young people who catch fire and remain true to their original love of a vocation.

    Clive has done some marvelous work with Old Stile Press (UK), which does fine letterpress and printwork.

    Interesting that it had a connection for you...


Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.