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[New Books]

Emperor’s River by Philipp Scholz Rittermann

A San Diego Photographer goes to China to shoot photos for a rare hand-made specialty book for a local doner called The Athenaeum

by Reviewer Rob

Philipp Sholz Rittermann is a photographer of South American origin and German ancestry. He was recently sponsored by The La Jolla Athenaeum to journey to China and chronicle his trip up a long river that has been used as a major navigable waterway for more than a couple of thousand years.

In doing so he also documented the rapid modernization of the Asian giant. China is growing at an unprecedented rate and using more fossil fuels than ever as it chugs towards economic expansion. The strangeness of the land to Rittermann was matched though by his strangeness to the people he encountered. One person correctly said he looked German and the person knew that not because they’d ever met a German before but because, the person said, they’d seen a movie about Nazis.

The Athenaeum deserves kudos for this large artbook’s creation because it was they who put up the funds for Rittermann’s trip. About $7000 was donated to the photographer towards the goal of obtaining the first of his series of oversized art photo books. To say the gigantic tome is a coffee table edition would be saying your coffee table was fit for the Jolly Green Giant. As Rittermann turned the pages to show the images to the viewing group the night of the discussion he used the white lint-less gloves of an archivist. This was issue number one of the series, and the prices of the following volumes would go up substantially, he said. “This was just too much work.” The finished book is now, I assume, available for viewing under special supervision at the rare and esoteric library that is “The Ath”. The building housing so many rare books and musical recordings is a story in and of itself.

Founded in 1894 it’s one of the only sixteen membership libraries left in the USA and one of only two west of the Mississippi River. Libraries like The Athenaeum are holdovers from a time before public funding made public libraries common in every major city and community.

Erika Torri, who with Joan & Irwin Jacobs is Executive Director, is the person in charge at the La Jolla Athenaeum. Her enthusiasm for it and indeed for the concept of member libraries is astonishing. You can see easily upon hearing her talk about it for only a moment that this is something she really loves and believes in.

When I first met Erika Torri several years ago I was covering a lot more local music and Torri expressed an interest in getting more young people attending the events at The Ath. I suggested getting San Diego bands to play there, and possibly providing a party atmosphere (free kraft beer maybe?). To my surprise she didn’t seem opposed to the idea, of live local music, that is. If anyone can get the San Diego college age crowd involved in this cultural center it would be Ms Torri.

The evening viewing Rittermann’s new book was enlightening given today’s changing economic times. Knowing that the current availability of The Emperor’s River is limited to a select few who make the effort to visit the precious La Jolla Athenaeum adds to the unique experience. Look for a webiste soon named after the book, says Rittermann.

(Frame grabs from Reviewer Rob’s video interview with Rittermann.)

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