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Step Inside The Dead Bookstore, Where Printed Books Are Reborn

Designer Ben Pieratt’s beautiful prints are made from loose-leaf book spreads.

If print is dead or dying, then designer Ben Pieratt‘s Dead Bookstore is less a graveyard and more a site of reincarnation.

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The bookstore is stocked with prints, not books; Pieratt cuts the stitched binding of old books, lies the spreads flat, and picks out the spreads with the most interesting juxtapositions. The results are stunning: an Ansel Adams diptych of two pastel mountain ranges draped in light, a Jackie O. abstraction, three ocean images from a volume called The Book of Waves. All of the pieces can be bought on the site from Pieratt–or he’ll show you how to make them for free.

Pieratt is a freelance product and graphic designer, and the founder of the once-popular but now-defunct shopping platform Svpply. After Svpply was acquired by eBay and subsequently folded in 2012, Pieratt wanted to get back to making things by hand. “I started a collage project trying to show magazines contradicting themselves within the same printed issue,” he writes in an email. “It was fruitless, but after a bit of experimentation I discovered this shortcut of removing the staples from the bindings to reveal these unintended juxtapositions.”

After nearly four years in the making, Dead Bookstore opened on the last week of November with 12 pieces that incorporate images from books spanning back to 1951. For the series, Pieratt collected used art books, broke the spines of the ones he wanted to use, cut the stitches of the binding (books have to be sewn, not perfect-bound, or glued) and collected the loose-leaf spreads in stacks in his studio. Dreamy landscape shots and images of buildings make up the bulk of the current series, with Pieratt already working on the second series.

Pieratt calls the project “a confrontation with the waste and beauty of a dying medium.” Since he’s using found images that he didn’t create himself, he thought it only fair to allow others to make their own prints, too. Each print on the site is original and made to order; the number of each artwork available is dependent on the number of that particular book Pieratt could get his hands on. But for each piece, Pieratt also offers the option to make it yourself. A “find” button links to a Google search for the book’s ISBN, showing you where you can buy it. And a how-to page breaks down the process for making the prints, step-by-step.

For Pieratt, a book lover who works largely in a digital medium, Dead Bookstore is a way of reconciling the print industry with the Internet Age. “Print is a huge part of our shared cultural heritage, and it felt right that everyone should have the choice to dip into it in this way,” he says. “It’s something anyone can do, and the process and results are genuinely stunning. It’s a bit like getting to have a great conversation with an old friend you never thought you’d see again.”

Correction: In an earlier version of this article, we described Pieratt cropping and pairing the images to make the pieces. This is incorrect: Pieratt deconstructs the books and then uses the found spreads whole-cloth. The piece has been updated to reflect this.

About the author

Meg Miller is an associate editor at Co.Design covering art, technology, and design.

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