Academic journal article Journal of New Zealand Literature

Certified Copies: 1980s New Zealand Photocopy Journals & the Xerographic Aesthetic

Academic journal article Journal of New Zealand Literature

Certified Copies: 1980s New Zealand Photocopy Journals & the Xerographic Aesthetic

Article excerpt

The technology of duplication and distribution determine the accessibility of literature and in turn technical possibilities of production and duplication are integral influences on the literature produced. From Gutenberg's moveable type to today's digital printing, the dominant technologies at the time determined the aesthetic and, to a degree, the content of the work produced. The printing and distribution of New Zealand's literature between 1975 and 2000 was dominated by the advent and uptake of offsetprinting. But the fringes of the literary mainstream were heavily influenced by the photocopier. It is on this technological advancement that I would like to focus my attention. At the time of its inception in the early 1940s, the printing method of the photocopier was dubbed 'xerography'. I will use both of these terms throughout this essay, with 'photocopier' referring to the machine itself as well as the interface between user and machine; and 'xerography' referring to the method of print and the aesthetic output. The photocopier is a technological advancement which, as a whole, still functions in largely the same way. The fringes of New Zealand literature still utilise the photocopier for material distribution of their work even while they develop and distribute their work digitally and online. This is evidenced through the popularity of literary and poetry zines at national Zinefests throughout the country and abroad.1

There were two journals which instigated and exemplified the photocopy literary journal in New Zealand in the early 1980s. And published four issues, the first in August 1983 and the fourth in October 1985. It was produced by its founding editors Alex Calder and Leigh Davis. Splash also ran four issues, with the first appearing in 1984 and the last in April 1986. Splash was edited by Wystan Curnow, Tony Green, Roger Horrocks and Judi Stout. Many of the pages of both magazines are given over to textual discussion of literary thought alongside left-aligned, linearly written word-based poetry. These journals also published quite a number of works which play on the visual as much as the linguistic. I am interested in the visual and design implications of the photocopy printed journal and the aesthetic of the dry process printing that xerography has had on New Zealand poetry. Thus the interest of this essay is to look at the works that were produced through the flexibility of the photocopier and the ready-to-go impulsivity and instantaneousness that the machine offered.

For some it may be hard to imagine what methods of printing were available in the 1980s. What came before photocopiers? 'The effectiveness of the copier has nearly eclipsed our memory of duplication before its existence'.2 Dot matrix printers were among some of the first home printers and were manufactured in the late 1960s. A dot matrix printer works in a similar way to a typewriter; the ink is transferred to the page by impact through an inked ribbon or cloth, but rather than premade typographic letters and symbols, the print is made up by a series of dots, not dissimilar to pixels. By the 1980s electronic word processors often included a built-in dot matrix printer which made it possible to edit text before it was printed. What we generally think of as digital printing has as much to do with the technology of producing the image as it does with printing it. The printing technology of digital printing is derived from the same processes that instigated the method of xerography. Another type of printing is inkjet and laser printers which were mass-marketed in the 1980s. The main difference between them is how the ink is used. Laser printing employs a similar 'dry' powder form of ink in the form of toner, while the inkjet uses a liquid ink.

The process of xerography is not especially simple to explain. The details of the method have improved greatly over time. An article in The Science News-Letter in 1948 describes the process arduously and includes components done by hand at that time, which are now done by the machine, namely the production of a photoconductive plate which includes vigorous rubbing of the plate to make it electrically charged. …

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