The Sun-bleached Future of Everyday Prints

The following is re-posting of a Printeresting post from January 16, 2009. It seems very relevant in the context of the Ghost. And perhaps reprinting one of my early forays into the essay form in all it’s awkwardness is also a kind of ghost print for me. It’s also worth noting that within minutes of posting this one of my collaborators pointed me toward Fade to Cyan, an amazing Tumblr blog exploring the same topic with much greater rigor. 

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Desktop publishing and cheap full-color inkjet printers presented the promise of a people set free from the burden of having to work with a commercial printer or sign painter to create signage for home or small business needs. Over the years this benefit has slid into an expectation as fast, cheap full color printing (on the 8.5×11 inch scale) is readily available to many people. From American flags to giant breads (see above) to lost pet flyers inkjet print now abound in most public urban and suburban spaces.

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However the law of unintended consequences demands tribute, and this small piece of modernity is no exception. The great shortcoming of the inkjet print is the fugitive nature of the dye-based inks several weeks or months in the sun and they start to fade to a uniform cyan-ish hue. I’ve spent the past few months noticing and cataloging this phenomena and trying to understand what might be at stake for role of print within everyday material cultural. Do the fading prints match our ephemeral emotions? Is that once important event or missing pet now forgotten or replaced? If we are indeed in “the age of the print” as Judith Brodsky said recently at a public lecture, what does it mean that the bulk of images being printed fading and ephemeral?

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Walter Benjamin in his seminal text The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction says that “One of the foremost tasks of art has always been the creation of a demand which could be fully satisfied only later.” I would argue that this is also true with these seemingly-forgotten public posters; in the fading they move toward nostalgia, at a time when very few products of our contemporary material culture linger long enough to demand attention (maybe this is why the kids are collecting records again). In this way there is an unintended moment of transcendence as the pedestrian stops to wonder if what happened to those two men holding the big bread? Did that person find their pet? Is anyone still “Hungry for Music”? Who is Padre Pio.

It’s like walking into a Ben Katchor comic strip.

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