How To Make A Book With Steidl

Screening at the Open City festival in London this Friday is last year’s film about the German printer and publisher Gerhard Steidl and his intimate work with some of the best photographers in the world

Screening at the Open City festival in London this Friday is last year’s film about the German printer and publisher Gerhard Steidl and his intimate work with some of the best photographers in the world…

Gerhard Steidl is a fascinating character and a formidable businessman as printer, publisher and founder of Steidl in Germany. His love of the physicality of books saturates Gereon Wetzel and Joerg Adolph’s 2010 film (the trailer is here), but this doesn’t obscure his interest in where digital technology has taken photography.

Joel Sternfeld’s iDubai book, for example, is a series of iPhone photos of the city (spread shown, above) and it’s the production of this title that we see most of in How To Make A Book With Steidl, following its gestation from initial artwork meetings to the final, brilliantly garish binding.

The rest of the supporting cast aren’t bad either: Martin Parr, Robert Frank, Ed Ruscha (his handsome take on Jack Kerouac’s On The Road shown, below), Khalid Al-Thani, Robert Adams and Jeff Wall are all filmed in discussion with Steidl. Interestingly, we also see his work with author, Günter Grass, on a new edition of The Tin Drum.

What is evident throughout is Steidl’s restless drive to produce the best book he possibly can with each photographer; be it in deciding on the tackiest type of leather for the cover of Sternfeld’s iDubai, or which colours from the Qatari desert best suit the spines of Al-Thani’s ten volume paen to the landscape of his country.

Meeting up with Robert Adams at his home in Astoria, Oregon, Adam’s recalls a line by the critic John Szarkowski, where he compared photography to playing billiards: it’s what bounces off the edges that’s important, how it all interacts.

The image is resonant of Steidl himself, who can spend three or four days on the road, travelling back and forth to various meetings, which then generates many months of work back at the studio in Göttingen. Just how much he moves across the globe is hinted at in shots of his five iPods lined up on various airline’s fold-up trays.

How to Make a Book with Steidl, directed by Gereon Wetzel and Joerg Adolph (2010, Germany) will be screened at Open City, Malet Place in Bloomsbury, London at 1.30pm on June 17 (Screen 3; 88′). It is also showing with Doyald Young: Logotype Designer (see details below). Tickets are £5 and available to book here.

Other highlights of the festival include (texts are taken from the programme):

Steel Homes, Eva Weber, 2008, UK
8pm, June 16, Screen 1 (9’50”) 

Self-storage units are windows into human histories: the silent cells with their discarded objects and dust-covered furniture are inscribed with past dreams, secret hopes and lives we cannot let go of. A poetic portrait of life at a self storage warehouse, Steel Homes explores the fragmented nature of memories, set in the starkly beautiful aesthetic of our modern industrial world. Showing as part of a UK Shorts Programme.

Utopia London, Tom Cordell, 2010, UK
5.30pm, June 17, Screen 1 (82′)

Today, London’s architectural icons are banks and office blocks that radiate their wealth. But there was once a group of idealistic architects who wanted to shape an egalitarian society through a concrete utopia. Now many of their buildings are being left to decay or are slated for demolition, but they remain extraordinary testaments to an attempt to an idealistic if controversial attempt to change the way people lived in our city.

Doyald Young: Logotype Designer, Scott Erickson, 2010, US
1.30pm, June 17, Screen 3 (41′). UK premiere

From humble beginnings in a small Texas town eight decades ago came legendary typographer, logotype designer, author and teacher Doyald Young. As elegant as his script fonts and as wise as his set of Oxford English dictionaries, Young sets the standard for his craft. He recalls the hundreds of iterations he went through in creating the logo for Prudential, and he puts pencil to tissue creating the pages for his next book about script lettering, Learning Curves. Young’s story is compelling, captivating, and most of all, inspiring. (Screening with How To Make A Book With Steidl.)

The full Open City programme is here.

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