Pre-Press Updates, and Thoughts on Printing

Dear Friends and Supporters, Fellow Pilgrims All!

Before starting my update, as we enter into Great Lent, as is our Orthodox praxis and holy tradition, I ask your forgiveness… God forgives!

Monastery of the Transfiguration, the Sisterhood exchanges forgiveness.
Photo © Ralph H. Sidway

The main thing to ask your forgiveness for is the lack of recent updates. It’s not for lack of news, which is significantly more than the recent steady progress (which we are happy for!) we have been making through Autumn and into the Nativity and holiday season. (But I’ll get to that in a moment.) Rather, it’s been a tumultuous couple of months, from coming down with Covid at the end of the year (only mild-to-moderate symptoms, thankfully), to having to pack and move (a process which is nearing its conclusion).

During this same period, St Tikhon’s Press has been seeding their communications with the publishing world equivalent of “teaser trailers” for The North American Thebaid book. Their brief mentions of the Thebaid book in blog posts and emails underscore their commitment and dedication to making it a significant contribution to the life of Orthodoxy in America.

Much of our recent progress has involved setting the introductory texts for each monastery. It has been a joy to revisit my notes and blog posts from my travels as I prepare these brief descriptions, and I hope and trust my reflections on my pilgrimage will resonate with you and others.

I have also been contacting the monasteries to confirm image usage, an especially important process as a couple of the communities were initially somewhat reserved about their inclusion in the Thebaid book. Though I was given their blessing to photograph, the final decision to publish was withheld, so I am most grateful for the positive reception the images and page mockups we sent these monasteries have been embraced, and permission warmly granted for inclusion in the finished book.

One of the biggest “signs” that we are tracking towards publication is the process of securing revised quotes for the printing. This makes it real, and adds a sense of urgency to all our labors in finalizing the texts and formatting, and working through the remaining pre-press photo edits, not to mention the detailed editing, proofreading, spell-checking, etc., which involves bringing in “fresh eyes” to notice what our core team, in our daily familiarity, may have missed.

Lastly (for today), I want to share with you a brief but marvelous post by Fr Mikel Hill, manager of St Tikhon’s Press, in which he raises and answers the question, “Why Print?” His approach is clearly concentrating on the value of printed books of text, but the principles he puts forth can just as powerfully be applied to photographic books. Consider this passage:

The very inconvenience itself of books leads to the formation of a different relationship than one has with digital forms media, which are “conjured forth, then disappear. We consume them.” Books, by contrast, “are embodied. They live in history. They have their own biographies.” They demand commitment, space, and respect. We approach a book with a certain sense of awe and humility, mindful of the many lives this particular volume, this specific paper and ink, this impression by real type upon this page, has shaped and will continue to shape, long after our death.

This reaffirms what I wrote five and six years ago when first launching this project, that “by committing up-front to the finest book printing, image reproduction, archival materials, and state-of-the-art publishing, pre-press and proofing technologies, we have attained a clear vision of our goal and methods, and have great confidence in our ability to create a worthy volume which we hope will be a lasting gift to Orthodox Christians and the Church for many years to come.”

Fr Mikel goes on to describe the virtues of a printed book, which seem to be uncannily appropriate when applied to a photographic book about Orthodox monasticism in North America:

A permanence transcending generations, a rootedness and immobility, and a refusal to reconfigure are each elements that not only shape the experience of reading a book but shape the reader himself. The medium by which we interact with ideas will influence the formation of the ideas themselves. (Emphasis added.)

Elsewhere I have posted about the devaluation of images in a culture where 1.8 billion images are shared each day via social media. Yet in spite of all these images we remain malnourished for the most part. We are left longing for the Image that might Fill us, Move us, Call to us, Change us, Direct us to the Way. In spite of having posted hundreds of my images here in my galleries, I was and am still convinced of the necessity of presenting fine images — photographs — in print form, and particularly, in a large book format. This appreciation for and dedication to The Photographic Book as providing a “permanence transcending generations,” that “not only shapes the experience” of viewing the images, “but shapes the [viewer] himself” is the underlying philosophy of publishing which imbues and propels our work on The North American Thebaid Book as we prepare it for print.

Fr Mikel Hill closes out his article, “Why Print?” with the following:

It is for these reasons that STM Press is committed to promulgating the value of carefully printed and quality bound texts. We are convinced that our efforts to promote the worth of physical books contains a potential to re-shape and transform the way we think and act, that books are in themselves a spiritual tool for the renewing of our minds in an age that has forgotten how to read...

…and forgotten how to see. Do click over and read the full article.

With my recent move (and covid) behind me, watch for not only more frequent progress updates, but a series of posts looking back at the course of this photographic pilgrimage, which has proven also to be an inner pilgrimage. Unsurprisingly.

Thank you for following along on this journey. A good lent to you all.

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