Join us in the Griffin Zoom Room on Sunday May 16th at 3pm for a conversation about publisher 21st Editions.
J. Sybylla Smith interviews 21st Editions Publisher, Steven Albahari, about challenges in building a one-of-a-kind publishing house over 20 years, what has happened since the completion of the 21st Collection, and what’s to come.
About 21st Editions and Steve Albahari
21st Editions The Art of the Book ® is a luxury, fine-press book publisher, based in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Founded in 1998 by Steven Albahari and John Wood, 21st Editions began as a journal of contemporary photography, taking inspiration from William Morris’s Arts and Crafts movement as well as Alfred Stieglitz’s Camera Work (1903-1917) After the publication of six journals, 21st transitioned to limited edition, handcrafted photobooks, specializing in word, image, and artisan binding. By 2018, 21st had published sixty-three titles, closing what is now the complete 21st Collection. The complete 21st Collection is currently housed in two locations: The National Gallery of Art and the University of Minnesota with some 80 additional institutions holding varying numbers of titles.
In 1995, Steven Albahari and John Stevenson of the Platinum Gallery (Santa Fe and New York) began discussing the idea of a new journal of contemporary photography that would continue the legacy of Camera Work, the first photography journal to champion photography as a fine art. Stevenson introduced Albahari to the photo-historian John Wood who would become the cofounder and first editor of 21st Editions.
Albahari and his wife, Janet McCarthy, mortgaged their house to finance the new venture, and in 1998, work began on 21st: The Journal of Contemporary Photography in a 10×10 foot garage on the Cape. From the start, Albahari and Wood wanted the journal to be more than a survey of contemporary photography. They wanted to build on the tradition of the Arts and Crafts movement. 21st Editions aspired to the highest standard of word, image, and artisanal binding for each publication, taking even the Stieglitz model a step further by adding to the photogravure a wider array of printing techniques, including platinum, silver gelatin, ambrotype, chine collé, cyanotype, fresson, gum, kallitype, planography, and tintype.
In keeping with the Arts and Crafts tradition, 21st Editions printed letterpress, using metal and polymer type. Oftentimes, the typefaces themselves would tell a unique story and were, for that reason, an essential part of the overall design. The pages would be inked then sent to the binders to be handbound with materials like leather, handmade papers, metal, wood, silks, linens, and even stone. The artisan bindings were created specifically to be paired with the individual content and concept of each book. Platinum or palladium prints were created by coating the paper with an emulsion of photosensitive platinum and/or palladium metals (and in the case of Sally Mann’s Southern Landscape, even gold). A special process melded the gum and platinum. As a highly demanding endeavor, each print could take several days to complete. It was not uncommon for dozens of artisans to be enlisted for the making of a single book. Production sometimes took up to five years to finish, each edition ranging anywhere from one-hundred to just fifteen copies.
The Wall Street Journal was the first newspaper to profile 21st Editions in 1999. The feature was entitled “In
Stieglitz’s Footsteps.” It described 21st as “the most luxurious literary/photography journal in the world”, a sentiment that would be echoed by galleries, publishers, and collectors throughout the company’s career.
Over the next two decades, 21st Editions would publish award-winning photo books by some of the biggest names in photography, including: Wynn Bullock, Adam Fuss, Eikoh Hosoe, Michael Kenna, Herman Leonard, Sheila Metzner, Jerry Uelsmann , Joel-Peter Witkin, Todd Webb, Sally Mann, Masao Yamamoto, et al.
Pulitzer and Nobel prize-winning authors like: Robert Olen Butler, Annie Dillard, Adam Johnson, and Richard Wilbur often accompanied these photographs.
Despite this revolving door of contributors, 21st Editions has maintained over its lifetime a small, core team of assistants, editors, and designers, including Co-publisher and Editor John Wood; Publishing Assistant and Production Manager Pamela Clark; Typographers Michael Russem and Crissy Welzen,; Platinum Printers John Marcy, Martin Axon and Stan Klimek; Binders Amy Borezo, Sarah Creighton, Erin Fletcher, Peter Geraty, Daniel Kelm, Kylin Lee, Lisa Pelt and Mark Tomlinson. Harvard University affiliates John Stauffer and Collier Brown joined as Coeditors later.
In 2018, 21st Editions officially completed its 21st Collection, comprising sixty-three titles and an archive of original work from the artists and artisans involved over the
years. The National Gallery of Art, with the help of the Thompson Family Foundation acquired a complete 21st Collection in the fall of that same year, as did the University of Minnesota, which now serves as a repository for the entire 21st Editions archive.
Albahari continues to publish one-of-a-kind projects and act as producer of books and projects for artists that ultimately exist outside of, and not part of, the now complete 21st Collection.
About J. Sybylla Smith –
About 21st Editions
In 1999, the Wall Street Journal described 21st Editions as following “in Alfred Stieglitz’s footsteps.” Stieglitz’s groundbreaking journal, Camera Work (1903-17) elevated photography to a fine art, an equal of painting and sculpture. 21st Editions (1998-present) picked up where Stieglitz had left off and indeed surpassed it in developing the art of the book.
John Wood, 21st Editions editor from 1998-2014, indelibly shaped this collection of images, poetry and prose. Among the writers and poets he selected to illuminate and engage the images include the Pulitzer-Prize winning Edward Albee, Robert Olen Butler, Annie Dillard, Adam Johnson, and Richard Wilbur. Harvard’s John Stauffer and Collier Brown, also long-time contributors, are the current co-editors.
In its art, 21st Editions pays homage to William Morris, who founded the Arts and Crafts Movement and Kelmscott Press, widely recognized as the beginning of the fine-press book movement.
The legacy and mark of 21st Editions is impossible to ignore as a present and future point in the history of photography and in the art of the book as it relates to the presentation and marriage of the word, image and artisan binding. The dozens of prestigious museums and special collections libraries that own selections of these titles speak to that fact.
Students and researchers now have access to the full 21st Editions catalogue at two major institutions renowned for their conservation and promotion of the art of the book.
In the Fall of 2018, the National Gallery of Art, home of the Alfred Stieglitz Collection (Key Set), acquired a complete 21st Collection with the generous help of the Thompson Family Foundation. The University of Minnesota also acquired the complete 21st Collection in 2018 and now serves as a repository for the entirety of the 21st Editions archive.
All sales are final on products purchased through the Griffin Museum. Participant cancellation of a program/lecture/class will result in a full refund only if notice of cancellation is given at least 2 weeks before the date of the event.