Entrepreneurial Conservation, Book

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Steidl (pictured here with the Italian photographer Massimo Vitali) is engaged in an effort to print and catalogue work that might otherwise not be available, and to use advanced industrial means to distribute it widely. It is a Gutenberg-like goal, with the history of photography substituting for the word of God. Photograph by Mark Peckmezian for The New Yorker

We have frequently sampled the publications of Phaidon when we see relevance to themes we care about. There are plenty of books they produce that are about frill or fashion, and we are less than not interested in those. But we assume those books we like least are likely the ones that sell well enough to pay for the ones we like most. It is a principle we can live with. In our own work we commercialize experiences in nature in order to fund the conservation of that nature, and we live with all the paradoxes inherent in that.

In this week’s New Yorker there is a profile of one man whose life’s work is more or less displaying the same principle, again in the realm of books with photographs, paid for by work in fashion. It caught my attention at first in the same way the Phaidon books generally do, with regard to craft, beautiful display, etc., but there is more here. This man does not just produce lovely coffee table books.  He is clearly on a mission we can relate to, recognizable for an entrepreneurial approach to conservation. Read the one paragraph sampled below for a taste:

GERHARD STEIDL IS MAKING BOOKS AN ART FORM

He is the printer the world’s best photographers trust most.

…“Gerhard grasped that there was a historical moment—almost an imperative—to get this work, publish it, and put it in the historical record before it is too late,” Sharon Gallagher, the president of Distributed Art Publishers, which distributes Steidl’s books in the U.S., told me. “I think he sees what he is doing as a praxis—a social action toward political ends.” Steidl told me, “If you read a book, or a visual book—for me, it is all reading—or if you are in a gallery or a museum, and the curated show was done by an educated person, that educates you visually. That all adds up. I will not say it brings you to a higher level, but it makes life more valuable, than to be stupid.” Steidl is not sentimental about print qua print; he reads the newspaper on an iPad when he is travelling. But there is nonetheless a moral dimension to his bookmaking, a conviction that the book remains an ideal vehicle for culture’s remediating powers…

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