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Encounters in Publishing #8: Squinting Just Hard Enough, by Erin C. Dunigan

NYC backlot in LA

I think I’ve attended too many panels on “The Life Expectancy of the Book” and “The Future of Publishing” lately. After working in the industry for only four years I already get the unshakable feeling that anything representing the “old world” of printed books and city streets lined with bookstores is more like something out of a movie than real life.

This really hit home a month ago when my company (a distributor and publisher of contemporary art books) sent me to sunny, smoggy Los Angeles to work at Paris Photo, a gigantic photography fair. Normally the festivities are held at the Grand Palais in Paris but this year the fair’s organizers decided to expand onto American soil. They chose none other than Paramount Studios as their new stomping ground, honoring the age-old tradition of art fair as spectacle. Photo books are among the most collectible and expensive in the art book market so it made sense for my company, along with a handful of other publishers including Taschen, Steidl, and Kehrer Verlag, to be there. And I was more than happy to be sent along for the ride, hello Hollywood!

While the exhibiting galleries took over three sound stages, the photo book dealers and publishers moved into an area called the “New York City Back Lot,” an uncanny replica of random parts of the Big Apple. The fake sets were shabby and in desperate need of a paint job (I suppose post-production is really where the magic happens), but if I squinted hard enough it was almost like I never left New York. Well, minus the fact that streets were actually lined with bookstores! My company, ARTBOOK | D.A.P., transformed a hollowed out, ceiling-less “Café” into a working shop. This unfortunately seemed to confuse the caffeine junkies looking for a fix, who found Henri Cartier-Bresson in place of cappuccinos (we eventually invested in an espresso machine). Our space was packed with the latest and greatest photo books and we hosted a number of signings with photo world celebrities, including Todd Hido who had an eager line of fans that wrapped around the “block!” Over the four-day event our sales were through the roof and everyone went home happy and slightly buzzed on a book-selling adrenaline rush.

It was a glamorous and surreal affair…but in the end I was left feeling both optimistic and confused. It was awesome to see hordes of die-hard book collectors lining up to make a purchase. But was it merely the California sunshine or the magic of Paramount? Was I squinting just hard enough to see a perfectly intact world of publishing and booming book sales? On the plane ride home, after much thought, I realized that’s not why people are so enchanted with the magic of Hollywood; people go out to see movies because it’s a world they choose to believe in just for a few hours, whether or not it really exists. Now that I’m back in New York, I find myself missing those doppelganger city streets with block after block of bookstores, and palm trees off in the distance.

 


Erin C. Dunigan has a background in art history and currently works for ARTBOOOK | D.A.P., a distributor and publisher of contemporary art books. In February 2013 she organized a panel on the “Future of Art Book Publishing” at the New York Public Library and has a follow-up article coming out in the Fall 2013 issue of ART DOCUMENTATION.  When not pondering the fate of the art book, you can find her traveling the globe, nerding out at art museums and planetariums or trying to track down New York City’s best bloody mary. She’s based in Brooklyn and is easy to spot in a crowd because of her curly red hair.

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