A Heidelberg printing press

Above: A Heidelberg Speedmaster one of the classic offset-litho printing presses used for printing photography books during the mass-media age, circa 1920-2000. Credit: Bloecker Graphische Maschinen GmbH.

Goodbye to the Heidelberg

Printed photo-books (sewn and perfect bound), printed magazines (bound using staples), printed leaflets, printed posters, printed newsprint-based publications ("newspapers"), printed postcards: all ways that fine-arts photography was disseminated during the mass-media age, circa 1920-2000. If you were an artist-photographer during those days, offset printing was really the only way to get your pictures "out" into the wider world.

One of the primary reasons why these formats are now antiquated, and have generally been abandoned by artist-photographers, is the fact of the printing process being so expensive. Printing, especially offset-litho printing (the general technology used to print full-colour photo-reproductions), was crushingly steep. This was a cost that had to be worked towards. Before the Digital Era, artist-photographers would build finance however they could--often at least £8000-10000 was needed to do a fairly ordinary printed book (in an edition of maybe 3000-copies only). It was a long-winded process of assembling funding via loans, grants, donations and contributions-from-galleries. And the process always began with an eye-watering printer's estimate.

Around 2000, the dominance of ink-on-paper dissemination was superseded by digital Web-based dissemination. From 2000, in the UK at least, the only cost required to get one's art-photos "out" was the price of a monthly broadband Internet-connection (£29.99 in 2000, then provided exclusively by BT). Uploading to Flickr was always free. The cost of getting one's own website domain, maybe £100 per year, is still a minimal cost when compared to the 10K that was pressing in the former age.

In the old days (I came in at the tail-end, in the last decade of the former age), getting one's photos published in book-form was really a big grind. It was a frustrating and often depressing process--a hassle, a bore, a drag, a slog. And even when finally published, photo-books rarely sold that well--as every photo-book publisher was fond of endlessly reiterating to the author. The energy and effort that I put into raising money for book-printing all through the 1990s was too much, and I am so glad that the age of the photo-book is over--but it's not just the photo-book, it's also the printed magazine, the printed leaflet, printed posters, printed newsprint-based publications ("newspapers"), printed postcards, etc.

(15 September 2018)