I got a record three hours rest while they clean the rollers of the Heidelberg before starting on the Koen Wessing book Chili September 1973. For those that do not know the original book, this is a small body of work that Wessing, a Dutch photojournalist, made over ten days just after Pinochet overthrew Allende by a military coup in Chile on September 11, 1973. It was published just a few months later in Amsterdam.
The book is short and was cheaply produced with rough printing on flimsy newsprint type paper. To reproduce the book in my study I had a hard time finding a copy to borrow and wound up using Koen's last personal copy which he generously loaned.
It is a book that gets easily damaged so I packed it carefully and protected it while matching the prints on press. Last year I had the experience of one of the pressmen grabbing my copy of Sophie Ristelhueber's Fait out of my hands and sweeping its pages like an issue of People magazine so I have been extra cautious on how the books are handled by the pressmen this time. It is embarrassing to freak out because most sane people don't regard books as delicate objects. They are things that are used, read and handled. So what if pages get torn or folded? How do you explain that what they have in their hands sometimes is as valuable as a used car? At one point one of the pressmen grabbed the copy of Chili and I found myself uncontrollably shouting the word 'careful' about 6 times within a half a second like I had Tourette's Syndrome. I sounded like a turkey getting a colonoscopy.
When I have seen spreads from this book reproduced before like in Martin and Gerry's Photobook: A History I noticed that the plates always look more rich than the original. As I mentioned before, this was done with a single pass of black ink on cheap quality paper so my concern was in keeping the tenor of the original and not shifting too much the quality in my book. It is a difficult balance between matching and what might, to those unfamiliar with the original, look to be poor printing. The strategy Robert Hennessey and I came up with after seeing our proofs was to not overdo the black densities - to let the sense of the paper surface show through as a texture. The results were a true representation of the object.
Since the book is short in length the pressmen fired up a different six color press to start printing the last signatures of each book which require color. For the black and white books we have done, we print them in duotone but the last signature or two are always in color so that the bibliography and 'making of' information can feature color book jackets or illustrations when necessary. With two presses now running, the checks are turning out to be staggered so that I am called to check more often. Now the time between is only 20-30 minutes which means I have been just hanging out in the press room which is pushing me to the limits.
In the area with the Heidelbergs, C+C has installed thin pipes in the ceiling which every 15 minutes or so shoot an extremely fine mist of water into the air to keep the dust levels down. I've taken to standing under them instead of showering.
The plates for the Takanashi book are stacked and waiting their turn for tomorrow...
If you'd like to get a real sense of what press checking my books was like this time, you can do the following:
1. Get into bed and set your alarm to wake you in one hour and fifteen minutes from the time you laid down. Important! Don't get undressed or take off your shoes.
2. When alarm sounds, jump out of bed in a daze and stagger around for a few seconds until you recognize where you are.
3. Walk out of your house and head to the nearest deli. My trips to the press room from my guest house would take about 4 minutes of walking time.
4. Once you are in the deli, go to the refrigerator and pick up a carton of milk.
5. Scrutinize the milk carton for any flaws. No scratches, dents nor smudges. Check the print densities and don't forget - clean registration!!
6. When you can't find the perfect carton, ask to see more from the stockroom or just hang around the checkout counter for about 20 minutes looking for loose change that has fallen into the boxes of candy.
7. Pay for the milk. Leave the change you've found in the 'give a penny/take a penny' you cheap bastard.
8. Walk back home and get into bed.
9. Set your alarm for an hour later.
Repeat steps 1-9 for 5 days straight and you'll get the idea.
Sleep deprivation is said to be the worst form of torture. I haven't ever been tortured in the physical sense - no lashings, no stress positions, No waterboarding, no more listening to 24 hour recordings of babies screaming like Springa of SS Decontrol. C+C is no Guantanamo Bay but this can really suck once the fatigue sets in. You lie down for a cat nap - 45 minutes tops - before you're jolted awake mid-dream to the "deedle-leedle-leet" of the press check phone. I have started noticing some abnormal behavior.
* Running to a 4am press check, I got onto the elevator on the 5th floor of my guest house building, punched the 5th floor button several times and stood wondering why the doors weren't closing. It took almost a full minute to figure that one out.
* I accidentally kicked my tea spoon under the bed. Instead of simply retrieving it I am now stirring my instant coffee and ginger tea with the end of my toothbrush.
* I take noticeable pleasure in looking in the tea pot, watching the water, and trying to guess how long it will take before it gets to a full boil. (About two minutes).
* Choosing when to wear one of my plain grey t-shirts and when to wear my plain black t-shirts (all from Uniqlo) has become a major thought expenditure.
* Trying to coordinate which "make ready sheets" I want the paper loading pressman to use in order to get cool double-printed sheets. Not really abnormal behavior for me but to the Chinese pressman this is the oddest request they have ever gotten.
* I haven't shaven with a razor in about three years but I get the idea to do so now with a shitty plastic disposable and no proper shaving cream. Now it feels like there is a swarm of fire ants having an orgy on my chin.
* After three days of press checks I'm starting to fuckin' hate books.