title: “Lab 6”
author: “Quill Huntley”
- fieldbooks comments: false
The letterpress printer is not the only practice that has seen a resurgence in recent years. It is very common to see polaroid cameras and record-players in leading brand and outlet stores; these once forgotten media have been revived and woven into the landscape of ‘trendy’ or ‘fashionable’ culture. While I would argue this is not simply accredited to nostalgia, the act of ‘looking back to move forward’ is somewhat grounded in a fondness of ‘the good ol’ days.’ Indeed, people long for the past because it is out of reach, something that can only be relived in memory or historical contexts.
For the letterpress printer it is no different. In an era of never-ending, identical reproduction, people (especially young people) yearn for liberation, for something that will disturb the numbing, albeit comfortable act of pushing buttons on a computer keyboard. Taking pictures, listening to music, and writing/printing text has become so abstracted that the relationship between the user and the medium is without substance.
For example, when my group completed our printing project, we felt a collective sense of pride. Seeing the fruits of our labor was very rewarding, even though it was only a couple lines that would have taken seconds on a computer. Something about this medium brought us closer to the text itself, it repurposed our idea of text from composition, form, and content.
There is also a sense of pride that comes with knowing how to set type, account for spacing, and case it all within the furniture. Today, anyone who has a printer can print automatically without any skill. Even simply knowing the names of the different components is something that makes you feel more affiliated with the text; composing text in this way allows you to feel the text, not just write it. This, too, is another reason why there has been a resurgence of old media practices. People gravitate to the tactility of these practices, being able to actively participate and interact with their work; people like to hold the film, music, and text in their hands. Indeed, humans are fundamentally dexterous beings that become fulfilled through these tasks.
Nevertheless, most of these practices have become embraced by modern technologies to be made easier, faster, or even more marketable. The film of modern polaroid cameras, for example, can be developed with pre-made filters and colors, effects that wouldn’t have been possible at the medium’s conception. For the letterpress, the development of the photopolymer in the 1980s allowed a photo negative to be transcribed onto a printing plate while also speeding up the entire process. No matter what artisanal practice we pull from history, it will always be rooted and framed through modern technology.
Just like in its heyday, the use of letterpress today is fashionable and avant-garde, a “new” way to print that excites and engages people, in ways that it hasn’t before (or at least, hasn’t for a long time.)