The Poetry of Bookbinding

In this short, wordless video, the Smith Settle printing and bookbinding shop guides a memoir from a formless text into a book, working in a beautiful symbiosis with the machines that lend a modern elegance to their work. A book, as this video argues, carefully printed and assembled with all of the attention and care that a living being requires, participates in the poetry of birth, of creation from nothing. 

For those of us for whom bookbinding is a hobbyist craft, the first thing that jumps out in the video is how old, well-oiled machines play an integral role in the process, stepping in to accentuate the careful work of the hand labor. A man lays out slides of the interior pages onto a broad sheet, and then in a series of quick cuts, we observe how the sheet is passed through machines that prepare it for digital printing. A quick cut to the digital printing machines shows off the details, and as if hinting at the enigma of birth, the machine’s workings are left to the imagination as pristine eggshell white sheets of soft paper slide out of it, seemingly like magic.  

Now it is time for humans to step in. The sheets are folded into signatures, stacked according to order, and the camera zooms out onto a view of a workshop populated by careful workers dressed in white aprons. The signatures are stapled together and given a bench sewing, then glued carefully together. 

Finally, the book is given a case binding, exactingly prepared through careful work with book cloth and glue, given a gold embossed title by a machine and then applied to the textblock. The book is now ready to be read, and the video, whose music has been building in repeating cycles ceases as if we have arrived. In the quiet, we see that this is one of 2000 limited edition books to be printed, and in the blank left below, the number one is added with a pen. Surely the process will begin again.

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