I love the mystery of what’s in the drawers.

by Leslie Hossack

Ampersand Abstract #7, Vancouver 2010


All the Ampersand Abstracts in this series were created from my photographs of large wood type blocks. For letterpress relief printing, metal type could not be cast much larger than an inch and still retain the flat surface required. There were a number of additional negative factors inherent in large metal type: it was expensive, it required a large amount of storage space, and it was extremely heavy. So wood type was widely used for broadsides and posters which needed large letters that could be read at a distance. For more interesting reading about wooden type, see History of Graphic Design, Poster History, which also includes over 30 examples of vintage posters with annotations.

 

Mixed Type Drawers, Vancouver 2010

© Leslie Hossack

I love the mystery of what’s in the drawers. In the letterpress printing room, scores of drawers hold dozens of fonts. Each heavy type case houses intriguing treasures, from the largest wooden blocks lying in stately fashion in their own compartments, to the tiniest metal characters sorted into containers by letter. In 2010 when I took a letterpress printing workshop at the Emily Carr University of Art + Design in Vancouver, I became fascinated with wooden type. I spent more time in the letterpress room photographing the beautifully handcrafted blocks than typesetting.

With the abstract photographs presented here, I set out to explore the intricate relationship between contemporary photography and traditional printing. Letterpress images are printed by hand, one colour at a time, when a raised inked surface is pressed into paper. Today in the digital darkroom, photographs are still crafted one image at a time and then printed using an inkjet printer.

Of all the typographical characters that I encountered in the type drawers, the ampersand was my favourite. I photographed every ampersand wooden type block that I could find; I also printed each one by hand on a table top printer in the letterpress room. The ampersand abstracts in this series were then created in my digital darkroom by combining the original photograph of the wooden type face and a representation of what that character would look like when printed.

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