On Print & Moving to Berlin

A look behind the scenes of our next five books currently on print in Taiwan, and our plans to relocate to Berlin.

It’s a hot and humid 31 degrees here in Taiwan, where I’ve just finished the printing for our next 5 books. I love to share our behind the scenes, so in this blog post, I want to give you a quick insight into the process so you can learn how our books are made, and pick up any knowledge that you might need for your own projects.

As many of you know, I always print my projects in Taiwan. I have great contacts there from my time living in Taipei between 2013-2015, and it’s a quick hop from Japan where I lived until last week. I find the quality is just great, but also the people I work with are really supportive. This time around I had trouble transferring the money to pay them, and they still went ahead and printed 3 of the books before they even saw a penny. Now, that is pretty sweet!

So, let’s back it up a step. As usual I was printing many books at once. This is because the cost of shipping from Taiwan to my UK warehouses, and the cost of transferring money, is so high that it makes sense to do many books at once, rather than just print one and ship it. This means that I am usually frantically working on many projects simultaneously beforehand. In this instance, we were printing 5 new books. They are:

TVC060 – A Guide to Infrastructure and Corruption – Alejandro Cartagena

TVC054 – Hotel Okinawa – Greg Girard

TVC061 – Japanscapes – Toshio Shibata

TVC058 – The Older Industrial Parks near Newport, Victoria – Bill Lane

TVC062 – The City in Itself – Rohan Hutchinson

I will explore the background to each individual book in later blog posts – in this post I just want to explain the production process that went into printing.

Due to my strict timeline (I am moving back to Europe next week, and this week is being spent with my wife’s family in south Taiwan), I only had 2 days which I could be on print. This meant I had to decide which projects would be printed with me there, and which ones I would have to supervise remotely. I always prefer to be on print if I can, there is just no substitute for it, and each experience is a good learning experience. But it was impossible this time. I wasn’t too worried – many a brilliant project have been printed remotely.

Greg Girard had always planned to come from Vancouver to oversee the printing of Hotel Okinawa, so I just had to choose another project that I would be on press for. Each project usually takes about a day (and in this case each project took over 12 hours each day to print). For Alejandro Cartagena’s project, we were unable to produce proofs at such a late stage, so it made sense to also be in person for this the printing of this book.

Thus, I decided to print Japanscapes, The Older Industrial Parks and The City in Itself remotely. Each photographer had provided me with prints that could be used by the technician on press for colour fidelity. I received these prints from the photographers, and then received proofs from the printers from the PDF that I sent them. Once I had the chance to compare these and advise the printer on tweaks to be made, I sent everything back to them. The technician then used the proofs along with the prints and my comments to print the book.

When I arrived at the printers in Taipei on the 27th April, they already had the advance copies of these three books ready to show me. Advance copies are basically hand bound versions of the final book. It is my job, before we go any further, to assess their quality, and approve them. Luckily, everything was great with the three books and I could approve the rest of the sheets to be bound.

On the 27th I was at the printers alone to oversee the printing of Alejandro Cartagena’s A Guide to Infrastructure and Corruption. It was great to see the images in print at long last, but it proved to be a difficult printing job. Once again I was reminded of the constant balances that need to be found when printing offset. The paper we were using was slightly warmer than the digital proofs we had. Therefore, I was very hesitant about adding more yellow to the sheet. I had to remember too that if I changed one part of an image, it would also affect the image above and below it on the sheet. This was made even more complicated if the image above or below was just half of a full page spread that had already been printed. We don’t want the two sides to be inconsistent colour wise, so it really limits how many changes we can make on that part of the sheet. There were a few, but thankfully not too many, images where I felt that my hands were tied. I could see improvements that could be made, but I knew to change it would have major implications elsewhere in the book.

Overall I think the printing of each book is about making the book as good as it can be. I do not judge it’s success by comparing it to the digital prints, because I know that we are using a different printing technique and we need to work with it not against it. There is a balance to be found in all projects, but that doesn’t mean compromise. I’m really happy with how the sheets came out. It was good practice to try and get the best possible results from the printing process, and I think we did really well.

The printing took over 12 hours, but it was immensely satisfying to see it all printed and looking so good!

The next day was another 12+ hour shift. This time I was joined by Greg Girard for the printing of Hotel Okinawa – a book we have been working on since November 2015! The files had undergone extensive work in the days just prior to the printing, and most sheets came out perfect, or with just a slight alteration to be made. This was usually something like adding yellow to warm up a part of the image, or reducing the amount of cyan. It was a long day, but it was great to see how satisfied Greg was with each sheet as it came out of the printer.

It was great to spend this time with Greg in person, and we chatted about all manner of things. I have followed his work for years and consider him as someone who I can learn a lot from. It’s fascinating hearing his stories of living in Asia in the late 70’s and 80’s. As many of you know Greg lived in Tokyo, Hong Kong and Shanghai over a period of 30 years. He has done such amazing work here, knows the region immensely and cannot tell you a place he hasn’t been. He has just released another book called Under Vancouver which I was lucky to get a signed copy of. It is full of early work he shot before he left for Asia (on a freighter that took 18 days to cross the Pacific to HK!). He will also be releasing a book with Asia One later this year on his early Hong Kong work. Keep an eye out for that one.

All said and done, we left the printers for our respective accommodation at about 11pm, Greg will the folded sheets given to him by the technician under his arm. Upon viewing the sheets later, Greg found a hairline in the sky of one of the images that we all seemed to have missed – myself, Greg, the technician, the image processor. Once we found it it seemed so obvious – how could we miss it!

Though it wasn’t ideal, we were able to fix up the image very quickly and send it back for the reprinting. Of course, they can’t just reprint that one image. The entire sheet, front and back, must be reprinted. Thankfully we found this error before anything had been bound, which made it much quicker, and cheaper, to fix.

Now I wait for the advance copies of both books, and once I have approved them, they will be put on a ship bound for the UK. All in all I expect this process to take another 8-9 weeks between binding, approving, packing and shipping. These books will be part of our Autumn catalogue, released together in…Autumn, of course. I’m really looking forward to everyone’s feedback on them.

For me its such an honour to work with these amazing photographers. I am confident that they will be great additions to the growing TVC catalogue. On a more personal level, I think the past few weeks have really drained me and I need to take a small break to recover. The days prior to coming to Taiwan to print were full to the brim – between giving back our apartment, saying goodbye to Japan, packing up our things and putting them on a ship to Germany, showing my mother around who was visiting us in Osaka – and now I need to start thinking of the next few weeks – where we can live in Berlin and what I can do to pay the rent.

I have moved a lot over the past 5 years, but it really takes its toll each time. I always think of it as x,y and z, but in reality its a long process of saying goodbye to one life, and hello to another. It feels very weird to go back to zero each time we arrive in a new place – no house, no job, no language skills, and usually few people that I know. And you have to get used to the aspects of the new culture where you are going to too. I have gotten so used to Asian culture over the past 4 years, that I think I will be in for quite the culture shock moving back to Europe, which sounds strange to say. I am grateful to TVC which has been a constant in my life throughout this time and I appreciate all of you who have supported it – I am so glad the books connect with you in the same way they connect with me.

Some images from on press:

TVC060 A Guide to Infrastructure and Corruption – Alejandro Cartagena


Some images from TVC054 Hotel Okinawa – Greg Girard

Leave a Reply