Situated in a darkened, inconspicuous corner of the basement-level Goodtime Studios on Swanston Street, Carlton, the Dawn Press workspace is as unassuming as the young man behind it.
The quietly burgeoning project of Xavier Connelly, Dawn Press was born in September 2010 as a creative printing service utilising the Japanese Risograph printer to craft economical, small-run publications in collaboration with artists, designers and self-publishers the city over. In his first few months of operation, Connelly has already been responsible for magazine projects including Higher Arc and young photographer Sam Davies’ international photo-zine This Is The Same Ocean, among countless other small publications, exhibition catalogues and creatively minded print jobs.
With the Risograph’s ability to print small quantities at a low cost, Dawn Press is effectively forging an arc between the raw reproduction of the photocopier and the printing values of the traditional offset printer. We take the tour and chat about the Dawn Press vision.
DR: How would you characterise the Risograph as a printing medium? What are its advantages to your mind?
XC: It’s basically a relatively cheap way to print shorter runs, meaning that you can then produce more editions with a higher turnover. Self-publishing a little book or zine, the first 100 books are always the easiest to sell and the last 100 books are always the hardest, so that’s really where the Riso comes into its own. That how it should be used on a basic level – as an economical way to print a book.
What first attracted you to Riso printing? What was the starting point?
We offset printed a book Maiden Voyage with a collective called A Thousand Shipwrecks and really just learnt how difficult it was in terms of costs and distributing that many books. I went overseas for a while and, when I came back, I was still really interested in publishing. But the obvious difficulty with publishing in Australia is the cost of printing. If you’re able to reduce your print costs and the quantity of what you’re printing, then there’s so much freedom as to what you can produce. That ability to control the print and only produce 100 or 200 copies, that in turn lowers the censorship or filter in a way. That kind of turned me onto the idea of the Riso. It just became common sense the more I looked into it.
What about the notion of teaching yourself a hands-on process or trade if you will? Was there a particular attraction to that kind of idea?
Well, I perhaps didn’t realise it was going to be such hard work to begin with (laughs). But actually, the harder work it is, the more rewarding it becomes. It means you’ve actually learnt a trade as opposed anyone being able to walk in the door and do it straight away. There are a lot of similarities between this kind of printing and being in a darkroom, especially with four-colour printing; that process of working over an image and doing the separations and building the image up. That’s what I always loved about photography processes – I come from a photography background – and now I’ve been able to find that again with the Riso. There’s also that nicety to the idea that there might be only 20 or so people in the world who are using Risos in this way and even less who are doing photographs.
It’s interesting that even though there are a number of small art-based publishers in Australia, most are still stuck on that more high-end, traditional offset aesthetic.
I think because not many people are using Risos or anything out here, people tend to see that lo-fi aesthetic and can’t get past that. But if you look at a publisher like Kingsboro Press (out of the US), once you look past that lo-fi aesthetic and it just becomes purely about the content and that’s the magical thing. What you’re trying to say becomes the most important thing; it doesn’t matter if it’s printed offset, full-colour or not, because at the end of the day that content could be presented in any form. It’s still the same content.
Risograph printing perhaps just makes the reproduction explicit, if you will…
Yeah, like it’s so obviously not the photograph that you don’t begin to assume that it is the photograph, whereas in a lot of art books today, they try and make it so close to the original that you begin to assume that it is the original. I think in the end, it’s just about people being exposed to Riso printing more, which I’ve really found over the last few months. The more that people see from a Risograph, the more they get that understanding of it.
I find it interesting that you position yourself as a collaborative printer as opposed to a publisher. Tell me a little about that.
It can be a struggle in one sense, because collaborations don’t always work with everyone. But the more you break it down and teach people about the process, the more they feel a part of the process themselves and the happier everyone is at the other end. Being able to use it as a collaborative thing, there’s more worth in that to the client and for me. We’ve printed this thing together; I’m not just someone who they’ve handed their job off to. It’s when people lose that relationship to work they start to become unhappy with their job. If you know the person you’re working with and you can understand their mindset and how they think, then you can kind of gear your working process toward that and the results will be that much more satisfying.