David Hockney, Christopher Isherwood Talking to Bob Holman, Santa Monica, collage of chromogenic prints on board, 1983.
All of the digitally archived NewLights books show their edges. If you look closely (at What You Will, for example) and watch the transition from spread to spread, you’ll see that the edges are in flux—they slide back and forth and wobble crookedly against the edge of the digital document. If you look toward the spine you’ll see that the shadows cast by the book don’t match up, and sometimes, even the edges of the cover or jacket don’t either. Look a little bit past the book toward the digital edge and you can see the boundary between the image and the file that holds it—mismatched approximations of gray or black or white. The reality of the image bleeds through.
Often when I picture these archived books in my mind (another ideal space), they float against a pristine white background, shadowless and perfect. It is obviously possible to make that ideal a reality in the realm of the digital, but it seems counterproductive. These are not ideal objects, they are as imperfect as our shabby bodies, and to hide that fact is to actually withhold information from the reader. & the archive is a functional object—it gives you the content as well as an image of the form, as completely as it can.
(I’m writing this post in the ideal light of the early morning, a bit hazy from the nearby wildfire, [ Editor's Note: This post was actually written a while ago, while our fire was just beginning, before our city started to burn.] as the pages of The Heads of My Family, My Friends, My Colleagues, a new book of poems by Justin Sirois, are being digitally printed. I can hear and see the pages flex and wobble as the machine pulls them in. I am clearing jams. I can see that they are not straight, not lining up from back to front. This is going to be even more obvious once I start the letterpress printing. I have accepted, planned for, the imperfection of the physical-digital. Hopefully the design is successful enough to take advantage of its oscillation.)
The design and production of the actual NewLights books focuses on making their technology visible, on directing the reader’s attention to the window: by fingerprinting it, cracking it, taking it out of its frame and asking the reader to hold it for a second. Those ideas are important, foundational, to all of the books that NewLights makes. My initial concerns about, and resistance to, digital archives and/or physical facsimiles grew from the idea of the seamless image of the facsimile—if the books themselves insisted on showing their seams and how they were made, how could I justify another version that would hide those same things? But the translation to the digital form allows new opportunities, allows for more layers of information, allows for more richness, and allows more people to access the experience of all those things. Sure, a physical facsimile could do the same thing, but I’ve got a lot of other printing to do, first-order printing, if you will. One last thought in regards to all of these posts and the recent Call for Proposals from The Center for Book & Paper Arts at Columbia College Chicago: the digital archive insists, to a certain degree, on the reproductive functionality of the digital medium. But what happens (and this is a huge question in Book Land right now) when the digital becomes first-order as well?
And by the way, the digital version of Art Into Life will be going up on Monday.