Mack is the London-based independent art and photography publishing house founded in 2010 by Michael Mack. He has written, designed, edited and produced nearly 500 titles including some of the defining art books of the past 20 years. In 2012 Mack Books established the First Book Award, a photography publishing prize open to photographers who have not previously had a book published by a third-party publishing house in order to support emerging photographers.
With his wealth of knowledge and great taste in books, we asked Michael to share a handful of his most-prized publications. Featured is the work of Bernd + Hilla, an exhibition catalogue and a book about the life of publishing.
Hermann Hesse: Das Glasperlenspiel (The Glass Bead Game)
Hesse’s dedication of this book to “the Journeyers to the East” raised the hairs on my teenage arms in the way a scrolling band of yellow text receding into an image of deep space does for younger generations. I own almost a dozen copies, but only of this edition of the book – the 1974 Penguin Modern Classics edition of the 1960 translation from Hesse’s original 1943 manuscript. It is not valuable – you can find it online for pennies. The abstract cover design, a detail from a Paul Klee painting, is barely compelling and doubtless the translation by Richard and Clara Winston was the finest of its time, but these were not factors in this book defining my teenage years.
I now cringe at my ardent pretentiousness but can see how Hesse’s tale of mystical monks playing an arcane game in search of self-discovery appealed to my earnest younger self. It led me to what another of my favourite writers, Italo Calvino, referred to as “the existential… search for lightness as a reaction to the weight of living”. All this does not explain why I feel compelled to buy every copy I encounter in my trawls through secondhand book shops.
Bernd + Hilla Becher: miscellaneous collected bookworks
The Bechers’ didactic art and teaching practice influenced a generation of highly successful German artists. It is their extensive range of identically designed books that embody their rigorous approach of objectively documenting disappearing architectural typologies. I return to these books more often than any others on my shelves and they would be my first pick for a desert island.
Takashi Homma: New Documentary
This 2012 book by brilliant Japanese publisher Super Labo changed my mind about what is possible with an exhibition catalogue. Bringing together a very particular thread of Takashi Homma’s work, the book manages to build a history of his practice through a smart and vibrant combination of those images in various guises – the actual pictures, details and installation views – to offer an immersive experience for the reader.
Michael Schmidt: Waffenruhe (Cease-Fire)
I could choose from a number of Michael Schmidt books but this, his 1987 magnum opus, in many ways defines the space in which I work. An unassuming paperback book combining an eclectic array of seemingly disconnected portraits, landscapes and still lifes, Waffenruhe offers a compelling poetry of personal history within the broad context of Germany just prior to unification.
Roberto Calasso: The Art of the Publisher
I am fortunate to do what I do and this slim erudite volume wonderfully encapsulates the possibilities of such a professional life, one in which the ultimate aim is that “all books published by a certain publisher could be seen as links in a single chain, or segments in a serpentine progression of books, or fragments in a single book”.
Sophie Calle: And so forth
If my task here was to choose one artist of the past decade it would be Sophie Calle. Her work is complex, intelligent, self-deprecating and humorous, and succeeds in the distinct modes of book and gallery installation. In recent years she has worked on her books with the stellar French designer and publisher Xavier Barral and this catalogue is one of their recent projects, which gives a real sense of the ambitious range of her practice