When people ask Günter Grass why he chose to grant Gerhard Steidl with the rights to all his works, the German artists always says the same thing: “I fell in love with Steidl.”
A similar feeling took over “it fashion magazine’s team last week during the presentation of the exhibitionSteidl: el arte de hacer libros con artistas (Steidl: the Art of Making Books with Artists), organized by Círculo del Arte and which will be on their Barcelona gallery until February 28th. Both the projection of the documentary How to Make a Book with Steidl and his short talk afterwards gave us some insights into the world of this unconventional publisher, one of the very few still in control of the whole book production process, from conception to printing, a process more similar to the production of a work of art, although, in Steidl’s own words, “I am not an artist, I am a technician, a craftsman who helps artists produce their work.”
I am not an artist, I am a technician, a craftsman who helps artists produce their work.
Each Steidl volume is treated with great professionalism and care, and Steidl himself looks for the materials and techniques to best suite it. This has made many artists dream with having their books published by Steidl Publishers, particulary photographers, as photography is Steidl’s favourite discipline. Just a quick look at this amazing publishing house’s catalogue is enough to get an idea of the amount of high quality artists he represents: Steidl owns world rights to the works of Joel Sternfeld, Susan Meiselas, Karl Lagerfeld, Gerard Malanga, Paolo Roversi or Jürgen Teller, to name but a few, and he works as well with well-known museums and galleries such as the National Portrait Gallery in London.
During a scene of the above-mentioned documentary, Steidl confesses that spending several days away from Göttingen, the city where Steidl Publisher’s premises are located and which has been re-christened by some a Steidlville, always brings forth a particular longing for the smell of ink and paper. In fact, he says that a well-crafted book has a particular smell: mass-produced books have either no smell, as a result of chemical products applied to them in order to make ink dry faster, or they stink, due to the petrol derivates used to produce them. On the contrary, Steidl only uses vegetal oils, and these mixed up with paper grant each book with a special and pleasant smell. So much so that Steidl’s obsession to find the perfect smell for each book gave Karl Lagerfeld –another self-proclaimed book addict– and Wallpaper magazine the idea to work with the publisher on a perfume called Paper Passion, perhaps the most extravagant feature to the huge and enviable Steidl catalogue.
Gerhard Steidl says that each time he has a new Günter Grass book ready, he visits the artist at his home and they both drink a schnapps to celebrate. Let’s toast to Steidl too and may his craftsmanship survive the digital revolution.