In the last 24 hours, I've read every one of the recents posts about the implications of making a photograph by stitching together digital images.
I am working on a book, and one of the elements to which I've been paying a fair bit of attention is the typography. We are using a typeface that is generated by a computer instead of lead type. Similarly, we are using a programme called InDesign to set the type instead of forms and leading. Computer type and computer design have certain advantages. On the other hand, this past summer I spent a few hours with some people who use lead type and real presses to make limited edition books. I was struck by two things; first, the fact that the pages that they printed were three dimensional, due to the fact that traditional typesetting is a physical rather than virtual process, and secondly, the fact that every page that they printed, depending as it did on how much ink there was on the roller and how much pressure was applied, was different.
As a result of this experience, I went to a local library and had a look at some books that were carefully printed from lead. I am not talking about books that were printed 200 years ago. Indeed I specifically asked to see books that were published in the 20th century. And I am also not talking about typical, mass-market books. I am talking about books that strike one, at least if one is paying atteniton, as works of art.
I came to the conclusion that these books demonstrated craftsmanship and individuality, perhaps summed up as personality, that is not evident in the book on which we are working. I love our typography, I love our design, but it lacks the physicality of the work that I came to admire. Indeed, I feel this so strongly that I have decided that I want our book to have an insert that is printed by hand. That said, I am not at all hopeful that the publisher will agree. The cost of putting an individual stamp on every book that we print is probably too great.
About three years ago, I bought my first photographic print from a fellow named Geoffrey James. It was a contact print from an 8x10 original. I have reason to believe that Mr. James printed the photograph that I purchased more than once, maybe several times, before he was satisfied with what he was sending me. What he did was labour intensive, but that is just another way of sayiing that he created, and approved of, the print that he sent me. He didn't just push a button. There is something to be said for that.
I wonder about what is lost, if anything, when people adopt a process for creating a plastic work, whether a book or a photograph or a drawing or a sculpture, that distances an individual's physical hand from the creation of the template of the work and the copies that are generated. It seems to me that this is what has happened to book publishing, and it is an interesting question whether the same thing is happening to filmmaking and photography. And if so, does it matter?