signing off

Lots of copies of “They”I recently got a copy of Zhang Xiao’s book They. It’s compact, excellent and reasonably priced: highly recommended. And it’s signed. Apparently there are 499 other copies, also signed.

Some people seem to thrill to signed books. But when I contemplate this pile of signed (or about-to-be-signed) copies, my own very mild interest is quickly eclipsed by sympathy for Zhang. He’s a young man, I’d guess full of energy. Energy surely better expended on taking more photos, editing them, enjoying life with Mrs Zhang (actual or potential), or whatever.

Still, the prospect of signing five hundred isn’t enough to inspire thoughts of suicide; the task can be surmounted — perhaps in thirty-minute bouts, twice a day (just as I once learned to touchtype). And the book is published in China, a technologically advanced nation; which gives me hope that his signing chore might have been, shall we say, assisted.

AutopenBack to Japan (via Berlin). A book that deservedly won praise last year was Suda Issei’s The work of a lifetime — of which we read that there are 535 copies, all of them signed.

Though I didn’t buy one, I did buy a copy of Suda’s newer book Fushikaden — of which we read that there are 500 copies, all of them signed.

I didn’t buy Suda’s even newer 1975 Miuramisaki, charming though its six (6) pages are. We read that there are 350 copies, all of them signed.

signed by Suda IsseiNo, instead I bought a copy of Suda’s Kado no tabakoya made no tabi (more pages, lower price). I’d guess that there are between five hundred and a thousand copies of this; mine’s signed, and perhaps all of them are. Certainly BLD is selling signed copies of it, of Suda’s book Rubber, and of his Minyou sanga (my copy of which is signed), each for the list price. So it’s probable that hundreds of copies of these three books are signed, too.

Suda Issei had to write out his name three times just for me. If I ever meet him, I must apologize.

And in the space of just a year or so, he’s written out his name well over a thousand times. Perhaps close to two thousand times.

Suda is in his seventies. He could be attending to his juku, fishing, walking the dog, or whatever. Or of course taking photos. Assuredly he has better things to do than write out his own name, and again, and again, and again. . . .

GhostwriterWhile China and Japan have much in common (e.g. Borgian patterns of political appointments), Japan seems less enterprising. I do hope that its publishers/photographers too are employing labour-saving technology, but the variation among “my” examples of Suda’s signature suggests otherwise.

What is it about signed books, anyway? I have books that were signed especially for me by perhaps ten photographer friends and (face-to-face or email) acquaintances. And there’ve been some other bonuses too, like my copy of Stand BY, signed by three of its photographers. I didn’t ask for such signatures, and they were and are welcome. But this idea of signing (or autopenning) every copy of a book seems stupid. Photographers, if your publisher suggests this, just say no. Shouldn’t your photobook sell on its content and presentation? If you also want to appeal to the nitwit market, fine: cash in on it and cut down on the tedium: add the combination of a signature, a more interesting cover (ideas) and a small inkjet giclée print for an additional édition de luxe, priced accordingly.

Meanwhile, I look inside my copy of Suda’s Ningen no kioku, and am happy to see no signature.

There’s an an entire website devoted to autopenned astronaut signatures. (I haven’t yet found one on autopenned cosmonaut or photographer signatures.) Further reading: “Great moments in autopen history” (Gawker), “Ten facts about the ‘autopen’” (Politico), another perspective on signatures and “collectibility”, Steidlheads managing to go nuts even over unsigned books.

The italic print. Three of the four photos above are copyright Jiazazhi Press, the Autopen Company, and Automated Signature Technology respectively. The other one depicts works of calligraphy that are, in one way or another (I’m no expert on this stuff), the intellectual property of Suda Issei.


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