“I would argue that as we age Terry’s poem takes on more meaning. Each time I read it I’m struck by something new—the concept of stone-carved forgiveness, the concept of violence in memory—we are meant to love, we are meant to work, we are meant to eat. Life can be hard. Yet it’s pierced with beautiful moments. I am ever more and more impressed and moved.” ~ Edward Riddell
“What is Beauty but the soul stretched wide?” ~ Terry Tempest Williams
“In 2005 Terry Tempest Williams and I did a book together, “The Range of Memory.” It was published by Russell Chatham’s publishing company, Clark City Press, and only a handful of those books are left,” says Jackson photographer Edward Riddell. “We had such a great experience we promised each other we’d collaborate again. Our close friendship goes back to meeting at the Teton Science School in the ’70’s, though our roads have diverged; I established Riddell Advertising and Terry’s writing career has been phenomenal.”
Riddell’s and Williams’ new, very personal and exquisite book project combines Riddell’s photography with Tempest’s words. “Peace Is – Olive Trees Are” is a limited edition hand-made volume featuring Riddell’s images of Tuscany’s people, landscapes and architecture and Williams’ poem, “Peace Is – Olive Trees Are.” The book is a labor of love, and its creators bypassed the usual publishing process to create art in the form of a hand-crafted book. Riddell has worked on his classic, black and white Tuscany images for five years.
Riddell, an Ansel Adams protegé, notes that now even Adams books are difficult to sell.
“It used to be, you bought a book. That was the only way you could see Ansel Adams photographs, and now there are a thousand ways to see them,” says Riddell. “We consume millions of images via the Internet, we make pictures on our iPhones. That magical darkroom process has disappeared and isn’t appreciated enough as an art form. What I’ve tried to do is bring photographs back to people in that special way.”
Enter the letterpress.
“Over my life I’d always had this dream of owning a letterpress. Two years ago I suggested to Terry that instead of doing a traditional book we should do a short run, custom book, a very limited edition,” says Riddell. “I went to Berkeley and found an incredible letterpress printer. There’s a well-known group of them in the industry, a network of people doing these books. There’s a huge revival in letterpress printing and hand-made books. It’s a reaction, and this small run, hand-crafted movement is rising.”
Riddell kept thinking he should do the project himself. For months he searched for a letterpress, and finally discovered a perfectly restored Vandercook flat bed press that renders debossed printing. Gutenberg used raised hand-carved wood letters. The beauty of letterpress, says Riddell, is that you can feel the type as you run your hand across a page. Its tactile quality is crisp, sharp and exquisite. Almost nothing is printed in letterpress nowadays, except, says Riddell, “made for love projects like ours.”
Riddell taught himself to be a letterpress printer, and Williams began writing. Sixteen Tuscany photographs were chosen, originally in sets of four, and Williams was to compose something for each themed set.
“Terry reinvented the idea, though,” recalls Riddell. “She chose photographs and she wrote beautiful words; what she refers to as a ‘prose poem.’ She said, ‘Ed, I’ve done this other thing, what do you think?’ And I told her it was perfect. The book became its own piece of art.” Williams’ poem specifically speaks to Riddell’s photographs—an image of a church overlooking Tuscany’s sea coast, an interior of a confessional and other portraits of the region were in Williams’ hands as she wrote. Deeply moved, Williams felt Riddell’s photographs should line up specifically with portions of her poem, and she gave much thought as to how the eye travels across a page.
“I would argue,” says Riddell, “that as we age Terry’s poem takes on more meaning. Each time I read it I’m struck by something new—the concept of stone-carved forgiveness, the concept of violence in memory—we are meant to love, we are meant to work, we are meant to eat. Life can be hard. Yet it’s pierced with beautiful moments. I am ever more and more impressed and moved.”
“I printed the letterpress onto the original photographic paper. Having people think of this as a book of original photographs with letterpress —-with Terry’s words added—-it’s a different way of understanding the book.” Open, “Peace Is – Olive Trees Are” lays flat; Riddell made each page using a traditional Japanese accordion technique. The book is a single piece. Each photograph is original, set on original photographic paper and printed in 12-pigment ink.
Gently displaying his work, Riddell explained his project in greater detail.
“We print a sheet, there is a small joint. These are sheet lengths I printed, and I made a small tab, folded it over and glued the sheets together. It’s barely noticeable. Traditonal books want to close. It’s almost a poem in itself that this book lays perfectly flat.”
Riddell imported his paper from Europe, printed each photograph,trimmed everything down, glued each tab and more…the process began last January and ended in April; over 500 hours of hand labor.
Only 50 books exist, (double the amount Berkeley’s bookbinder said he’d be comfortable making) and no two are alike. Riddell gave himself over completely to craftsmanship—Italian linen and hand-marbled papers, gold foil stamping, a descriptive colophon and 12 artist’s proofs. Riddell has priced the books in groups of 10; a significant number are sold, with the higher numbered editions costing somewhat less than lower numbered editions.
“If you want to own an early book you can, but there are options for people who aren’t able to spend as much,” says Riddell. Masterful work, appreciation of fine book making and writing by one of America’s best-loved authors are justifiably priced. To find out more, or to purchase your copy of “Peace Is – Olive Trees Are,” simply email Riddell at [email protected] or visit the book’s website: www.riddellfinearts.com.
“Creating this book fulfilled the idea of Terry and I doing another project together, something special, a labor of love,” says Riddell. “And, my own dream of having a letter press. I hope the next project will be a book of my wife Lee’s nude drawings.” www.edwardriddell.com www.riddellfinearts.com