In my many encounters with publishing last year, when I was trying to sell a book on Alexander Girard (Todd Oldham got there first) and architecture criticism (Princeton Architectural Press, 2011), the thing I found most depressing was the sense I got that one could only write a book about designers that were already famous. Girard was borderline, but because his estate has contemporary licenses, and he was friends with the Eameses, and the work is just so g.d. fabulous, a few were interested.
But what about all those other people in the mid-century cloud, equally great but perhaps more modest (Harry Bertoia, Harry Weese), more bizarre (Warren Platner), more cranky (Robert Damora)? I could never argue that a book on them would be a bestseller, nor that I would want to spend two years of my life on research. Their papers are in archives, along with wonderful photographs by Ezra Stoller, Balthazar Korab, Alexandre Georges. I could easily make a 12,000 word argument for their importance, that could then be illustrated with photos and drawings from the archive, and then at least these names would not be forgotten or dismembered from their visual works.
Yes, publishing is dead, but I still don’t like looking at lots of photographs of architecture and interiors online (and the colors go off), so I don’t think slideshows are the answer. That many of these architects, designers, photographers now have their own websites is great, but families are rarely the best sources of analysis or context. Nor does the internet float all boats. As I’ve said before, for many Google seems to shrink their oeuvre to a single endlessly repeated work (Bertoia chair, Weese Metro station). You might never know they were architects, or that they did lovely small-scale work.
I wonder with all the new interest in self-publishing and make-your-own imprints, if there wouldn’t be a market for something like a line of mini-monographs. No design magazines are letting anyone go on at length anymore. The New Yorker is a disaster for architecture and design feature-writing. There has to be a place for thoughtful, long-form writing about architecture and design of the recent past and present, showcased in all its photographic glory. It doesn’t have to be big. It doesn’t have to be expensive. But it should be a lovely thing to own.