Imagine the whole of the National Exhibition Centre
filled to overflowing, with tents on the lawn for those who couldn't get
stand space. Imagine that every photographic manufacturer had a large exhibition
booth there. Imagine that this was the largest imaging exhibition to be
held in Britain. Imagine that there was lots of business being done, money
being spent, digital cameras being sold right off the stands
What could this be? One of Mary Walker's wildest dreams for next year's "Focus on Imaging"? No, it is not a dream, it has already come true. What I am describing is IPEX, the international printing and graphics exhibition, held at the NEC in September 1993.
The digital revolution is not confined to photography:
the graphic and printing industry is undergoing a similar change. And what
companies are at the forefront of this change? Many are names we already
know well from their eminence in the world of photography.
At IPEX, the wall between photographic printing and the printing press was finally breached. Soon you will be able to forget Cromalins, Matchprints and so on. The only image you are interested in is the final print, as it will appear on the actual paper, and now you can get just that. These new presses will deliver prints either singly or in their thousands. From today, a photographic print need be nothing more than a single page "pull" from a printing press.
A Canadian company, Indigo, was showing its new
plateless E-Print 1000 printing press behind closed doors. The air of mystery
and secrecy was milked to the full. Outside the closed doors, another of
the machines sat inanimately, watched over by a smug salesman who knew he
was guarding one of The Stars of the show. Sample prints were displayed
behind anti-reflection glass, which made it impossible to view them with
a loup. Only the favoured few who filled in the card could get behind the
closed doors to see the machine actually working. "Psst! Have you seen
Indigo? I have!"
Meanwhile, on the Agfa stand, in full view - unheralded
because of a complete embargo before the show - was Agfa's plateless printing
press, the Chromapress. Not only was the printer working for all to see
but you could pick up and take sample sheets as they rolled off the press.
What masterful, low-key style. And what a printer!
You can now master an image on the sensor in a
digital camera and print thousands of copies at speed, direct to paper,
with only a computer workstation between. Please take a moment to let the
ramifications of that sink in. How many magazines are there in your newsagents?
How many books in your libraries and bookshops?
What we are witnessing is the biggest revolution in printing since Gutenberg invented movable type five and a half centuries ago.
I have a small atlas by John Speed, printed in the early 1600s. It is one of my prized possessions. Old it is but, when it was printed from metal movable nearly four centuries ago, printing was already 150 years old. The same age as photography is now.
To quote the 'B' movie actor who became President of the United States,
"You ain't seen nothin' yet!"