Gerhard STEIDL : Fine art of Steidl book + Last Impressions
Gerhard STEIDL
Fine art of Steidl book + Last Impressions
Marie-Claire Mermoud, January 4, 2010
Photography has been exhibited on walls and in books since its invention. The book of photography, an enticing object because of its graphics and images, can be acquired by anyone, taken anywhere and read at any time. It refers us to the personal experience of the object which we open, leaf through and read. In the era of digital photography, books remain a source of important information about the history of the medium and its developments, about the works of great photographers and those of passionate creators who are committed to their publications. Whether it has been made by hand or by using the latest technologies, a book is the result of decisions such as the choice of visual and textual content, cover, format, layout, paper, binding, font used, etc., which are unchanging over time. These different elements must all connect coherently, and together they contribute to the attractiveness of the object.

Gerhard Steidl/Koto Bolofo, graphiste de
Gerhard Steidl/Koto Bolofo, graphiste de "Steidlville"© 2009, Koto Bolofo
In the early 21st century, Gerhard Steidl is without a doubt the most prolific printer and editor of photography books: one book per day leaves “Steidlville”, in Göttingen, his home-town in Germany. His fief – which includes his editing house, printing works, and studio for graphic artists and reproduction specialists – also has the reputation of providing housing for the most prestigious artists of our era, all of whom are attracted by the quality of the books produced there. Steidl, whom Le Monde has nicknamed “the haute-couture editor”, publishes books which are works of art. Uniting the crafts of editing and printing, he worries more about quality than about the quantity produced, and ensures that no book leaves his editing house before he has personally controlled its paper, cover and printing quality.

“Impressions en continu” celebrates every aspect of the photography book, from the object of each artist’s dream to the final work delivered by the printer. The Musée de l’Elysée has invited Raymond Depardon, Jim Dine, Robert Frank, Roni Horn, Karl Lagerfeld, Ed Ruscha, Jürgen Teller, Deborah Turbeville and Jeff Wall, among numerous other confirmed photographers, to show us the creation of a new book “behind the scenes”. For the first time in public, they are exhibiting their sketches and layouts, their choices of covers, typography and paper, as well as their memories of “Steidlville”. All agree that making a book with Gerhard Steidl is the equivalent of fulfilling an idea, without the least concession. The exhibit which presents this creative synergy is also an invitation to discover leaf through, smell and touch the printed page.

Gerhard Steidl/Karl Lagerfeld © 2008, Steidl
Gerhard Steidl/Karl Lagerfeld © 2008, Steidl
According to his entourage, Gerhard Steidl is so interested in his profession as a printer that he even discusses the relationship between paper and ink! At the age of 17, he had already installed a press in his garage. Born in Göttingen in 1950, Steidl was fortunate to frequent Joseph Beuys at the time when the artist was creating multiples. Their collaboration, between 1972 and 1986, encouraged him to consider printing as a form of art. Marked by the works of the philosopher Walter Benjamin, who predicted that works of art would be designed to be reproduced in the 1930s, he then created silk-screen prints, lithographs and offset prints. In 1972, Steidl launched himself into the editing world with Befragung der Documenta, which was created in the back yard of the Göttingen house with the artist Klaus Staeck, his friend and mentor. Committed to left-wing politics, he used his printing works to publish political essays. Ten years later, he included literary works in his catalogue. In 1986, he suggested to the author Günter Grass that he publish the drawings which accompanied his manuscripts.

This formula was fruitful: the collaboration between the editor and the author resulted in acquisition of the global rights of the Nobel Literature Prize laureate. Grass still visits Steidl, who has distributed his books in over fifty languages, regularly.

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