The T. Adler Books catalogue covers all sorts of topics, but the bulk of the books are about climbing and surfing. The first title I came across was “Pre-War Surfing Photographs Don James.” The images thrust me into a bygone California of empty lineups, Kookbox boards, and big, clunky water-housings. The design was minimalist—it gave the images center-stage. From there I found “Ron Church California and Hawaii 60 to 65,” which captures that period in an alluring, I-want-to-swan-dive-into-the-images sort of way. And the design was consistent with the Don James book—clean, subtle, respectful to the image. It was in the Ron Church book that I noticed a kind of dance in the pairing of the images. The shot on the left would often have some kind of interesting connection with the shot on the right. They were in dialogue with one another. This, I would come to realize, is a T. Adler Books trademark.
T. Adler Books is a partnership between Tom Adler and Evan Backes. They met over a decade ago while working on a project for Quiksilver. Tom lives in Carpinteria. Evan lives in Atwater Village. They design the books together on Skype. In fact they spend huge chunks of their day together on Skype. I know this firsthand. T. Adler Books did our recent “Dazzling Blue” book, and in our back-and-forths it was always a three-way. In keeping with that spirit, I got them on a conference call—
What do you guys love most about what you do?
Tom: Evan and I really love books of all kinds. And we’re lucky to be doing something work-wise that is consistent with our interests and what we appreciate in general. I mean, Evan spends more time in bookstores than I do. But that’s something I’ve always done. It’s just that they’re all closing down… But yeah, I think just the general interest in books. We’re lucky. We’re dealing in something we both appreciate and enjoy.
Evan: Especially nowadays, I feel like so many designers, everything has moved towards digital. I just really cherish working on books, just because it’s something that you get to hold in the end. It’s still really kind of special in that way.
What is your favorite part of the book-making process?
Tom: For me, it’s editing the photos.
Evan: Yeah. I mean, that’s the core of it. It always feels like a puzzle that can be solved in several different ways, and the editing, it just kind of doesn’t stop. We just keep changing things up. Sometimes we go up to the 40th version of something. It’s fun. You get this sort of weird thrill after you spend a whole day editing. And then I usually can’t look at it at night after we’re done. Tom does. But I’ll look at it in the morning. You try to look at it with fresh eyes, and then you go, “Oh, here’s six other things we want to change.” It’s just kind of this fun puzzle.
Tom: Yeah, it’s like an ongoing process that keeps improving. The more time you spend with it, the more it improves until you get it the way you want it.
How does the collaboration go?
Evan: When I first met Tom, I had a lot to learn. Tom was still organizing and editing things, and he had a clear direction on what he wanted, and I was there to help. And I was just trying to sponge everything up. Nowadays we tend to look at everything together. We screen-share. We’ll go through every step, more or less, together. Sometimes Tom will take a crack at making edits. Sometimes I will. It just depends on which book. But generally, we’ll do it all together. We’ll start on version one and just start making selects and dropping things in. It’s very collaborative.
Tom: Yeah. And it’s as though we develop a project from the first discussion and say, “Hey, what do you think about doing this?” I mean, it’s that straightforward.
What title best exemplifies the T. Adler Books ethos?
Tom: “The Moon.” “Surfing and Climbing in the 50s.” But “The Uncommon Archive” is the one that’s most consistent with all of the things that interest us, and all of the projects we’ve worked on, where it’s just this compilation of photography, photographers and artists.
What are you guys working on now that you’re most excited about?
Tom: Jeff Divine’s book!