I left the screening of Pressing On: The Letterpress Film feeling sort-of. . .sad. Melancholy. I’m a sentimental person by nature, and seeing a trade that was discussed with such love and passion by all of the interviewees slowly being lost to time and technology certainly struck a chord with my sensitive, sentimental little heart. The film made me feel such a deep concern for preserving the legacy of the letterpress, something that can only best be done with the guidance of the previous generations’ masters. Learning from them – who have become so knowledgeable and so dedicated to their craft – is the best way for future generations to preserve the techniques and the knowledge needed for letterpress printing. And certainly, it feels as if the clock is ticking down rapidly for this – the generations with experience won’t be here forever, so the younger generations must be inspired to learn this wonderful craft before all those who know its secrets best are gone.
I don’t know if it’s something I could pursue with the same passion as the numerous interviewees, but I, at the very least, want to gain some experience working with letterpress printing at some point in my lifetime. I was struck by the images of the process of letterpress printing in the documentary; the process seems so intimate, like the individual artist’s creativity is so intricately intertwined with the final product. Modern technology takes away that individual artist’s touch, undoubtedly – creating digital art on my laptop feels much more departed from me, physically, than traditional drawing with a pencil and paper.
I think the speed, the accuracy, and the ability to perfectly copy prints you’ve already made that comes along with modern processes does add a particular ease to the processes, but these technologies really seem to take the artist away from their projects, to separate them physically and conceptually.
Hatch Show Print, https://hatchshowprint.com/. Accessed 13 October 2021.
Pressing On: The Letterpress Film, 2017, http://www.letterpressfilm.com/. Accessed 13 October 2021.
3 thoughts on “Preserving the Press”
I agree that there is value in letterpress. It can be sad when one artform or technology dies. However, its more clear to me that the letterpress, in order for it to survive, needs to be taken directionally different than it was in its past use, and it is in that way that letterpress is preserved.
I’ve found the same theme in traditional v. digital art processes. I think working manually is so much more visceral, engaging touch with sight (and possibly other senses, too). Letterpress is especially satisfying in this way, because of the fiddling that goes into typesetting, the operating of the press, the texture of the finished product. The printer has to be physically involved in every step.
I’ve found your description of the film’s depiction of letterpress to be extremely inspiring. I, too, believe the documentary shows the processes of letterpress in a very intimate fashion. Each piece is performed individually, and not every print will be exactly uniform with that of the last. Though pieces can be done “production style” and hundreds can be made consecutively, that doesn’t change the aspect of each piece being individually made, therefore leaving possibilities for obscurities such as inking imbalance or the paper not being square. This is one aspect of letterpress I think is very satisfying, because every time a print is made, the printer is involved in making it happen and they cannot simply type it into a computer and press Ctrl+P and enter in 140 copies…..every step is as important as the last, establishing an intimate connection between printer and press.