January 15, 2017

Photo Essay: A Different Type of Church

We may not all have religion, but we all have a church.

Some worship at the temple of money. Others bow down to an altar of booze or a shrine of sex.

For years, music was my religion—and I took the sacrament every time I visited a record store and flipped through the racks.

If I were listless or loss, I'd get on my knees to dig through the crates and find salvation in some rare import or collectors edition.

There was nothing to confess and nothing to forgive, because I'd be baptized every time I walked through the door.

But it's been a long time since I went to church and lined up for communion. Ever since I left my music industry career (hopefully, for good), I no longer feel like a member of the clergy or the congregation. And every time I've tried, I just haven't felt the same exultation.

So I stopped trying.

I don't think much of my former churchgoing days, but I was reminded of them when I visited a different house of worship yesterday: Church of Type.

This is the kingdom of letterpress—an analog and archaic art form that was once embraced by record labels, musicians, and concert promoters alike (until they ran out of money).

And as I flipped through the plastic-sleeved posts and prints that had been printed from hand-carved wood blocks and hand-set type...

...I felt a twinge for the old days of my belief system, before I cast it aside.

In 2006, I'd visited Nashville because it was a music town—and while I was there, between visits to the Grand Ol' Opry and Ryman Auditorium, I'd made my pilgrimage to the studio where so many of those old concert posters had been created, Hatch Show Print.

Without Hatch Show Print in Nashville, Church of Type in Santa Monica might not exist.

But letterpress isn't the opiate of the music industry anymore—so it's moved on to other types of liturgy.

And at Church of Type, instead of merely promoting something else (like a boxing match or a political candidate), these prints have begun to convey their own message...

...featuring stories written on the fly by the print shop's owner and founder, Kevin Bradley.

After all, he said, everyone else he met when he moved to LA from Tennessee in 2013 ended up being a writer or a screenwriter.

He thought he might as well join their ranks.

Although it might make his work a lot easier (and faster), Bradley doesn't use any computers to create his prints.

And what he doesn't carve himself, he has spent a lot of time collecting.

Some of his wood blocks are literally hundreds of years old.

He's been averse to try to buy any of them off the letterpress old-timers who are apt to use them till they die...

...but he's not too shy to tell them, "I'll take 'em when you're done with 'em," put the money done now, and wait for the call.

This craft isn't for everybody, You've got to have a knack for reading (and spelling) in the mirror image of what the final product will be.

But not a lot of other people are out there doing this antique approach, so Bradley can really make it his own.

After spending two hours at Church of Type, my fingertips were black-dusted and I was sneezing the fumes of ink out of my nose. By some grace, I'd giddily come across a rare find that I subsequently spent too much money on.

And I felt redeemed—for leaving the music industry, for being in LA, and for finding a new church.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: Book Arts at the International Printing Museum
Photo Essay: Inside the Los Angeles Times, From Written to Printed
The End of an Era

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