there used to be a postscript laser printer in the office that featured a sort of auto resolution on the print output that i could find no practical way to switch off. and neither could epson's technical support. the offset printer on which local publications, including the newspaper are printed, had two shortcomings; one inherent and one inflicted. the inherent shortcoming was built around the amount of ink that could be practically or mechanically applied to the image plate and subsequently, the transfer roller.
allow me to explain.
all output for printing is originated on computer, printed to paper and finally processed as what's known as a silver master plate. for those not familiar with the litho process, the silver patches on the plate allowed the ink to remain, while the black areas rejected it. thus, by a complex series of rollers, ink iss applied very thinly to the plate strapped to a large roller, before being transferred to sheets of paper being continuously passed through the press.
and that's where the inflicted shortcoming revealed itself.
while text is simply black or white, monochrome photographs are rendered by the computer as 256 discrete levels of grey. these are translated in the laser printer by varying the density of minute black dots on the paper, fooling the eye into thinking it sees those 256 different greys. however, since our press was, for economic reasons, printing onto photocopying paper, there arose a problem; photocopying paper expects dry toner, so no surface coating is generally necessary. however, plop thousands of little ink dots on the paper, and it behaves, not unnaturally, like blotting paper; while the laser print controls the size of each dot, ink on uncoated paper leads to what is technically known as dot gain; and then some.
to decrease this, it is necessary to lower the line screen. as a general rule of thumb, the line screen applied to photographic output, should be about half the number of pixels/dots per inch of resolution. since we needed only 150ppi/dpi, the line screen ought to be about 75 lines per inch. this latter measurement controls the space between each row of dots; the lower the number, the less likelihood there is of the dots banging into each other when they blot on the photocopying paper.
the problem with this epson laser was that the default factory setting had apparently no way of being switched off, so instead of being able to set the line-screen in the low 60s, we were lumbered with 126lpi. the result, when printed on the litho, looked like a bad photocopy; no levels of grey at all.
i have previously criticised the monthlies for their necessity of reprising the tour in the issue following their tour coverage, following the issue that previewed the tour. there's only so much that an obsessive can take; even those riders' tour diaries... so to hold in my hands a stage by stage book, only a few months after the race, written by a man who failed miserably to achieve all that those selfsame monthlies promised he would, is hardly a promise fulfilled.
or is it? oh yes it ruddy is.
bradley wiggins is not only a particularly good writer, but a disturbingly honest one at that. not even past the first paragraph; "to my mind, july 2010 was the first really big public failure of my career, when i performed well below what i had expected and hoped." what follows in the next 190 or so pages, is a stage by stage account of the 2010 tour de france, just the very scary scenario i was hoping to avoid. yet this is embarrassingly compelling; not for bradley, but for me, because i couldn't put it down. that's not a euphemism, but a truism; it really is that good, and i'm only talking about the words.
bradley has wide-ranging and acute observations that extend beyond the daily travail during twenty-one days in july. these extend to his team-mates, lance, the sadly departed txema gonzalez, unsung heroes of the peloton, home alone for three weeks, and even a chapter allowing mrs wiggins to tell of her husband. however, mr wiggins' recollections of one of the iconic moments in cycling history, that of the unfortunate incident that befell eugene christophe in 1913, is slightly skew wiff. brad contends that christophe broke his handlebars and was then fined for allowing a young girl to operate the blacksmith's bellows while he carried out the repair. close, but no cigar. christophe broke his forks, and it was a seven-year boy who operated the bellows, resulting in a fine for outside assistance. the little girl was the one who led eugene to the blacksmith in the first place.
but what makes 'on tour' even more compelling are scott mitchell's black and white photos. i was on the verge of using the term 'accompanying', but the images are so much a part of the book, that i might just as well apply the same adjective to the text. scott is not specifically a cycle photographer, but a friend of brad's who was asked to accompany the 2010 tour and provide a monochrome record of the french trials and tribulations. i'm no photographer, but would adhere to the view that someone who is, should be as good at one subject as another. scott mitchell has proved me right.
it's hard to imagine bradley's words divorced from scott's photos, in much the same manner as the highly successful 'le metier' collaboration between michael barry and camille mcmillan. mitchell has perhaps a keener eye than those of us conditioned by years of cycling obsessiveness, seeing the very bits that we'd all miss because of the chainset on that cervelo, or the prototype carbon on so and so's pinarello. it's at least one of the reasons why bradley didn't ask us.
however, and this is no reflection whatsoever on scott mitchell's imagery, the reproduction could have been better. i will admit to a smidgeon of confusion over the problem, because it is not consistent, but it does look suspiciously like a variance over line-screen and image resolution. this has not 'ruined' the images, but has pretty much robbed them of their ultimate contrast; having seen some of these online, the printed works are often too grey. a quick run through the levels command in photoshop would likely have remedied the problem.
hence my pre-press primer in the opening paragraphs.
if you're one of those whose world fell apart with bradley's lesser placing on reaching paris, buy, read and observe 'on tour', for it is a grand chunk of reality in black and white that will restore faith to the faithful.
posted tuesday 30 november 2010..........................................................................................................................................................................................................