Rebecca Mead’s New Yorker profile, “The Book Monk*: He is the printer the world’s best photographers trust most” opened the pages on a man whose German heritage influenced not only his work product – critical attention to detail and perfection – but his footprint on the world.
Gerhard Steidl captured my fascination for three reasons.
1 – He is someone who is an influential person in an unexpected niche of industry
Who knew printing could be an elite art? And yet, once again I am reminded that success comes from excellence, not industry. “Steidl, who is sixty-six, is known for fanatical attention to detail, for superlative craftsmanship, and for embracing the best that technology has to offer…Steidl seeks out the best inks, and pillars new techniques for achieving exquisite reproductions.”
2 – His heritage influenced a self-awareness of impact and community
Steidl’s father was in the German army during WWII, from which he learned one shouldn’t separate life and work. Officers who ran concentration camps would work in the camps, then leave the walls to their families, completely leaving behind the impacts of their actions. Steidl refuses make a negative impact on others, so he keeps himself honest by living where he works. “I control my noise, because I am sleeping there, with an open window every night.”
3 – His success came from being ballsy
My two favorites stories are ONE: He printed his first works on snarfed newspaper and he earned money to buy his first printing equipment at 16 by selling his prescription diet pills. “‘The empire was built on family crime,’ he told me with satisfaction.” TWO: Karl Lagerfeld won a prize to have a monograph printed about him and he rejected it. Steidl – needing the money – proposed alternatives until Karl agreed to have him test a photo book. While reviewing the test prints…“Presenting one image, Steidl cautioned, ‘This is beautiful paper, but it is very expensive.’ Lagerfeld responded with four words: ‘Gerhard, are we poor?'”
I now need to watch the documentary “How to Make a Book with Steidl“**, read Günter Grass, and track down some of his books in real life.
*This title is from the print version of the article.
**God bless the german accent.