I'm now back in New York after a particularly tiring week printing books at the C+C Joint in Shenzhen, China. I arrived after a week in Paris with a slight cold so I was a little worried about being able to stand the five 24 hour days of straight printing. Unfortunately as you may have read, China now completely blocks blogging so I had to wait till I got home to post. Over the next week I'll be giving a recap on the week's events.
We started printing with our study of William Klein's Life is Good & Good for You in New York and I approved the first sheet within a half hour of arriving on site. last year there were a few issues to be hashed out before they could start putting things to press but this year we solved most all mysteries weeks ago.
For those of you who know the original Klein New York book from 1958, it is great but it has an odd flavor of printing. It was rotogravure and according to William Klein the printer in Switzerland gave him the limited choice of either "black or grey." Klein's choice of wanting rich blacks resulted in very a contrasty printing where often there is little or no detail in the deep shadows. For me this adds to the flavor and aggressive nature of the book but to some it could look primitive and crude.
Matching to my personal copy of the original which I had on hand, it was just a slight increase in the black levels of ink which made the first sheets look better. One of the things I have learned about offset since printing the first four of the Books on Books series is "wet versus dry" tonalities. As a traditional darkroom printer I expect my darkroom prints to "dry down" a little - that is, get a little darker. What I discovered with offset is that the dry sheets can wind up less rich and the blacks looking surprisingly lighter depending on the varnish. We use a slightly matte varnish over each duotone plate and when dry, it can reduce the richness of the black tonalities.
While I was on-press for the first books I kept sensing a need to reduce the amount of black ink on the pages because it looked too heavy when wet compared to the original book plates. In retrospect seeing how these dried, I had pulled back too far in some cases. So for this first Klein sheet I used my machine proofs made two months ago as a starting point since they are definitely dry and I wound up increasing the colorimeter black points to between 1.9 and 2. The result matched the original book accurately.
One thing for aspiring book makers is to consider spending the extra money to get an actual machine proof rather than one coming from a "proofing press." The machine proof is one that comes off the same kind of, if not the actual printing press that will eventually print your book. They are often in better register which was the problem with the first proofs I made for the first Errata books. this time I saw exactly what I could expect and plan for slight tonal changes etc.
People have asked repeatedly how I get the artists or estates to agree to let a work be a part of this series and the simple answer is - I just ask. For Mr. Klein I wrote a simple email to him. He responded that the project sounded interesting and after a few follow up phone calls we worked out the terms of how to proceed. Within our many conversations both on the phone and in person I discovered that Life is Good & Good for You in New York is a book which he would never reprint in its original form which is one of the deciding criteria for inclusion in my series. He told me that when he revisited the work for the New York 1955-56 book in the mid-1990s he felt that new book was going to be about the photography where the original, in his words, "was about graphic design."
Everything about the original book, the photos, the graphic design and even the printing which is far from perfect, add to the uniqueness of that book and make it the masterpiece that should be seen again. As a "street photographer" for me, it is a great honor that he would entrust me with this study of his groundbreaking work. It was even more exciting for me to have William send a couple scans of the original maquette and original contact sheets which I was able to use to illustrate the "making of" pages of my book.
This edition also includes the often missing caption pamphlet which was attached to the book via a string and metal t-bar clasp. The pamphlet contains many great graphic elements and Klein's wonderfully humorous captions. For the essay, William referred us to an existing but obscure piece written by Max Kozloff which he felt was the best thing written on him and this book, that has ever been done. Although we usually commission a new essay for each book, his insistence for this particular piece and its fullness in addressing all of the book aspects which we look for, made it a fine choice.
It is 6:00 am and I just finished approving the last of the duotone sheets from the Klein book. An exhausting day but a great start. 16 press checks and 16 cups of raw ginger tea. Now I am waiting for the phone ring to approve the first of the David Goldblatt In Boksburg book.