Past, Present and Future of the Photo Book | Markus Hartmann | Dienstag, 30.09.2014

Honoring Two Great Photo Book Publishers: Gigi Giannuzzi and Walter Keller

Welcome back – now from Jaca, Spain!
Those who follow this blog may be aware that I am on a road trip through France, Spain, and Portugal. The trip started in Stuttgart and the last location I wrote about was Arles. More about the trip at the end of this entry. And again, to those who follow this blog: Feel free to contact me – I am always happy about advice on where to go, what to see, and who to meet!
In this post I would like to honor two publishers who I had the pleasure to work with throughout the 25 years of my own publishing career. Both died far too early in the past two years, and both I unexpectedly met again during this trip through their books.The first is Gigi Giannuzzi, the publisher of Trolley Books. I must have first met him in the late 1990s at some convention or fair when he first launched Westzone Publishing – an endeavor that did not last very long, but even then I found the books he made interesting. The next time I ran into this photo book maniac was at the Frankfurt book fair in 2001, where he was pushing a real trolley down the aisles with the books he had published or wanted to publish. I really liked the spirit of this man, who saved the expensive booth costs by using a trolley to present his projects and books, which left a much better impression on me and others at the fair than sitting in a proper booth. For me today, his was a visionary outlook into the future of photo book publishing. In a time when there are very few bookstores left, publishers must now indeed travel the world with a trolley or something similar to constantly promote and sell their books. Gigi already had this idea in mind when starting Trolley. He was already taking his books to festivals and smaller book fairs when the bigger publishers were still only using the established book fairs (Frankfurt, London, ABA, USA). In 2011, he opened the gallery TJ Boulting, in London. In doing so, he expanded Trolley’s business base from just publishing books to selling photographs/art, and also by selling books directly rather than only through other stores and distributors. His books were always very ambitious, radical, and much harder to sell than the books that I published. Whenever we met I asked him the same question: How can you sell these books? (Most of his books were on war photography, human rights, poverty documentation, and other social documentary-related themes.) And he always confirmed that it was nearly impossible to sell through normal distribution channels.
But Gigi Giannuzzi was a true publisher, meaning that he was convinced of the value and quality of his books, and he promoted his books as well as possible. He died at the age of 49 on Christmas Eve in 2012. Around that time, I tried to get in touch with some question, not knowing at all that he was sick. I was too late. There is a great book (Perhaps it is a bit too thick, like many books published these days) that I discovered at the recent photo book competition in Arles about Gigi and his publishing vision, called Trolleyology.
It was created by close friends and artists he had worked with, and edited by Julia Peyton-Jones, Hans Ulrich Obrist, and Barry Miles. I could not get the book in Arles – our car has limited space for books – but will order one when I am back in Stuttgart this November. If I understand correctly, Trolley Books will continue to exist, and is now run by his partner Hannah Watson, working out of the London office. If you are interested in the story of Gigi see his Guardian obituary and visit the Trolley website.
The other publisher who died far too early, and whom I also encountered on this trip through one of his books, is Walter Keller: one of the founders of Fotomuseum Winterthur and, for me, the inventor of the modern photo book. At the Musée de L’Elysée in Lausanne you can see (besides other exhibitions on Chaplin and Amos Gitai) an exhibition on the French documentary photographer Gilles Peress. They also sell a book about his work, called Les Tombes, which was released by Keller’s publishing house Scalo in 1998.
In the photo you see the book on a table at the wonderful Musée de L’Elysée bookshop, along with Walter’s business card, which I had kept in my wallet since I visited him in Zurich a few weeks before his death. I first met Walter in the late 1980s through Parkett (one of the magazines he helped to create). We were later closely involved in the start of DAP, the art book distributor and publishing house in New York, another venture Walter helped to get off the ground, knowing that his books needed more than just European distribution. Walter called me repeatedly in fall 1990, telling me that he would send someone over from Zurich named Daniel (Daniel Power, now of Powerhouse Books, NY, to discuss selling our books in the USA. Finally, after some weeks or months, this Daniel showed up in Stuttgart, and Cantz (later Hatje Cantz) finally had a distributor in the United States, as we were daring enough to make a deal with DAP and trusted Walter’s recommendation.
Walter Keller was a man who (at least for me) reinvented the rusty image I had of photo books from the postwar times well into the 1980s. Scalo books were different from other books by publishers I knew. Scalo’s program was a great mix of historical, contemporary, fashion, and documentary photography books. Their design was fresh and always unexpected. I had no idea what Walter was doing exactly, but I liked his taste, style, and choice of artists and collaborators. For me, he was the publisher to watch and follow in the 1990s and into the new millennium. If you look at many of the current publishers and their program, it becomes clear that Scalo was their role model, and this includes even the biggest and most prominent names in the photo book publishing game. But around 2003, I could tell that Walter was losing his publishing spirit, as his comments became more somber and his visions on the future of book publishing darker. Having gone through a similar phase and feelings myself in the last years, I understand him today better than at the time when Scalo finally folded (2006).
The company Scalo no longer exists. The publisher, the man Walter Keller, is now dead but he will live through his books – and this is the great advantage of books, of printed books. They simply do not fade as fast as digital content. And we should not forget: Walter Keller also had this vision of a publishing house that goes beyond just making books. He curated and organized exhibitions, ran a bookstore, started a gallery, etc. All the things that could help a publisher today to survive, in my opinion.
For those who are interested in my current journey:
After Arles, our trip led us to Montpellier, a very interesting, booming southern French city with a strange mix of postmodern (mostly ugly),
modern (ugly and not so ugly), and historical architecture (wonderful), and with only few surviving bookstores and only one art bookstore, at the Musée Fabre. There is a city photography gallery run by Gilles Mora (who was a long time editor at Edition Seuil and also the artistic director of the Rencontres in Arles from 1999 to 2001), which has ongoing photo exhibitions and free entrance.
Before Montpellier we passed the strange Ville de La Grande Motte (which we visited because of our fascination with modern French 1960s and 1970s architecture and satellite villages).
After Montpellier we stayed a night near Carcassonne with a great view of the old village,
then went on towards Lourdes, and now we are finally in Spain, in Jaca, moving further north and west towards Bilbao. We are constantly on the lookout for bookstores and photography places. Sadly enough, quite a few of the bookstores we have found are in the process of being closed, such as this wonderful store in Béziersthat goes back well over 100 years, now closing in 2014.
In my next post I will return to the issues I was supposed to address and will respond to my co-bloggers’ comments.