With an emphasis on computerized design and workflow; increased use of digital, on-demand and cross-media output; and populist—indeed, personal editorial standards, modern book publishing bears little resemblance to the craft practiced a generation ago.
Some in the industry worry that the joined-at-the-hip crafts of publishing and printing are epochs approaching an end. In the future, anyone with an Internet connection and digital cash will be able to publish a nice looking (and, hopefully, nice reading) hardbound, softbound, or e-book.
One, some, or all three. Readers will buy them online, for an e-pittance, in numbers unthinkable today, along with the classics, pop titles, textbooks, New York Times best sellers, kid's books, and a seemingly infinite backlist of every conceivable title ever written.
The craftsman and their crafts of old will continue to exist in this new era—as part of a lesson plan on 15th and 16th century publishing technology taught at colleges and universities around the globe.
The computer and robo-factory will have attained their manifest destiny, completely automating the process of accepting manuscripts, spitting them out on demand, bar coding, shrink wrapping, co-mailing—effectively merging publishing, printing, and perhaps even distribution into one.
Against this fantastic yet stark backdrop of increasingly commoditized, self, electronic, and in-plant publishing, two passionate, slightly eccentric photographers set out to create a fine art book.
One that would do more than simply decorate coffee tables, or elicit a few oohs and aahs. One that would prove craft still matters; that a small group of dedicated, passionate, skilled human beings can produce a book measurably superior in virtually every aspect to anything high tech has to offer.
No detail escaped their grasp. No aspect was too small to fret, argue, cogitate, research, or lust over, or travel afar for. From the cover to the binding; to the paper and the screening; to the ink, color matching and digital tweaking; to the binding and binding components, to the photography.
Ah, yes. The photography. The spectacular, eye popping, pupil-expanding, eyebrow raising, mind-gluing, transportational photography ... reproduced, the photographers say, with unerring accuracy.
Great photographs start with a great location. To capture readers, a book must take them to places they've never been, and perhaps never will be, in their lifetimes. Or take them back to places they've visited, with clarity that accurately rekindles their memories.
And for all readers, be they experienced travelers or wishful wanderers, the published images must capture the spirit and essence of the place in a way that inspires, delights, and engages their intellect.
A place like Antarctica.
Pat and Rosemarie Keough's Antarctica is a spectacular indulgence of a book that, at $2,900 a copy, could be the world's most expensive title currently in production.
The book weighs in at 19.2 pounds (27.6 pounds in its display box). It's 17.25" long by 13.5" high and nearly 3" inches thick, plus cover. The pictures are printed on specially produced short grain, 100 lb. cover stock, with a smooth enamel coating.
The grain on the acid- and chlorine-free paper (10% recycled post-consumer content, 'natch!) from Stora Enso runs parallel to the spine when it's run through the Heidelberg presses used. This to provide effortless page turning and prevent stress on the spine, as the paper adjusts to different humidity conditions in readers' homes around the world, the authors say.
In contrast, the paper grain of most books runs at a 90-degree angle. While this is the most cost-effective orientation, it creates increased resistance and stress on the spine.
Several months were invested manually collating and hand-inspecting the roughly 450,000 pages that make up the 950 production books and 50 proofs of this limited edition, each volume boasting 336 perfect-as-humanly-possible pages.
Then it's off to the bindery. The hand-crafted cover is fabricated from clad with the highest quality morocco, equatorial chieftain goat leather made from skins collected in India, then shipped to Scotland for a vegetable tannage and traditional dressing.
A second archival tannage applies additives designed to neutralize the long-term effects of air pollutants. It's an extra step, and extra cost, that's necessary for leather products intended to last for centuries.
Next, it's hand-sewn and hand-bound with Irish linen thread, French flocked velvet doublures and flyleaves, rope head caps, and silk-embroidered cane headbands. The accompanying archival presentation box is covered with Dutch linen on the outside, and French flocked velvet within.
The binding process for the 1,000 edition run is taking six master artisans at Felton Bookbinding Ltd., Georgetown, Ontario, nearly two years to complete.
The authors say this is the first book to successfully combine the hollow-back split board and European classic full-leather binding styles. "Traditionally and technically, you'd use one or the other, but you couldn't combine them," Rosemarie says. "We were trying to do something that was diametrically opposed."
The Keoughs wanted the book to be durable, yet elegant. "There was the old split-board type of binding, which was used in accounting ledgers back through the 15th to 16th centuries," she says. "They were tough but not elegant books. Then there was the classic European binding style, with a lovely rounded spine and smooth cover that doesn't have a French groove on it."
The French groove is a hinge that allows a book to open easily. It's a staple feature of nearly every modern hardcover book. The skilled fine hand-binding the Keoughs sought would create a book that opens smoothly without the benefit of a French groove.
After dozens of binderies worldwide begged off on their idea, essentially calling it harebrained, the Keoughs hit pay dirt. The folks at Felton Bookbinding, a small, old school Canadian bindery run by an Englishman, a Scotsman, and a Swede, were willing to take on the challenge.
"One day, after all of this had been going on for a couple of years, Keith Felton, [the founder of Felton Bookbinding] called me and said, 'You may be onto something here. Can you give us a couple of weeks?'" she says. "He sent us a prototype of what we believe is the first book to successfully marry the European classic style with the split board. It had all the European features, including the doublures and the leather joints on the inside, and it had the rugged strength of split board."
The result is a virtually indestructible binding. "The book weighs 19 pounds, yet you can take it by its covers, and shake it like a piece of laundry, and it remains totally integrated; nothing falls apart," says husband Pat. "You can't do that with any other normal book I've seen."
As for those photos, they were shot with Nikon FM2 and F5 cameras using 24mm to 300mm fixed (non-zoom) lenses, and Fuji 35mm slide film (mostly ISO 100). But if the shooters eschew digital photography (try shooting digitally in sub-zero temperatures, or finding a SmartMedia card reader 30 years from now), they don't ignore digital photo tweaking.
The Keoughs and their printer partner, Hemlock Printing Ltd., Burnaby, British Columbia, labored for four months in the prepress department. There they scanned slides, toiled over separations, and painstakingly color- and contrast-corrected the art with Adobe Photoshop.
The customized prepress room combined Hemlock's state-of-the-art scanning and proofing technology with legacy 35mm projectors and screens. "When we saw the first proof scans, we were appalled," Rosemarie says. "Then we realized that 5000o Kelvin is not what we use to look at our slides. A projector bulb is around 3000 degrees [Kelvin]."
Adds husband Pat: "We were getting a faithful 5000 degrees Kelvin reproduction, but that's not what the camera actually saw. The snow looked dull and blue, and so everything appeared dark and gloomy. Here we were doing a book on Antarctica and, as any publisher or printer knows, whites and neutral grays are some of the most dangerous tones you can print."
Their solution was to dust off an old Kodak Carousel slide projector. The original 35mm slides were projected on a screen in a darkened room, right beside an Apple Macintosh displaying the slide's scan in Photoshop.
"We had the image on the monitor with [Hemlock's] technician at the computer, and we had 3' x 2' slides projected," Rosemarie says. "Pat and I are sitting there with laser pointers, saying, 'Okay, that has to be glowing brightly against the aquamarine blue of the ice, you have to get that shade of blue, and this contrast needs to be fixed.' We pointed out what was critical about each image, and color-corrected the scans on the computer monitor. Then we produced six to 12 hard-copy Fuji Pictro proofs, one by one."
There Rosemarie and Pat Keough, lovers of photography, art, print, and each other, sat for 16 weeks with Evin Dosdall and Peter Madliger of Hemlock Printing (and the Keough's eight-year-old son, Glen, playing nearby), retouching each of the 345 scans until they were just right.
That is to say, perfect. Once the proofs were perfected, it was on to reproduction. To reproduce the scans with unerring detail, the Keoughs took a chance on a completely new screening technology, at the urging of Dick Kouwenhoven, president of Hemlock Printing.
The screening technology was still under development by Creo Inc. at the time, and was being beta tested by Hemlock. It would eventually be launched as Staccato. In fact, the Keough's title would be the first art book in the world printed using Creo's breakthrough 10-micron stochastic process.
That's roughly equivalent to a 600 line screen, and three times greater resolution than high-end lithography commonly used for fine art books. To the naked eye, and under close inspection, there are virtually no visible dots making up the photographs.
The continuous tone makes it appear as if you are there, a portal to the icy white banks and crisp blue skies of the Antarctic. You can practically feel the texture of the feathers covering the emperor penguins looking back at you.
Considering it's printed direct-to-plate, digital files to metal plate, with no film in between; and the 14" x 10" luminous photographs started out as tiny 35mm slide scans makes the scope of this project, and its results, all the more impressive.
The resulting enlargements are faithful to their source slides, with all the detail in the highlights and shadows, accurate color, and a tremendous sense of depth rendered through contrast control—all of which would have been next to impossible in the pre-Photoshop era, the Keoughs say.
One final detail: The book comes with instructions telling readers how to remove and reinsert the book from its special protective case.
AWARDS AND ACCOLADES
When this writer first learned of the book, I urged the Keoughs to consider entering it in Booktech's 2003 Gold Ink awards. They did. When the "Fine Editions" category came up for judging, it was practically no contest. The judges were floored by the title's faultless production quality.
The Gold Ink judges are not alone. Antarctica has won 12 other prestigious publishing and printing awards to date, including the PIA's Benjamin Franklin Award (the "Benny"), and the Rock Award from the Society of Graphic Designers of Canada.
Awards or not, most readers from ages three on up who lift its weighty cover, turn its 336 sturdy pages, and gaze its crystal sharp photographs agree: at $2,900 a copy, they can't afford it.
Its towering price tag notwithstanding, so far nearly 200 collectors have anted up the $2,900 for a copy of Pat and Rosemarie Keough's Antarctica. The next 300 books will be available shortly, if production continues on schedule.
While the binders are working flat-out to complete the limited-edition run, the level of hand-craftsmanship applied naturally takes time, and simply can't be rushed.
Part of the book's success is due to the Keough's marketing strategy: there isn't one. Instead of selling the book for personal gain, proceeds are going to the Save the Albatross campaign spearheaded by BirdLife International in the U.K., a global partnership of avian conservation organizations.
That's helped the Keough's home-brewed p.r. effort gain the attention of editors at Forbes, Time, Millionaire, the Chicago Sun, Booktech, and other top publishers. Still more media contacts were leveraged, developed over the past 20 years through publication and promotion of the Keough's six other coffee-table photography books.
And what editors like, they write about. Antarctica's singularly unique story and manufacturing processes, stunning quality, steadfast durability, outstanding photos, and altruistic mission have gained widespread media coverage and, as such, reached the deep-pocketed collectors and civic-minded philanthropists the Keoughs want to reach.
They wanted to pair the most accurate reproduction capabilities contemporary technology offers, with the quality and craftsmanship only available through natural materials and hand-binding traditions that date back to the Renaissance.
They wanted to make a statement. They ended up creating an award-winning classic no well-heeled collector or lover of books should be without.
Rich Levin is editor-in-chief of Booktech magazine. He can be reached at RLevin@NAPCO.com