Issue #246  12/17/2018
Manfred Heiting Home and Photobook Library Go up in Flames in Malibu Fire

By Alex Novak

© Getty Images, Inc. All rights reserved.
© Getty Images, Inc. All rights reserved.

Another tragedy of the recent California fires was the destruction of collector and donor Manfred Heiting's Malibu house and his collection of photobooks, destined for the Houston Museum of Fine Arts. About 24,000 books of the approximately 30,000 the museum acquired from Heiting in 2012 were lost in the Woolsey fire. The books and other objects--including about 160 photographs and 200 ceramics that were destined for the museum--were insured, but many were irreplaceable. Fortunately, Heiting, who was attending Paris Photo, and his wife Hanna weren't at the home when the fire hit.

In 2002, after selling the majority of his collection to the Houston Museum of Fine Arts, Heiting shifted to photobooks. Since then, he had built a collection that traced the history of photobook publishing from the late 19th century to the end of the 20th century.

The books were supposed to stay at Heiting's home for research and cataloguing purposes until 2023, and to allow the museum to build another wing on its library to house them.

Heiting's expertise and collection were used in a series of compendiums published recently by Steidl, including "The Soviet Photobook 1920-1941", "The Japanese Photobook 1912-1980", and "Czech and Slovak Photo Publications 1918-1998". He also worked on a website to make his archive more widely accessible, and used it in his lectures at the University of California.

Heiting had sent just under 6,000 of the books to the museum after cataloging them.

"It's just a tremendous loss for the history of photography and artist books," MFAH Gary Tinterow told the Houston Chronicle.

Photography curator Malcolm Daniel and the MFAH's head librarian, John Evans, visited Heiting's home above Pepperdine University on several occasions and intended to return in December.

Commenting on the collection, Daniel noted that the "quantity mattered, because it allowed you to learn about a range of material. For example, he didn't just have a first edition of Robert Frank's The Americans. He had every edition, in all 20 languages, in mint condition, so you could see the differences."

"That's what I mourn besides the books--whatever Manfred would have done in the next five years," Daniel said, "and what scholars would have done here in the future as they mined the resources."

To add insult to injury, this area of Malibu was hit with mud slides during the recent rains after the fire. Manfred told me by email that he would be back in Malibu last week to visit the site of his home for the first time since the fire.