Steidl-Verlag – “My books are meant to smell nice”
Passion and dedication to the book as a work of art reflect the philosophy of the Steidl-Verlag publishing house, which brings all the production stages together under one roof.
Ten years before he acquired the site, Gerhard Steidl had already established his own publishing company, at the start he printed posters and multiples and taught himself the required expertise. In 1972 Gerhard Steidl published his first book: Befragung der documenta (Questioning Documenta). At the beginning of the 1980s he started to publish volumes on art, literature and photography, before compiling his own photo book programme at the end of the 1990s, which became the largest programme specialising in contemporary photography in the world within a short time. Today the company is one of the best-known publishers of photographic and art books worldwide, where German and international artists such as Robert Lebeck and Klaus Staeck or Robert Frank, Joel Sternfeld and David Lynch have their books published. Steidl’s outstanding international reputation manifests itself in an export figure of around 80 per cent. But Steidl is also present in the literary market, with authors such as Erich Loest as well as Nobel prize laureates Halldór Laxness and Günter Grass.
Transforming ideas into works of art
The publisher does not view the use of state-of-the-art technology as a contradiction, but as an essential and an enhancement in order to mass-produce works of art in the age of technological reproducibility with the quality of hand-printed materials.
Steidl’s vision of having the production process, from programme work to printing, under one roof is a key aspect of the publisher’s representative position. He sees his publishing company as a highly modern factory, as a living organism in which ideas “drop down from the top to the bottom”. What was being developed at the top becomes tangible at the bottom. The company’s heart beats in the basement: the printer processes around 2000 tonnes of paper in a year.
Integrated on-site image processing
Gerhard Steidl sees himself as the conductor of an orchestra. The size of his publishing house is limited by the work capacity of the publisher, who starts work at four in the morning, and this means that he is not able to comply with every collaboration request. But passing contracts on to other companies is just as much out of the question as publishing a book he “hasn’t been able to get his paws on”. About 25 years ago a driver from a haulage firm knocked over a pallet of printed paper. As a consequence Gerhard Steidl simply bought his own lorry and employed his own drivers – since then nothing else has happened.
Working closely with Günter Grass and Karl Lagerfeld
works as a freelance literature critic and author in Cologne.
Translation: Jo Beckett
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Online-Redaktion
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