Gerhard Steidl

Rebecca Mead wrote a profile of publisher Gerhard Steidl for The New Yorker in May, and it’s a compelling read, especially if you’re interested in any or all of printing, publishing, and eccentricity.

Here is my favourite passage from the profile, a description of Steidl’s neighbourhood:

Steidl lives around the corner from his factory. He prefers to sleep in his own bed, and he often arrives in New York City on the first flight in the morning, and leaves on the last flight the same day. To prepare for the opening of Chanel’s cruise collection last spring, which took place in Havana, Steidl flew from Germany to Cuba for the day, four Fridays in a row. On another occasion, after being honored at an early-evening award ceremony in London, he got on a plane to New York, arriving in time for another early-evening engagement—a screening of a documentary, “How to Make a Book with Steidl,” at the Museum of Modern Art. His artists like to say that he moves faster than jet lag.

The proximity of his workplace and his home is convenient, but there is a serious political motivation underlying it, too. When Steidl was a teenager, he spent several weeks volunteering at Auschwitz, clearing paths for visitors and sleeping in a former barracks. His father had served in the German Army, and Steidl participated in a program that had been established, he said, to show young Germans “what the parents had done.” The experience helped him confront “the dark side of Germany.” One thing that he contemplated was the ethics of separating one’s work from one’s domestic life. “I read about how the homes of the officers were outside the concentration camp, where they had a wife and children, and a little dog, and they were the nicest people you can expect,” he told me. “And then they were going to work—they were shooting and murdering and sending people to death. So I also thought that it makes a huge difference when you are not isolated from your work, when working and living is a symbiosis. Normally, when you have a business and you produce something industrial, you have the plant somewhere and it makes a lot of dirt, and poison, and noise, and destroys the environment. You are working there all day, and then in the evening you drive home and you have your pleasant place to stay, with clean air, while poor people have to live with the dirt you are producing. I control my noise, because I am sleeping there, with an open window, every night.”

I appreciate Steidl’s integration of life and word, and his commitment to living where he works so that he’s forced to confront the byproducts of his work every day.