(Jorg Adolph,Gereon Wetzel, Germany, 2010) 88 minutes


Directors: Jörg Adolph, Gereon Wetzel
Producer: Ingo Fliess
Written by: Jörg Adolph, Gereon Wetzel
Cinematography: Jörg Adolph, Gereon Wetzel
Music: The New Lost City Ramblers
Pedal Steel Guitar: Barton Tarlas
With: Gerhard Steidl,
Robert Adams, Robert Frank,
Günter Grass, Karl Lagerfeld,
Martin Parr, Ed Ruscha,
Joel Sternfeld, Jeff Wall

Reviews and notes

2010: Leipzig (Golden Dove)
2011: Reykjavik

The title of Gereon Wetzel and Jörg Adolph's delightful and occasionally irreverent documentary How to Make a Book with Steidl playfully suggests there must be a secret recipe for publishing the kind of elegant, sensuous works of art that are, in fact, books made by finicky master Gerhard Steidl in Göttingen, Germany. But we learn from this tour de force of dogged, sometimes unexpected observation that the legendary Steidl, a youthful-looking 60-year-old in this 2010 production, has no publishing formula except a custom approach to each project. That, and a deep preference for materials that make a finished book smell like the best inks, stimulate the eyes, satisfy the ears with the crispness of a turned page and feel weighty in one's hands.
Steidl publishes photography books by the likes of Robert Frank, Ed Ruscha and Robert Adams, all of whom we meet. There are select literary works, too: Günter Grass appears, painting the cover for an edition of his The Tin Drum. We follow Steidl's seemingly endless globe-trotting for aesthetic consultations with clients in New York, Paris, Los Angeles and Germany. Wetzel and Adolph have fun with the disorienting pace of these travels, including the sight of blanket-wearing camels at a desert meeting in Qatar. The directors also rightfully enjoy little lapses into vulgarity in Steidl's workaday politesse.
- Tom Keogh, Seattle Times.

Gerhard Steidl has spent over 40 years printing, and publishing, books from his tiny workshop. Rather than expand into a large space, Gerhard prefers the intimate way he creates a book. With such a small facility, Gerhard has a long waiting list of clients wanting to work with him, as he has taken book making to an art form. Every tiny detail must pass his inspection, from the layout of books, to the type of paper used, and even the smell. Nothing escapes his attention to detail, and it’s the reason his work is in such demand. How to Make a Book with Steidl follows Gerhard as he prepares his latest creation, and meets with clients around the globe.

With digital forms of books taking over, the actual act of holding a novel in your hands and turning the pages is becoming a thing of the past. There are still those out there who prefer the physical form of a book, but perhaps none are as fond of these bound piles of paper as Gerhard Steidl. In the way a painter or photographer may view their work, Gerhard does the same for the books that he produces. He’s taken something that many of us take for granted and turned it into its own unique form of art.

Without looking into his past or personal life, How to Make a Book with Steidl simply follows Gerhard through his daily life. This involves numerous trips around the world, including New York, London, and even the Katar desert. His clients include Karl Lagerfeld, Chanel, and Nobel laureate Günter Grass. While we witness some of the meetings between Gerhard and his clients, a large focus is put on his latest work with Joel Sternfeld. Sternfeld is putting together an art book called iDubai, where all the photos were taken with an iPhone. Together, the men strive to make the photos in the book look exactly as they do on an iPhone screen.

It’s the work between Steidl and Sternfeld that creates the most interesting aspect of the film. It shows the passion that both men have for their art, and how the final product has become something even greater by combining both their talents. Without Gerhard, Sternfeld never would have been able to create a book that communicates the message in his photographs before you even open the book. Steidl’s respect is well earned, and his dedication to continuing his craft his remarkable. With Steidl around, the future of books seems safe.
- William Brownridge, Totonto Film Scene, 30 August 2013.

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