If it takes your reader to get to the title page before they realize that this book is about a perennially popular subject like New York, you’re surely making a bold statement. But then this is no ordinary book about the city: it’s Keppel’s own version of it, dismantled, redrawn and rebuilt.
Nor does this book yield itself easily: there’s no preliminary statement in the form of an introduction or blurb; we have to embark on our own voyage of discovery. Thanks to the photographer’s sharp eye and the designer’s picture editing, this succeeds even if you’re unfamiliar with photographer Stephan Keppel’s work, which moves between the photographic and the graphic. Photographer and designer together force us to take a new and not exactly familiar look at this over-familiar city. Through an intriguing collection of structures, patterns and textures we gradually become aware of New York’s ragged edges. Even the front cover with its blind embossing is a three-dimensional representation of them.
Here the whole gamut of black and white photography is brought to bear, in a sophisticated combination with grid sheets from old Letraset guides. The short occasional colour sections (printed in dayglow inks) and pages on paper metallized on one side produce a subtle stratification. There’s not a person to be seen. This may at first be a difficult book, but ultimately it is a Gesamtkunstwerk. Like the city, the image thunders on.