Who has not benefitted from the increased speed, ease of use and cost savings of going digital?
The invention that changed the world 500 years ago – Gutenberg’s movable type –– and the very first industrial machine that came to be, the printing press, have decisively shaped Western culture. Where would humanism, the enlightenment and science be, without the press?
But in a span of thirty years, Gutenberg’s technology and its system of knowledge became completely obsolete, with the advent of digital typography in the last decades of the XXth century.
Paper & Print: a love story will investigate the trajectory of this technology which began as craft, reigned as the industrial standard for over half a millennium, only to become obsolete overnight. In the process, the film will also tell the story of the first of the media arts to be eliminated by its digital equivalent: traditional typography.
•Note: The film was previously entitled Losing Type Face.
Typography, a relatively obscure craft, known as “the art that conserves all the arts,” has always been a singular medium. It was at the center of the original publishing revolution in the 1450s and was recently, again, the first medium to go completely digital––prior to photography, music and now film.
The digital revolution has touched virtually everyone who is literate on the planet. It has spawned its own revolutions in the creation of media, making everyone a Gutenberg.
It has affected every area connected to the production and dissemination of knowledge, changing forever our relationship with information.
But a question lingers: what has been lost in the process of progress?
Typography is the marriage of image to language.
So the fate of traditional typography elicits questions––theoretical and practical––that are emblematic of the effects of the digital revolution on culture at large.
What happens to our relationship with language when its physicality is removed, abstracted, when letters become images?
What happens when we take the medium out of the message?
Through the quests of its characters, the film focuses on the inherent contradictions of a transitional time. What befalls the skills, the system of knowledge and production––a language––accumulated over 500 years, whose real yet intangible value no longer has a place in the present?
What becomes of the people and the equipment––fully functional printing presses, lead and wood typefaces, previously costing hundreds of thousands of dollars––now reduced to museum displays, decorative artifacts and more often, scrap metal?
And what does it say about us, as a society, that we eagerly dispose of a tradition, craft and artform––and millions of people with very specialized skills–– in the quest for ever greater productivity gains?
As with all revolutions, something has been lost and gone unaccounted for: something unquantifiable, intangible––human.
Robert Bringhurst, 63, an internationally-renowned academic, typographer and author, in 1992, of a book that is called by many the typographer’s Bible: ‘Elements of Typographic Style’.
Robert provides a reflection on the effects of the digital revolution on our relationship with language.
“The typographic page is a map of the mind, but it is also, often, a map of the social order whence it emerges.”
“Just as words and sentences, letters have tone, timbre and character. Beyond being microscopic works of art, they work on a dual level. They mean what they are and what they say.”
Gloria Kondrup, 54, leads a group of students on a tour of the Archetype Press at Art Center College of Design. A printer and educator, she will be their letterpress instructor for the next couple of months. She tells us that letterpress is now more popular than ever. Archetype’s public classes have never been so full. Gloria talks to the students about her passion for letterpress:
“The moment I put ink on a page, I’ve created fire, I’m human.”
Gloria points to the makeup of the classes––mostly youngsters––as indicative of a craving by young people for a relationship with “the material.”
“There is a power to ink on paper… When you see the letters come alive into the page, it sends chills up your spine. I have yet to see anyone experience that after sitting for hours in front of a computer.”
Cristiana Almendra, 17, is a high school student taking the class at Archetype through an an after-school program. Her curiosity gets piqued when Gloria goes through the type drawers. In the tiny wooden slots live the stuff of language––letters, numbers, leading, slugs… She is curious about everything, at first afraid to touch, but stimulated by all that is so old and yet completely new to her.
“I had no idea that printing took so much work!”At work setting a block of type with a paragraph of her own writing Cristiana asks, after an hour belaboring it: “What happens when you run out of ‘e’s?”
With a smirk, Gloria answers: “You revise, you edit––you rethink what it is that you’re trying to say.”
P & P will also feature interviews with seminal figures in the Design community: Ellen Lupton, Johanna Drucker, Gary Hutswit, Erik Spiekerman and Paula Scher.
The film will use historical footage, along with interviews and observational footage to chronicle the historical, material and human aspects of the questions posed.
This film will be of interest to art and graphic design enthusiasts, to teachers and students of art and design, as well as the public interested in dramatic changes in technology in the XXth Century.