How to Make a Book with Steidl
Autumn 2012 Documentary series
October 10, 2012 at 7:00pm
Directed by Jörg Adolph and Gereon Wetzel
Starring Robert Adams, Robert Frank and Günter Grass
Rated NR ·
German and English with English subtitles
How to Make a Book with Steidl
For 40 years, Gerhard Steidl has combined the roles of printer and publisher, resolved to personally check each sheet leaving his printing shop in Göttingen. This perfectionism, combined with an unconditional love for books, for the traditional printing craft and a commitment to the quality standards of manufacturing (in the original sense of the word, made by hand), has gained worldwide attention. The most internationally renowned photographic artists vie for the opportunity to collaborate with Gerhard Steidl, to conceive and produce the perfect publication with him.
Filmed in the direct cinema style, How to Make a Book with Steidl observes the publisher, 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.
Gerhard Steidl’s independent empire is founded on several sources of income – a significant portion of his publishing efforts being dedicated to Karl Lagerfeld and Chanel (printing everything for the designers, from admission tickets to catalogues). Other staples are the German metal workers’ collective labor agreement and, for many years, each new book by Nobel laureate Günter Grass. This is where he earns the money that he, to use his words, “throws out the window” on ambitious photographic art projects.
“Gerhard Steidl makes books for a living – beautiful, ornate art books that showcase photographers such as Martin Parr and Jeff Wall, and painters like Ed Ruscha. Directors Adolph and Wetzel follow the small, but intense publisher from his native Germany to America, where he meets these artists to discuss the design and editing of their new books. The film is shot in fly-on-the-wall, vérité style without any obtrusive narrating or flashy editing. This approach suits the personality of the cerebral Stiedl. The best moments come with legendary photographer Robert Frank, a reclusive figure who never grants interviews. Frank waxes about the early days of his career from his SoHo study, and relaxes in rural Nova Scotia…There’s no revelation found in this doc, no grand statement about art or insights into its main character. Simply,Stiedl is a day-in-the-life of one of the finest book publishers on Earth.” (Allan Tong, exclaim!)
“Steidl is a gawkily compelling, gently arrogant character whose perfectionism seems well suited to the places where high craft and elevated art meet. The only autobiographical info he divulges has to do with his father, a printing-press cleaner with little appreciation for books, and it’s obviously a crucial one. Like many of the images he champions, the exploratory, hand-held camerawork in this How to Make a Book is sometimes deceptively naive—much like the bluegrass music he listens to while churning out his rare, small masterpieces… .a rare and enticing documentary.” (Ken Eisner, The Georgia Straight)