Sunday, 10 February 2013


Picking up the theme of "quality books" again, I was meant to be going to a showing of the film How to Make a Book with Steidl last night at the John Hansard Gallery, but the weather was awful, the timing was inconvenient (18:00-20:00 on a Saturday!), my cough had started up again, and in the end I just stayed at home.

If you've got a reasonable amount of disposable income, and photo-books are your only (or main) expensive habit, you won't need any introduction to the output of Steidl Verlag, based in Göttingen.  They are, in the words of Cole Porter, The Tops.  They are the Louvre Museum, the Colosseum, nay, the Mickey Mouse of book production*.  As I have said before, the Germans get books, in the same way they get cars.  To hold and page through a Steidl or Kehrer photo-book is like getting behind the wheel of an Audi or BMW.

But Steidl books are a special case, because they are what you get when perfectionism, entrepreneurial drive, printing craft know-how, and immaculate taste are embodied in one man, printer-publisher Gerhard Steidl.  Such obsessive hands-on direction is a rare thing in this "good enough" world.  I suppose Manfred Eicher of ECM records would be another stand-out (and German) example.

The film is not, in fact, a "how to", but a portrait of Steidl, as "he collaborates with the world famous photographers Joel Sternfeld, Robert Frank, Ed Ruscha, Jeff Wall and Robert Adams, at their studios and other places of work, in New York, London and Paris, in the Katar desert, and, last but not least, in Göttingen. Here, in "Steidlville", their works are printed on Steidl's own machines, in three shifts. In goes the idea, out comes the finished book".

Disappointing not to see the film, but I see it's available on DVD now, so I've ordered myself a copy.  You can get a flavour of it at this website, including a trailer.  Not a single car-chase, of course, but you will get to hear Steidl say "Fuck ze mid-tones!" to Joel Sternfeld.

Not quite Steidl-ready, but one day, one day...

* Odd, how "Mickey Mouse" has gone from a witty example of the Best of the Best to a synonym for "crap", but never mind.

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