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This category contains the following articles
Between Myth and Reality - Victor Man's Existential Painting
"The Contemplative Art Experience no Longer Takes Place" - Olaf Nicolai on the Future of Biennials
MACHT KUNST - The Prizewinners - Hide and Seek: The Self-Portraits of Annina Lingens
An American Affair - A Visit to the 2014 Whitney Biennial
Let's talk: Dayanita Singh & Gerhard Steidl on the High Art of Making Books
Six Feet Under - Why does contemporary art love to spotlight Old Masters and forgotten outsiders?
"Optimism is part of a revolutionary mindset" - An Interview with Biennale of Sydney Curator Juliana Engberg
Rethinking the Language of Art - The Whitney Biennial 2014 beyond Discourse
The Man Who Invented Pop Art - London Celebrates Richard Hamilton
Dark Metamorphoses - Victor Man Is Artist of the Year 2014
MACHT KUNST - The Prizewinners - "Colors were never strong enough for me": A visit with Nicolas Fontaine
MACHT KUNST - The Prizewinners - Lena Ader: A Certain Strength

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Let's talk:
Dayanita Singh & Gerhard Steidl
on the High Art of Making Books


She is arguably one of the most progressive photo artists in India and intends to exhibit only books from now on. He is a publisher who views his art and photo books as haute couture. They both love paper. It sounds like the beginning of a beautiful friendship.


Gerhard Steidl: When I first started working, my ideal was to have the photography printed in book form and the book be the gallery. That would be a very easy way for photography to be consumed all over the world. A person in Australia or South America might never have access to a gallery in London, but it’s easy to order a book and look at photographs of the same quality as the ones you’d see in a gallery. With today’s printing technology, this has become entirely possible. Many photographers say that when a book is printed, some, or most, or sometimes even all of the prints look better than the prints they show in galleries.

Dayanita Singh: In a few months’ time I’ll have a show at the MMK in Frankfurt, and they’ve asked me if we could make an artist’s book. I think we've really managed to crack something with File Room and its imbedded photo on the cover and the different colors of the cloth. It’s a beautiful book, but it can also be seen as an object. And because of the very inexpensive paper we’ve chosen, it has a feel that no other book of photography has. So if we can have different colors for the cloth, can we also have different images on the cover?


Dayanita Singh is much more than just a chronicler of contemporary India. With her book projects and “portable museums,” Singh probes the limits of the medium of photography and its modes of representation. An entire floor of the Deutsche Bank towers is devoted to the photographer. A lavish show of her work called Go Away Closer opens in September at the Frankfurt MMK.

Gerhard Steidl has been working since 1967 as a book designer and printer, with Joseph Beuys as one of his first clients. Since the mid-eighties, all of Günter Grass’s books have been published by Steidl Verlag. In 1993 Steidl began a close collaboration with Karl Lagerfeld. Steidl publishes books by internationally renowned photographers and artists such as Ed Ruscha, Juergen Teller, and William Eggleston.


GS: Yes, we can do that.

DS: Great. That would give us endless possibilities. Instead of prints, I could show the books in my exhibitions. My idea is that you can create an entire exhibition of, let’s say, 35 images for about 1,500 Euros. That would be incredible. What I would like to do is to no longer show photographs with a mat and frame. Instead, I want the book to be behind each photograph. I thought about calling the book Go Away Closer Two.

GS: That’s not a very good title.

DS: Then how about Museum of Chance?

GS: That's much better. Go Away Closer Two sounds like Mercedes S and Mercedes E Class, like something industrial.

DS: We’ll call it Museum of Chance. And I want a Steidl/ Singh shop in my show.

GS: A pop-up store? Just with your books?

DS: No, I think it will come with a selection of Steidl books.

GS: If there’s somebody selecting the books and it’s a personal choice, we can call it a curated bookstore. That's a concept for the future of bookstores. Companies like Barnes and Noble no longer have educated booksellers, only people who can scan the barcode. Nobody is able to say anything about a book anymore. The opposite concept would be to have a small bookstore, with everything in it the taste of the person who owns the bookshop. People don't buy just the books. They also buy the knowledge and the taste of the shop owner.

DS: I will sit in the shop; I hope you come visit once a week.

GS: Yeah, that's a very good idea. I'll fit it into my schedule. (laughs)

DS: Shall we call it Steidl/Singh? Or Singh/Steidl?

GS: I wouldn’t make it a word game. I always say I have no business partners, and then people would think …

DS: I’ve already told people that I’m married to you. (laughs)

GS: Oh, excellent. Where’s the wedding ring? I would call it the Steidl pop-up store, curated by Dayanita Singh. Then everyone would understand what it is. Will there be text in the book?

DS: Not as yet, but there can be … By the way, what kind of paper is this?

GS: This is a very special paper that I created with the German paper mill Scheufelen in 2000. It’s a paper made with recipes for paper coating from 1890. Normally, the coating on paper is high-tech chemical stuff, but this is organic material. And it has no optical brightness. So the books printed on this paper will never get yellow edges.

DS: You’ve designed paper? I didn't know that!

GS: I also designed an uncoated recycling paper especially for literature. It’s 80% post-consumer fiber and 20% secondary fiber from the paper mill. So in the end it consists of 100% recycled material. I printed a Günter Grass book on this paper.

DS: But no photos yet?

GS: No, just literature. And then a certain Ms. Rowling was here in Germany. She bought a book by Grass, discovered this paper, and said to her publishing house, “I want to have this exact paper for my Harry Potter books in Germany.” Actually, her order helps this paper mill to survive. Of course, it was the largest order they’ve ever had.

DS: Fantastic! Can we print photos on that?

GS: Of course ... Today, we have a crisis in paper manufacturing because the print runs of newspapers and books are decreasing. It’s very hard for paper mills to survive. But I believe that small companies like Scheufelen are far more innovative than the giants. Somebody actually listens to what you want, and these paper products make beautiful objects. That's why I use paper specialties for all my books. When people say Steidl books look different, it's true because of the specialties I use. They’re more expensive and are produced à la carte. I think we should use an uncoated paper for the Museum of Chance book. And maybe we can use a recycled paper. This could add another idea to your book.

DS: Yes, because the feel of File Room is also something people are very drawn to. Just touching it conveys so much more than a regular photo book.

GS: The problem is that those types of paper are beautiful, but most of today’s printers don’t have the knowhow to work with them. You need to run material tests and you have to try out various inks. But most printers don't want to experiment. Most people working in the graphic industry have no taste or vision. That’s why they’re all going bankrupt. But if you have the knowhow, you can survive in a wonderful, comfortable niche and you can even make money. My vision is that young people from all around the world will learn from you and me how to make a beautiful book and will then do that in their own country. Maybe someone will follow in our footsteps once he or she has finished studying fine arts or design.

DS: Absolutely. I don't think I told you, but I’ve left the gallery in India. Because I only want to make books now. I’ll take these books to small towns that never get to see a photo exhibition. Museum of Chance will work as a book, but it’s also the exhibition—without insurance and with very low shipping costs. And if something gets lost, it's not a problem. It could change the way people think about an exhibition.

GS: I really think that you’re going back to the idea of Gutenberg. He had the idea to publish the Bible, and in doing so he revolutionized printing technology with his moveable type. Gutenberg designed, printed, bound, and sold the Bible. Previously, it had only been available to rich people because a monk had to sit down for years to write it out by hand, and that cost a fortune. Gutenberg was the one who made the book a democratic object. In a way, we’re continuing that. Photography is shown in museums and galleries, but a normal person can’t afford the prints. But a beautiful book is available to everybody.

You know, making books is just like being a chef who cooks in a restaurant. When you have good ingredients and you’re creative, you can cook a good meal. It’s the same with books. You have to possess knowledge about the materials you’re using for printing and binding. It’s the knowhow that makes the difference. But the problem in today’s printing industry is that this knowledge about good products is largely gone. Everything is dictated by money. Like when somebody in the car industry plans to make a catalogue for a new car—they’re actually called catalogues, sales literature.

DS: And that's what art catalogues have become.

GS: Yeah, and it’s all dictated by money. Where can we buy the paper a little cheaper, where can we get the printing a little cheaper, where can we get the binding a little cheaper. In the end, when you scale it down to the lowest possible price, very often you wind up with a product that’s not worth being printed. And then it’s better to make the whole thing Internet only. But if you want to go the other way, to physically print on paper—then I think the only possibility is to go for haute cuisine. That means to go for the very, very best. I am in the luxurious position of being the owner of a press. I know where the switch is that starts the machine. When I decide to run some print tests, it’s on my time and it’s my fun. But if you have to go to a company, it costs a fortune. They don't want to interrupt the processes they run every day. It’s very hard to make extraordinary printed material unless you’re a well-known art director or buyer of paper. So for young people this is very hard. But I think it’s our duty to bring the knowledge to them.

DS: Do you invite students to come here?

GS: Yes. Young people from all over the world keep asking if they can do an internship here. I select maybe one person from India for three months, or a person from South America for a year. That’s very interesting for us, because we also learn from their culture and their aesthetics. It’s very simple: a designer from Sweden will make totally different color choices for a cover than a person from Spain. Someone from Sweden chooses cool bluish or greenish colors, while someone from Spain prefers yellow or red.
In the end, our message to young people is to produce everything you need for a book in your own country. It’s possible. 50, 70, 80 years ago, there was no tourism of paper palettes around the world. If something was printed in the USA, the paper came from the USA. That’s why it was interesting for book collectors to bring back books from different countries, because they were all different. But now, due to today’s globalism, it’s all the same. A printer in the United States or in China buys the same paper in Finland. I think the future of printed material is to bring back the individuality of manufacturing. It has to be haute cuisine—or haute couture. Why do people buy high fashion, from Chanel? Because they know that the drawing is done by Karl Lagerfeld in Paris. He takes care of the fabrics. In the Chanel studio there are 200 tailors working on one piece of haute couture. In the end, the fitting is done by Karl Lagerfeld. So when the model is ready, you really know that this is a product that has been designed and created from the idea to the final product in Paris, France, and that there’s a person behind it who looks after it. With other fashion houses, you don't really know if it has been produced in Bangladesh or wherever. My idea for my books is that they should be haute couture. So when a book has the name Steidl on it, it’s been designed and created together with the artist in Düstere Straße 4, Göttingen, Germany. And the artist and the printer had their hands on it. That’s the difference to all the other stuff around.




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