On the Experience of Opening a Book

FritzLiedtke-AV Book-008

When I was in my teens, I remember picking up a Zane Gray novel from my grandparents’ bookshelf.   I remember thinking to myself, “This book is solid; it is the perfect size and weight.”  The heft of it in my hand, the embossed hardcover, the deckled edges of the paper, the lightly embossed text…it was perfect.  It was the first time I’d thought of a book as something more than just a medium for words.

Over the years, I’ve designed a few hundred books for clients, and for myself.  I’ve also made a few handmade books in art classes.  But more recently, having seen handmade books by Lauren Henkin, Heidi Kirkpatrick, Laura Russell, and others, it dawned on me that there was more to explore in the medium of book arts.

Inspired by this, I created several hand-carved antique books, repurposing old books with my own images and imagination.  I had a similar feeling in picking them up as I did with the Zane Gray book: they felt good in my hand.  And inside the covers, they were full of surprises.

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In thinking about fine art photography books, both the form and the content should matter.  Most press printed photography books are plain books, with pictures and words printed in them.  The form is bland, and has little to do with the content.  On the other hand, artist books often feature innovative book forms, but the content on the pages is weak or lacks cohesion and purpose.

With Astra Velum, I wanted to create a book in which both the content and the form are meaningful, beautiful, and solid.  If you consider the various elements that compose the book, you’ll notice the thought put into them.  The custom cover paper references stars in the night sky—just as the title Astra Velum is Latin for ‘veil of stars’, itself a reference to the constellations of freckles on these faces.  Each piece of cover paper is uniquely textured and speckled, just as each face is unique.  The essay text, embossed with warm inks into the paper, is reminiscent of the texture of warm freckles on flawed skin.  The intimacy of the portraits themselves is heightened by the fact that you are holding them in your hand, close to your own face.

Ultimately, holding the book in your hands becomes an experience.  More than merely looking at photos on a wall, or reading an essay in a magazine, opening the cover of Astra Velum becomes a way to enter in to the beauty and pain of the women whose stories are captured in the book.

Here is how one recent collector described the experience:

Your Astra Velum artist book and Ella photogravure print arrived a couple hours ago. Since we are experiencing a particularly cold and snowy winter, I removed the contents of the well packed shipping box and placed the individually wrapped book and print on my front room viewing table to allow time to come to room temperature.

I decided to first open the photogravure of Ella. Being unfamiliar with photogravure and understanding you had made adjustments to the process to best reflect your vision, I removed the print from its sleeve and protective covers not knowing what to expect. Well, I was amazed with what was before me. I know it will take many hours of viewing and reflection to begin to truly appreciate Ella, but already I cannot imagine being happier with my acquisition.

Next I picked up the artist book. Its size and heft, rich fabric with sparkles, and Ella’s image showing through the window all witnessed I was holding something special and precious in my hands. The images are stunning and Gina Ochsner’s story brought tears. Although I have only spent a little time examining the book I am touched by the beauty of its images and fullness of its words, not to mention its exquisite craftsmanship.

I am certain I have acquired what will become most treasured possessions.