Gerhard Steidl began working as a designer and printer in 1967, when he was just 17 years old. On the occasion of an Andy Warhol exhibition in Cologne the following year, Steidl approached the artist. Fascinated by the intensity and saturated colours of Warhol’s work, Steidl asked about his silkscreen printing technique. Giddily he returned to his hometown of Göttingen, two hours north of Frankfurt, and set up his first printing studio, following the principle of “learning by doing”.
Steidl started out printing posters for art exhibitions, and it did not take long before Joseph Beuys, Klaus Staeck and other artists were among his customers. And within a few years he recognised that, for him, printing was not just a mechanical process but it had become his passion and an art in itself.
“In many ways the late Joseph Beuys was my teacher. From 1972 until his death, I produced most of his multiples and prints. He helped to sharpen my awareness of unusual materials and to create, if they were handled with meticulous care and attention to detail, moving works of art. Ever since, I have sought the challenge and thrill of working with unconventional materials and techniques in order to create objects surpassing the realm of mere mass production”.
In 1972, the first Steidl book, “Befragung zur documenta” (“Questioning documenta”) was published. From 1974, Steidl added political non-fiction to his program. In the early 1980s, he expanded into literature and selected art and photography books, and in 1989, he published his first paperback editions.
Since 1993 Steidl has held the world rights in the work of the 1999 Nobel Prize laureate Günter Grass. Celebrating some of the most distinctive voices in contemporary literature, Steidl has published books by John McGahern, A.L. Kennedy, Nobel Prize laureate Halldór Laxness, and non-fiction by Oskar Negt, Hans Leyendecker, and many others.
In 1996, Steidl finally decided to follow his passion for photography and to start his own internationally oriented photo book program. Today, Steidl Publishers hold the world rights for the books of some of the most renowned photographers and artists across the globe, including Joel Sternfeld, Mitch Epstein, Richard Serra, Bruce Davidson, Susan Meiselas, Karl Lagerfeld, Péter Nádas, Gerard Malanga, Lewis Baltz, Ed Ruscha, Bill Brandt, Michel Comte, Philip-Lorca diCorcia, Jim Dine, Roni Horn, Paolo Roversi, Richard Serra, Christopher Wool and Jürgen Teller, to name but a few.
“All our books are designed and produced under the same roof. These days, very few publishers run their own printing presses”, says Steidl. “I, however, firmly believe in this noble tradition, as it enables me to follow and oversee every aspect of a book, from the artist’s initial idea to the final product. Thus, I can ensure a quality standard that would otherwise remain elusive.”
Steidl is one of the few remaining publishing houses to be independently operated by its founding owner, and to control every step of the manufacturing process — the editing, design, typography, scanning, marketing, distribution, public relations and printing. There are only 35 employees working at Steidl’s head office in Göttingen.
What began as a backyard enterprise has evolved into one of the world’s most sophisticated and distinguished printing and publishing companies. The unique quality of his photography book production has brought Steidl to the attention of acclaimed photographers, artists and designers and he works for many renowned museums and galleries like The Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, the Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao, the Architectural Association, London, and National Portrait Gallery, London, the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
Steidl also designs and prints for Chanel, Fendi, the Lagerfeld Gallery, for Elizabeth Arden, and Yohji Yamamoto, and produces high-class photography books for Thames & Hudson, Scalo and Schirmer and Mosel.
Whether fashion, art or literature, Steidl sees himself as a servant, as the artist’s and author’s ally, helping him or her “to do magic”, to realize their creative dreams, and to get them out to the readers.