And yet, here are Cameron Moll and Bryce Knudson managing to impart all kinds of aura and ritual to the reproduction. The reproductions are weirdly more authentic than the original which is just a file with dubious forward-compatibility.
I enjoy this alchemy, made possible by the presence of easier reproduction techniques. It transmutes the time needed to make a letterpress work into painstaking labour when, at the moment of invention, it was labour-saving. Imagine the salespeople and inventors of these machines learning that their long term legacy would be assured by how difficult they are to use, compared to their displacing successors (yes, yes, I know there are special features of the resulting print that are unique to the process but the video is all about the process itself).
What I’m deeply curious about is what comes next. At what point will the techniques have morphed and changed to that point that lovingly submitting PDFs to be printed “by hand” on colour printer feels more authentic than whatever’s replaced it? I suppose we’re about due for dot-matrix nostalgia.
I think we’re already seeing some glimpses of that sentiment in essays like this one: I want to make things, not just glue things together.
The struggle to adequately render letterforms on a pixel grid is a familiar one, and an ancient one as well: this bitmap alphabet is from La Vera Perfettione del Disegno di varie sorte di ricami, an embroidery guide by Giovanni Ostaus published in 1567.
Renaissance ‘lace books’ have much to offer the modern digital designer, who also faces the challenge of portraying clear and replicable images in a constrained environment. Ostaus’s alphabet follows the cardinal rule of bitmaps, which is to always reckon the height of a capital letter on an odd number of pixels. (Try drawing a capital E on both a 5×5 grid and a 6×6, and you’ll see.) Ostaus ignored the second rule, however, which is “leave space for descenders.”
I’d planned to introduce this item with a snappy headline that juxtaposed the old and the new — for your sixteenth-century Nintendo! — before reflecting on the pixel’s moribund existence. Pixels were the stuff of my first computer, which strained to show 137 of them in a square inch; my latest cellphone manages 32,562 in this same space, and has 65,000 colors to choose from, not eight. Its smooth anti-aliased type helps conceal the underlying matrix of pixels, which are nearly as invisible as the grains of silver halide on a piece of film. And its user interface reinforces this illusion using a trick borrowed from Hollywood: it keeps the type moving as much as possible.
Crisp cellphone screens aren’t the end of the story. There are already sharper displays on handheld remote controls and consumer-grade cameras, and monitors supporting the tremendous WQUXGA resolution of 3840×2400 are making their way from medical labs to living rooms. The pixel will never go away entirely, but its finite universe of digital watches and winking highway signs is contracting fast. It’s likely that the pixel’s final and most enduring role will be a shabby one, serving as an out-of-touch visual cliché to connote “the digital age.”
In practical terms the ISO ruling now means that in future it should be easier to find the Eszett on computer keyboards and in programmes. But it remains to be seen how keyboard manufacturers will react. Other vulnerable European letters have come under threat in the internet era, such as the Scandinavian vowels æ, ø and å. However, official recognition for the Eszett should mean that it is protected, at least for the time being, and cannot be scrapped as it has been in Swiss German.
Kerstin Güthert, managing director of the Council for German Spelling Reform, said: “It’s up to the people to decide whether or not they will use it.”
Germany’s typographers, at least, are predicting its comeback and celebrating the Eszett’s new-found status.