Enduring Analog Printing Presses

The sound of the printing press was what at first called my attention. We were walking nearby the Plaza Santo Domingo in Mexico City downtown when a percussive and repetitive noise appeared at the entrance of a little street near the church. We walked closely and entered a pedestrian street called Leandro Valle. As we crossed through the street we discovered a series of analog printing press business located in an open public area, near huge columns that were part of the Santo Domingo church. The source of the loud and repetitive sound was a printing machine operated by an old man dressed in a blue coat. He used his arm in order to pull a lever that pressed the different plates of the machine. The other machines were in stand-by.  Adult men were hanging out in front of the printing presses, or in tables nearby where they organized movable types. Their businesses displayed some of their products such as calendars and cards. I was totally fascinated by the discovery of these analogue presses. Watching these old printers reminded of the rich Mexican printing tradition as well as of the first printing press in the Americas, the one established in 1530s by Juan Pablos in a colonial house also located in the DF downtown.

A curious thing about the work of these printers is that the products that they advertise are mainly calendars. Their printing design is pretty much focused in creating calendars for walls or for the pocked that people can use to keep track of their days. They customize the calendars with popular imagery that goes from religious iconography to kitch cartoons to women fashion models.

However, these artisans are also able to do all other kind of printing services. For instance, they also print business cards, invitations, and even customized posters. Samples of this kind of specialized work can be appreciated in analogue catalogs they have available in some of their tables.

The endurance of these printing presses run by one or two men, is fascinating. I wanted to stay longer watching the work of these media workers, and really would have loved to have been able to interview them. Their machines and all the tools that they use and store in those little wooden woods are historical pieces of a tradition that refuses to be erased by digital technology. I am not sure for how long they would be able to continue printing. A similar story has happened with analogue photography. I wonder if it would be possible to have the same sort of independent presses in public space with digital tools, like just have a booth with a computer, and scanner, and a printing. Would printers still make calendars then? Time will let us now. I am looking forward to returning to the Calle Leandro Valle and as well to the Plaza Santo Domingo to see how this media transition happens.

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