Bridget Kinsella -- 11/6/00
Shadow Catcher: Book as Exhibit
Bruce Lee Kicks into High Gear | Take Me Out to the Bookstore
Shadow Catcher: Book as Exhibit
S&S showcases the classic Native American
photographs of Edward S. CurtisIn this increasingly electronic world, it is somewhat refreshing to hear a publisher describe a project as something that would "make a lousy e-book," and that's just how Simon & Schuster publisher David Rosenthal described the recently released Sacred Legacy: Edward S. Curtis and the North American Indian.
"We're making much of the physical quality of it," Rosenthal continued. The publication of Sacred Legacy marks the centennial of Curtis's 30-year photographic odyssey in which he set out to capture what he saw as the endangered culture of Native Americans. The book contains more than 200 photographs (he took several thousand)--about 30 that have never seen before--from the collection of Christopher Cardozo, the largest private collector of Curtis's work. Cardozo served as the book's editor.
"This is the first book done on Curtis drawn from a private collection and the first book that shows the different media he worked in," Cardozo explained. "It gives people a sense of the breath and beauty of his work."
Although there have been approximately 30 books published about Curtis in as many years (Cardozo edited five of them), Gary Chassman, owner of Verve Editions, the packager for the project, told PW that Sacred Legacy is an unusual tribute to the bookmaker's craft. "I envisioned the book as nothing less than a distillation of Curtis's magnum opus," offered Chassman. Funded by J.P Morgan and with the support of, among others, president Theodore Roosevelt, Curtis created a 20-volume set of photographs and writings that featured some 80 native tribes in North America. He employed the most sophisticated photographic technology of his day, including platinum, silver and albumen prints. "Never before have the photographs been reproduced with the fidelity of the original prints," said Chassman. "This is the closest you are going to get to the originals that are usually seen on museum walls. And very few people are going to get that opportunity."
In fact, this book was conceived as a catalogue for a European exhibition of Curtis's work from Cardozo's collection, now on tour. "They initially wanted a catalogue, and it blossomed into a beautiful book," said Cardozo. (He is currently working out details for a North American exhibit.)
Cardozo teamed up with Chassman and then they shopped the idea around. "There was vigorous competition for the book," said Chassman. While many of the offers were suitable, Chassman said they went with S&S based largely on the enthusiasm and commitment of senior editor Constance Herndon and publisher David Rosenthal.
"They made an exceptional presentation," said Herndon. "Both David and I were familiar with Curtis's work. And we both appreciate fine arts, but it's not a category a big publisher can typically do much in." Yet, she said, they were so overwhelmed by the original Curtis photographs and Chassman's promise to "create a book that would replicate that viewing experience" that S&S couldn't resist.
"Frankly, it's very expensive to do," said Rosenthal. In order to get the reproductions as close to the original quality as possible, Chassman said Verve made individual proofs of each picture. The prepress work on the book involved lots of takes and retakes and careful finessing in PhotoShop. As much as modern technology made Sacred Legacy possible, the project is also a throwback to the days when books were made by hand. "He's one of the only people out there who has this dogged passion for detail," Herndon said of Chassman.
The result is a book that retails for $60. If that seems like a bargain, Chassman explained, it's because Cardozo was not impelled by an economic imperative to make the book. "I think the main thing on the part of Christopher Cardozo is to have this book be almost like a last will and testament--although not in a ghoulish way. To have this book stand as the definitive book on Edward S. Curtis," said Chassman. It took 11 days, with five presses running day and night, for Verve to produce the 30,000 initial print run.
So far, the market has responded favorably. "We wanted beautiful blads that we could bring to the accounts to say that we are producing an admittedly expensive book but one that you can sell for a while," said Rosenthal. "Don't expect many returns on this."
Leslie Graham, buyer at A Clean Well-Lighted Place for Books in San Francisco, remembered seeing those blads at BEA. "I think this is just beautiful," she said. "We sold four right away--at full price. Yes, we had a big stack, but that d sn't necessarily make a book sell." The store has already highlighted Sacred Legacy in its Fall Gift section. "They really did make it very special," Graham added.
"When the rep brought the blad in, I was just so struck by it," said Margaret Maupin, trade buyer at the Tattered Cover in Denver. "Of course, there have been other books published on Curtis. But the pictures in this book are so arresting."
The reputation of the "shadow catcher," as some American Indians called Curtis, is not without controversy. While critics in the 1970s speculated that Curtis had posed some of his shots, used props that did not necessarily match a specific tribe, and held a romantic notion of the indigenous Americans, it has not detracted from his place as the distinctive Native American chronicler. Apparently, it has not hampered book projects either.
Taschen has two Curtis titles that are perennial sellers; the most recent, Edward S. Curtis by Hans Christian Adam, came out in January. Next fall the University of Nebraska plans to publish The Plains Indian Photographs of Edward S. Curtis.
Maupin ech d other booksellers when she talked about the alleged tarnish on Curtis's reputation. "Maybe he did those things," she said about the criticisms. "But these are iconic images by now. There were something like 200,000 Indians at the time and, in his mind, he was recording a dying culture."
Like other Curtis books, Sacred Legacy addresses the Curtis controversy and his place in history. Cardozo and S&S emphasized the importance of native voices in Sacred Legacy. "All we had to do was send a note, and the interest was very powerful," Herndon said. N. Scott Momaday, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of House Made of Dawn, wrote the foreword. Joseph D. Horse Capture, great-great-grandson of Horse Capture, whom Curtis photographed, provides a personal essay and joins Cardozo in other essays in the book. And finally, Anne Makepeace provides an afterword that ties in with her documentary film Coming to Light: Edward S. Curtis and the North American Indians, which will air on PBS in January.
Bruce Lee Kicks into High GearNearly three decades after his death from an allergic reaction to a prescription painkiller, Bruce Lee's popularity continues, Elvis-like, to grow. As is the King, Lee is the subject of numerous Web sites--more than 55--many of which claiming Lee "sightings." When Premiere magazine searched the Web last May to compile its e-list of the top 10 movie actors, Lee was number nine--ahead of George Clooney. A recent article in Time magazine singled out Lee, along with Mother Teresa and Jackie Robinson, as one of the 20 most courageous people of the past century. Lee, famous for his martial-arts films and his TV role as Kato on The Green Hornet in the mid-'60s, is often credited with defying Asian stereotypes.
At Tuttle Publishing in Boston, the Bruce Lee phenomenon has translated into mega-sales for the first seven volumes in its three-year-old Bruce Lee Library series, edited by filmmaker John Little, which have sold more than 480,000 copies. According to Little, Lee kept a daily reading and writing schedule. The Tuttle series is culled from the more than 6,000 papers Lee left behind. "When I came to Tuttle two years ago, Bruce Lee wasn't on my radar," admitted sales director Steve Fischer. "I did my homework though: his teachings are the real thing; his appeal crosses over from martial artist to spiritual guru to pop culture icon. And he generates an incredible amount of revenue."
With the stars aligned in the year of the dragon for the first time since Lee's birth 60 years ago, Tuttle is hoping that this month will be a propitious time to publish the most personal book in the series, The Celebrated Life of the Dragon. Based on Little's award-winning documentary, Bruce Lee in His Own Words, it brings together Lee's philosophical writings with behind-the-scenes shots on the sets of his films and snapshots of him with his wife, Linda Lee Cadwell, and their two children. Although it won't reach stores until mid-November, the publisher has already gone back to press twice before publication, for an in-print total of 75,000 copies, making it the largest advance for any of Tuttle's Lee titles.
"It's pretty amazing that Bruce Lee books continue to sell so well after his death," observed Debra Williams, director of corporate communications at Barnes & Noble. "Every time they rerun Enter the Dragon on TNT, we see a spike in sales." A similar thing happens at Tower Records in Sacramento, Calif., according to manager Kevin Christian. "He's probably the most popular of the serious martial artists," said Christian. Lee's appeal attracts a broad audience. "We get the young I-wannabe-Bruce-Lee types, who buy any book with his name or picture on it. We also get the more experienced martial artists who are interested in his philosophy."
Publicity for The Celebrated Life began in late October in San Francisco, where Lee was born, with a fund-raiser/screening at the Chinese Culture Foundation of Little's newest documentary, Bruce Lee: A Warrior's Journey, which contains original footage from Lee's last film, The Game of Death. Closer to Thanksgiving, Little will make appearances in New York, Seattle and Los Angeles. In February, Warner Bros. will release A Warrior's Journey on home video. Little's earlier Bruce Lee documentary was used as a premium for the 25th-anniversary edition of Enter the Dragon.
Volume 246 Issue 45 11/08/2000