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California’s wildfires incinerate a world-renown photobook collection

The Soviet Photobook 1920-1941 by Manfred Heiting and Mikhail Karasik, published by Steidl

According to Dutch paper NRC Handelsblad, Manfred Heiting's 36000-strong library has gone up in smoke

So far the wildfires in California have claimed the lives of 94 people and laid waste to 1,667,855 acres of land this year. And, according to Dutch paper NRC Handelsblad, they’ve also consumed a world-renown library of photobooks, put together over the last six years by Dutch collector Manfred Heiting.

Based at Cutberth Road, Malibu, Heiting’s collection included vintage photographs, posters, ceramics and art deco furniture – and at least 36,000 photobooks. Residents in this area were told to evacuate a week ago, and the coastal town is now “a war zone”, Heiting told NRC Handelsblad. At the time of the report on 20 November, Heiting has not yet been given the green light to visit his house but he stated that: “On satellite photos I can see that everything in my neighborhood has disappeared. Two or three houses may have survived. The rest was pulverized in a ten-minute fire storm.”

Once a director of Polaroid’s international division, Heiting started collecting photography in the 1970s, when he focused on gathering prints. In 2002 he sold this collection to the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, and started to focus on photobooks. His collection was considered one of the most complete in the world, including a copy of most of the important photobooks that appeared from 1888-1970 in Europe, the United States, the Soviet Union, and Japan.

The Japanese Photobook 1912-1920 by Manfred Heiting and Kaneko Ryuichi, published by Steidl

Heiting’s expertise and collection were used in a series of compendiums published recently by Steidl – including The Soviet Photobook 1920-1941, The Japanese Photobook 1912-1980, and Czech and Slovak Photo Publications 1918-1998. He also worked on a website to make his archive more widely accessible, and used it in his lectures at the University of California.

According to NRC Handelsblad, the loss of Heiting’s collection is not just his loss, because he had recently donated his library to the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston. A few thousand books had already been transferred, but the rest was to stay with Heiting until 2023, for use in his research and publications. “The responsible curators were still visiting me at the beginning of October to make a definitive choice,” Heiting reportedly said. “It is terribly disappointing. For us all.”

“It is not easy now to put this loss away,” he adds. “But I have to close it soon. The collection will not come back.”

Read NRC Handelsblad’s report here: https://www.nrc.nl/nieuws/2018/11/20/tien-minuten-vuurstorm-vernietigde-al-zijn-fotoboeken-en-kunst-a2755853 https://steidl.de