Talking of films: I was gutted I couldn't make it to see Typeface a couple of weeks back. Gutted. Big job on/had to work. Thankfully, ace reporter and very soon to be ex-desk-buddy Jodie rose to the occasion with this full and in-depth review:
A thought-provoking exploration of the 'real shift in the way we are printing', Typeface focuses on the Hamilton Woodtype and Printing Museum in Two Rivers, Wisconsin where James Hamilton began printing type in 1880 and after 20 years was the largest producer in the United States.
Beautifully shot and complimented by the wonderful clunky-whirly sounds of the presses in action, as a 'computer-age' graphic designer, it was inspiring to watch. Endearing, sometimes heartbreaking, stories are told. Of why and how individuals became part of the Museum. Fifteen years of working for large agencies and design firms left Greg Corrigan (the Museum's director at the time of filming) burnt out. He was drawn to Hamilton Museum, feeling the importance of 'preserving this part of American printing history'; a theme of craving nostalgia in our modern age of speed and mass-production, runs throughout the film.
Other stories are from Norb Brylski, an 83-year-old retired pantograph operator and Bernice Schwahert, an 84-year-old former type trimmer, who was once told that a woman could never learn how to trim type. Norb explains that, 'he is as good at what he does, because he's the only one left doing it', and so, 'has nobody else to compare himself too'. Younger volunteers worry that the process will die with the last pantographers and trimmers and that nobody is documenting the process, an interesting point, since the film itself is documenting the process. In an interview, Jan Nagan explains the reason behind making a film 'about obsolete technology': "I became fascinated with exploring the changing importance of analog technologies in our digital age. There is this theory that as we as a society sit at our computers all day, in the off hours, tactile and sensual experiences become all the more important. People are craving things with texture that they can hold in their hands – whether it’s knitting or playing guitar…Then there’s the whole nostalgia factor: LPs vs. ipod, film vs. video, letterpress vs. inkjet."
Corrigan explains, to young graphic design students visiting the Museum, that Hamilton continued to produce type, commercially, until 1985. Which, not surprisingly, coincided with the arrival of the first Macintosh computer. Dennis Ichiyama, an artist and professor at Purdue University holds workshops at Hamilton and explains the benefits of allowing graphic design students to visit a working museum, where nothing is pushed back behind glass cases. Instead students can handle the individual letters, traces the edges, understand the space between the letters and within the letters. The results are unquestionably stronger, more thoughtful designs.
I recognised and related to the idea that creatives can crave for the tactile; for that which they can hold in their hands (I recently took up knitting as a 'creative outlet'). The museum's future is clearly about it's past, it's heritage; and how the letterpress pieces, with all their inherent flaws, are ideally suited for a return to 'letting the aesthetic be affected by the tools with which an item is made'.
Find out more about Typeface and the Hamilton Woodtype and Printing Museum here.
Jodie Young is a really very good independent designer, working in Belfast.