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August 27th, 2009 at 9:13 am

Did the Columbia University Press design department start a trend?

The Late Age of PrintPerhaps we are indulging a bit in hyperbole with our headline but as noted in Galleycat, it seems like other publishers are catching on to the remarkable photographs of Cara Barer.

We used one of her photographs for Ted Striphas’s The Late Age of Print: Everyday Book Culture from Consumerism to Control and Other Press has just published with Beg, Borrow, Steal: A Writer’s Life, by Michael Greenberg, which also uses one of Barer’s images for the cover.

Over at his blog, Ted Striphas admits that the cover has almost received as much attention as the book’s content. Striphas writes,

Some writers would be put off by this, believing that what really counts is the stuff that lies between the covers. Not I. I’m acutely aware that books are meant to be sold as much as they’re meant to be read. In fact, in my undergraduate “Cultures of Books and Reading Class,” I have an assignment in which I ask my students to “judge a book by its cover” — that is, to explain what they can learn about a book and its audience strictly by virtue of its design.

Striphas also describes about what led him to choose one of Barer’s images:

To my good fortune, a friend of mine from graduate school happened upon the work of the Houston, Texas-based photographer, Cara Barer. Barer purchases old books, wets them, dries them, and then photographs them. I loved her process and the resulting images (there are many more besides the one appearing on my cover), which to my mind strikingly captured both the fragility and endurance of printed books. This was exactly the message I wanted to convey.

I wasn’t sure if my publisher, Columbia University Press, would be inclined to use one of her images, if for no other reason than I figured they must be pricey given their beauty. When filling out the section on cover art on my author questionnaire, I almost didn’t mention Barer’s work for that reason. In the end I decided to let it fly, and a few weeks later the designer returned with what is now the cover of Late Age. It was a stunning exercise in design minimalism, at least as far as I was (and am) concerned.

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