Spector Books publishes a considerable number of art books each year, how do you keep up this high rate of publishing?
Robert Stürzl (RS): The output of about 50 titles per year is only possible because we collaborate with many individuals and institutions in the making of these books. While our publishing house is rather small there is a large number of protagonists behind each production.
Please tell us about the members of Spector Books and what we all do individually.
RS: Spector Books was founded by Markus Dreßen, Anne König and Jan Wenzel in 2001. Ever since Spector grew larger and today we are ten people in the office. It is difficult to define the scope of each person's field of work because everybody here is working in multiple of those fields. We have three people in the graphic design, three others working on text and proofreading. Two of us arrange the production, while two people are working on public relations and two others organize the international distribution of our books. This list could go on for much longer, i'd sum it up and just say that publishing is a collaborative action.
Why did you choose to be stationed in Leipzig? What is the history of this place with you?
Anne König (AK): It was not a decision we made intentionally. All of the founders of Spector Books came for studying to the city, that was in the early 1990s. After we had finished our studies we kept staying here. Though Anne left to New York in 2002 but she returned. Leipzig was more or less empty and affordable in terms of rent and living costs in the 1990s and 2000s. It was a good spot to start publishing with almost no money. We began with our bi-lingual magazine Spector cut+paste where we tried to experiment with texts and images. These were our very first steps with a lot of enthusiasm. The production of books followed later.
The history of Leipzig: Leipzig was always known as the city of trade and books internationally. The first book by Franz Kafka was published in Leipzig with the Kurt Wolff publishing house. The National Library of Germany is based here, another part of the Library is in Frankfurt am Main. The division of the National Library in two parts, one in the East and the other one in the West of Germany tells you something about the former division of the country till the wall came down. Though Germany is reunified we still have two National Libraries.
The history of the last 80 years shaped the city and also the production of books. Leipzig had a lot of traditional publishing and printing houses. The first big decline was after the Second World War, the second after the wall came down in 1989. Due to the tremendous economical change a lot of big traditional publishing and printing houses in Leipzig had to close. Sometimes they were pulled down and the space was used as a temporary park but a few printer survived and one family-run book binder with whom we still work with. Nowadays Leipzig is a growing city. We have the National Library, the Art School with a strong focus on book design, the Institute of Literature, the University, galleries, a lot of libraries and bookshops spread over the city which makes the vibe and atmosphere of a very alive place.
What is the meaning of the company name Spector Books?
AK: When we started the company it was clear that we wouldn't take our family names for it. That would have sound akwardly. Instead one of us chose Spectre, it was a character taken from a James Bond movie. The spelling of the word seemed to be difficult, so Spectre was transformed into Spector somehow. Beside that “Spectre is a hunter”—as it is written in the Communist Manifest by Karl Marx but that's another story which came later.
Do you have any pointers as to what topics you would choose for publishing a photography book? I noticed that you have done a lot of books on historical images. Do you work with a younger generation of photographers? What kind of a collaborative process is it?
RS: Yes, we also work with young photographers. But the photographer as a person, his or her age or nationality or whatever, that doesn't matter. What matters is the work itself and the concept to display this photographic position in the form of a book. Of course there are topics that we can more easily relate to but in general we are open to all kind of work.
In addition to the purely image-based books, documentary books make up a large part of your publishing, such as Iran 1979-1983, Under the Radar Underground Zine and Self-Publications 1965-1975, and books by Jonas Mekas, doing What are the challenges of such a big, content-rich book? And how did you overcome it?
AK: The first two books you mentioned are developed in collaboration with institutions. Hannah Darabi: Street Enghelab, a Revolution through Books, Iran 1979-1983 was with Le Bal in Paris, Under the Radar together with the Art School in Bremen and the Museum Weserburg in Bremen. Main parts of these two books were researched either by artists or scholars, our part was to bring the material into a book format which would transport the idea of the project. The Jonas Mekas books are very special. I as the editor feel honored to have this artist in our program. He shaped the New York underground fundamentally, he was “a driving force” as Jim Jarmush wrote about him for the back cover of Mekas’s New York Diaries I Seem to Live, vol. 1, 1950-1969. In 2022 he will become 100 years but we still find his writings from the 1950s very interesting. How come?
Spector Books has always put text at the center of design, both in cover and content, can you elaborate on the visual design considerations you have in mind?
AK: I don't know which one of our books you have in mind but not all of our books are based on texts but let's say a lot. We do have also books only with photos for example. In Andrzej Steinbach’s books is not text, for example. Pure photography.
With all the books you've done, what are the three books that impress you the most if you don't pretend to answer?
AK: Books are very different in terms of time, also life time and the real production. They can be fast and you forget all the stress you had, when they are out. On the other hand, they can be really slow and you can't believe that they will ever be published. For example, I have been working on a book for more than seven years. The book is called Ten Cities and it tells the story of five African and five European cities and their club culture. With no pressure behind we published it finally. Now it's out! Fantastic but meanwhile I'm writing this here I receive tons of e-mails from other people who need advice or my ready to print etc. Therefore I'm finishing here.
RS: I believe that everyone in the office would probable pick different books to answer that question. From my point of view you always have a personal relationship with the books you have published and this relationship also defines how I see these books. An award-winning or best-selling book might not be the one I would choose. Here are three books that I personally feel very good about:
- Four Times through the Labyrinth
- Holding the Camera
- Wenn Gesinnung Form Wird
You also participated in the Unfold Art Book Fair in Shanghai. What was your impression of the publishing environment and readers in China?
RS: We travel to about ten art book fairs all around the globe and we have been doing so since many years but attending Unfold Shanghai in 2019 still was a new experience. I have to say I was just amazed by on one hand of the whole organization and communication of the event and on the other hand from the number of people who attended the fair. So many people lined up and waited to see art books, were eager to get information about the books and showed an appreciation for those publications. It was a special and very beautiful experience. We very much look forward to be back in Shanghai and possibly also other art book fairs in China once it is possible to travel again.