Pho­to­book par­adise

The 1,600 pre­mium pho­to­books from Steidl will form a li­brary col­lec­tion in Sin­ga­pore.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - ART - By Nur Asy­iqiN Mo­hAMAd sAlleh

RENOWNED pub­lisher Ger­hard Steidl ( pic) has do­nated 1,600 pre­mium pho­to­books to in­de­pen­dent arts space Deck in Sin­ga­pore, to set up what is be­lieved to be South- East Asia’s first pub­lic li­brary ded­i­cated fully to pho­tog­ra­phy.

On April 8, the li­brary in Deck’s gal­leries at 120A Prin­sep Street, packed with a se­lec­tion of high- end books with a to­tal value of 100,000 ( RM451,000) will open to mem­bers of the pub­lic. The books are not for loan.

Steidl has picked ti­tles put out by his epony­mous Ger­man pub­lish­ing com­pany, among them rare items that have yet to hit the shelves of li­braries in Asia, and books by cre­atives such as Amer­i­can doc­u­men­tary pho­tog­ra­pher Joel Stern­feld, known for his large- for­mat colour pho­to­graphs, and fash­ion ti­tan Karl Lager­feld.

He says: “Th­ese are the finest books I have ever done.”

Be­spec­ta­cled and im­pec­ca­bly groomed, with a brisk, as­sured way about him, Steidl has long been re­garded pub­lish­ing roy­alty; the tire­less head of a pub­lish­ing com­pany made leg­endary by its re­lent­less at­ten­tion to de­tail.

His com­pany, started in 1972, has put to­gether and printed about 4,000 books in its four- storey premises in Got­tin­gen, Ger­many. Ev­ery one of th­ese books has passed through the hands of Steidl him­self.

The Steidl Deck li­brary, he says, will show­case some of his most in­ter­est­ing books – those pub­lished be­tween 2005 and 2015.

“I be­lieve those years are the most ex­cit­ing ones be­cause it is the peak of my know- how and, I be­lieve, the peak of fine art print­ing,” he says. “Never have there been so many good pa­pers. The ink tech­nol­ogy is de­vel­oped to the high­est stan­dards. It is the golden age of mak­ing books.”

Deck founder and di­rec­tor Gwen LeeL h hopes theth pho­to­bookh t b k li­brary will not just be a source of know wledge and in­spi­ra­tion, but also o where peo­ple with a pas­sionn for pic­tures can con­nect with on ne an­other.

An ac ccom­pa­ny­ing ex­hi­bi­tion thatt gives an in­ti­mate pe eek into the art of book kmak­ing will run fro om April 8 to May 22 . Mr Steidl will be giv­ing a mas­ter­class s and lecture on book kmak­ing and pub blish­ing at D Deck on the open­ing g day.

Both he and De ck have bi ig plans fo or the libr rary – they h hope to even ntu­ally tak ke it aroundd Asia.

This re­gion is rel­a­tively new ground for him, but he has found a re­sound­ing in­ter­est in book­mak­ing here.

He says: “There is a real hunger, a thirst, to get in con­tact with phys­i­cal books, to be con­nected with the old world and the tra­di­tional cul­tural con­cepts of Europe.

“That is some­thing Asia is look­ing for. I think the young here will pick up th­ese ideas, but change them into new pro­cesses and prod­ucts. My hope is that the new ideas swim back to Europe and change our lives too.”

Af­ter all, in­dus­trial prod­ucts – re­frig­er­a­tors, cell­phones, cars – man­u­fac­tured in Asia have al­ready found their way to the rest of the world, he adds.

“It’s very hard to find ob­jects of cul­ture from Asia in Euro­pean or Amer­i­can stores now. But I think it would not be sur­pris­ing if th­ese ob­jects pro­duced in Asia, like books, swim back into our cul­ture in the fu­ture.”

The vet­eran of a bat­tered book in­dus­try, for years gripped by un­cer­tainty over its sur­vival and fears that the ad­vent of e- books might bring about its col­lapse, is fiercely op­ti­mistic about the fu­ture of the printed book.

“Years ago, ev­ery­body was say­ing that the print­ing in­dus­try and the book in­dus­try are a dy­ing species. That’s sim­ply not true,” he says, point­ing to how e- b book k salesl h have stag­nated in re­cent years.

“So the phys­i­cal book is in a very healthy con­di­tion. There is more

in­ter­est and more de­mand. It is like a lit­tle rev­o­lu­tion. Af­ter years of be­ing frus­trated that the phys­i­cal book mar­ket might be shrink­ing, it’s like we’re tak­ing a step into a new age of mak­ing books.”

He at­tributes this to the leaps in tech­nol­ogy for mak­ers of books them­selves and chang­ing at­ti­tudes of the mod­ern reader, who is now more ed­u­cated when it comes to cul­ture and vis­ual mat­ters.

He has ded­i­cated decades of his life to his books, but each day brings with it a new thrill. Even now, he speaks of the printed book with a sur­pris­ing ten­der­ness. “For me, the next book I’m do­ing is al­ways the most ex­cit­ing one. So when I wake up in the morn­ing, I’m look­ing to what I can do to­day.”

Steidl, who has no chil­dren of his own, adds: “I am not fin­ished yet. It’s like when you have chil­dren and you have to grow them, and you can’t say one day is enough, now I’m fin­ished.

“My chil­dren – my books – are still very young, so I need a lot of time to grow them and bring them to life.” – The Straits Times, Sin­ga­pore/ Asia News Net­work

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