The second book to be printed during this trip was our study on David Goldblatt's In Boksburg. Almost a full year before we printed the first four titles in the Books on Books series, myself and Ed Grazda had the opportunity to meet David through a mutual friend and it was during this meeting that I told David our plans for the series and show him the two inkjet book maquettes I had made of Eugene Atget's Photographe de Paris and Chris Killip's In Flagrante. Almost immediately David responded positively to the idea and we spoke of featuring one of his books in the series. This for me was a huge boost of confidence and I was deeply appreciative that he would go so far as to agree without us even having printed a single title at that point.
We decided on In Boksburg for a few reasons. For me, the choice of which book to feature was between Some Afrikaners Photographed and In Boksburg. At that time, David had just completed production on his book Some Afrikaners Revisited so since much of that material was about to see a new incarnation and was newly accessible, it pushed In Boksburg to the head of my list.
What I find interesting about In Boksburg is that it is a project David embarked upon which examines a town very similar to one that he grew up within. I see much of his work as a mix of personal examination and a straight document of his country and the Boksburg project comes closest as a direct link to his own personal history.
Boksburg under apartheid denied Blacks any right to live there although as David has written, "They serve it, trade with it, receive charity from it and are ruled, rewarded and punished by its precepts. Some, on occasion, are its privileged guests. But all who go there, do so by permit or invitation, never by right." He was interested in the homogenization of townships. The stores, the homes, and in turn, the growing complacency of its citizens as they adopted the rule of apartheid law. It is an examination of the white societal values in one South African town which speaks of the larger state of country.
One consideration for featuring this book was that its square format posed a difficult sit within our size and format. Due to the ratio of the spreads of the open book and also the way that David had designed and handled the photographs in In Boksburg, in order to best see the photographs and not have them reproduce too small we decided to run all of the plates as large double page spreads.
One of the criticisms I faced with this series is that some of the images are small since many spreads in the first four books were run four plates on facing pages. The intention was that by seeing four page spreads at a time, the viewer would start to see how the artist or designer was making connections within the sequence between various images. The downside of such a strategy was that some of the photos get reproduced at a much smaller scale obviously. With Boksburg, if we applied that same strategy then most of the 35mm photographs that appear in the book would have been too small to read properly which naturally led to our decision to run them all large. That said, it is not our intention to just make a mini-version of these great books. We carefully planned the various layouts so that they might - hopefully - inspire a new vantage point when looking at a book. By showing the original and presenting not just the photographs but the layout and page design I hoped that this "taking one-step back" approach could facilitate further study and reflection.
The first sheets from In Boksburg I press checked looked good but for a slight increase in contrast. To correct this I had the press operator increase the second grey and when necessary pull back the black densities. Like shifting to a lower contrast filter in darkroom printing, this helped reduce the contrast and match the original book's tonal range and densities.
I should say that of the four books we are doing in this set, In Boksburg follows the most traditional printing. As I mentioned, William Klein's Life is Good... had its extreme quirks to the original. It was very contrasty and obscured a lot of detail in both highlights and shadows. The Koen Wessing book Chili, September 1973 is another weirdly printed book. It was printed with a single pass of black ink on a cheap newsprint type paper. That, and the fact that Wessing's prints that were used to make the plates showed extreme burning and dodging techniques for which many of his images are known to show. He would dodge out a detail till it was over-dodged and represented as a weak grey and then in turn he would burn in the skies till they haloed the subjects. One of the Takanashi books from Toshi-e, Notes Tokyo-jin also employed a single pass of black ink on a newsprint which obscures a lot of shadow detail and poses complicated strategy for us to reproduce with satisfying results.
These four books were chosen because they represent a photographer working a city during a particular time period. Two are overtly political while the others are more metaphoric. They also represent different ways of photographic printing. It is this latter quality that will challenge me in the days ahead during these press checks. More to come...