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Issue No. 17 - Enigma

Print Is Not Dead

Image above: Gerhard Steidl speaking at the Strand Bookstore. © Jarelle Africa.

October 22, on the third floor of the Strand Bookstore, people arrive, talk amongst themselves, and drink reds and whites as they wait to hear Gerhard Steidl speak on the future of print. After being introduced, Steidl walked out holding a glass filled with a dark beverage. At the podium, he leaned into the mic and said, “This is not whiskey; it’s diet coke.”

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Image above: Waiting for Gerhard Steidl to speak at the Strand Bookstore. © Jarelle Africa.

Gerhard Steidl began working as a designer and printer in 1967. He started out printing posters for art exhibitions, and very soon Joseph Beuys and other artists were among his customers. In 1972, the first Steidl book, “Befragung zur documenta” (“Questioning documenta”) was published. From political non-fiction he expanded into literature and selected art and photography books. Now, Steidl is renowned as one of the contemporary world’s most important publishers. In his hour-long lecture, “Print is not Dead,” Steidl discussed the changing media landscape and the future of his company within it.

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Image above: During Gerhard Steidl's talk at the Strand Bookstore. © Jarelle Africa.

Like his role model, Johannes Gutenberg, Steidl is more than just a publisher; he’s a print-media artist and a revolutionary. “Like a conductor,” he says. Each book is a unique composition, with Steidl overseeing every step of its production, to make sure that everything going into each book is top-quality. Like a chef, he says a publisher has “to have the best products to make the best meal.” This includes: top-rate content, typography, printing quality, paper, and binding. According to Steidl, “Content, art, and technology are all connected.”

On technology, Steidl discussed the potential and limits of both print and digital media. He concedes that digital saves resources and is more accessible, but holds his reverence for print: “Paper has order...paper is patient.” He contends that print will not go the way of the floppy disk or cassette tape because digital reading could never replace the scent, aura, and experience of a physical book. For him, every book bears sentimental value to the reader, and requires “time, energy, and courage,” as opposed to the “ideological knowledge of quick digital consumption.”

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Image above: During Gerhard Steidl's talk at the Strand Bookstore. © Jarelle Africa.

He ended his talk by going through a day at Steidl. For him, the day begins at 4:30am, making a few sketches before going to the office, and then closes out the night with a glass of red wine at 11:30pm.  He explained how, unlike most publishers, an artist’s book from Steidl is a collaborative vision. The creation of each book is driven by his curiosity to learn something new about the artist’s work, and the artist is on-call to be a part of every decision. Also unlike most publishers, Steidl is hands-on: every step of the printing process is done on site. It is his attention to detail and respect for the artist’s vision, as well as his passion for paper, that places Steidl above everyone else in the publishing world. And with this expertise, he makes a compelling defense for print. In Steidl’s opinion, “The death of analogue would be the death of the good book.”

By Andrea Blanch

John Florea at Steven Kasher Gallery

Laura McPhee at Benrubi Gallery