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Aspiration Avenue

Youth Print Culture

Joseph Harvey delves into the exotic backstreets of youth print culture and analyses how new technologies and creative advances are stimulating a renaissance in print’s ‘cool factor’

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There has been a proliferation in ‘zines’ that has not been seen since the 1980s, with niche clubs, fandoms, and hipsters use the medium of print to create an individual identity in a sea of digital mediocrity

The allure of print in the digital age

French intellectual Regis Debray understood and theorised the way we have a distinct relationship to media and how it heavily influences our cultural formation and even ‘transmits’ large elements of it. He first introduced the revolutionary neologism, ‘médiologie’, in a section of his book Le pouvoir intellectuel en France, 1979. This complex, cross-disciplinary term he defines comprehensively in his book Media Manifestos, later in 1996. He introduces Mediology, as a discipline that studies how media acts as vehicles of cultural transmission.

How early forms of media, such as papyrus, quills and ink transmitted our culture, religions, fables, stories, and myths is the theorisation Mediology attempts. And of all mediums that affect us there has not been one more consistently ubiquitous, influential, gratifying, educational, and importantly tangible than that of the medium of print. Mediology is key in understanding how media—no matter how primitive—project and affect a time-less allure.

Tangible print

Amongst us are blogs, communities, and groups that explicitly show their strong affiliations to the print medium. Far from being a niche group these communities cite their love of some-thing material. Indeed, Kickstarter—an online funding website that anyone can contribute to—has been the power-house behind various youth zines (mini self-published independent magazines), print works and campaigns. From the dramatically titled Print Isn’t Dead by London based People Of Print, SnapJet from the US which allows you to print your smartphones’ pictures as polaroids, and inexpensive 3D printers. There are trends in print that are innovative but how is this tied up in our historical relationship with the medium?

Media convergence

A touchable, tangible relationship is—academically at least—cited as a factor in our poignant relationship with print. But is this a given? A commonly understood idea? As we consume digital media so rapaciously our attentions are shifting whilst changing the way we relate to print. The reality of 1.35bn active monthly users through Facebook shows how integral this over-arching platform has become, removing us from the tangibility of bygone mediums sentimentally referred to in polaroid apps and Instagram’s 35mm framing options.

People of Print is regarded as a creative hub that operates as an online community

In light of this, even the term ‘social media’ seems outdated now, and inadquate in explaining how we use and engage with its pervasive reach. How-ever, with scale and growth there develops microcosms within this unfathomable expansion in the digital realm. Instagram with its feature to add a lomography boarder, typical of 35mm film cameras, represents a desire of harping back to something more material, something tangible, a sentiment.

In addition, a shift from the mass- sharing of information is contrasted now with a move towards more localised, individualistic sharing. In a US study, The Challenge of Increasing Civic Engagement in the Digital Age, the academic Nicol Turner-Lee, notes that: “With more than 66 percent of Americans online, virtual micro-communities, or niche web portals, have made it easier for people to deliberately seek out and sustain relationships with those who share similar interests, opinions, and back-grounds.”

Micro communities

Micro-communities in print have followed with the increased prevalence of digital media. The creative trends that have followed in print from small circulation zines to independent screen printers is prolific and platforms like Big Cartel and Tumblr have allowed individuals and businesses to distribute and sell there printed artefacts. Media convergence holds great relevance here and many websites, blogs, and micro-communities that explicitly show there affinity to the print medium and all its merits through digital means are plentiful. 

Websites like People of Print that crossover between the realms of business, creative platform, creative community and hub is testament to a dexterity achievable across multiple platforms today.  The About Us section —with a clear air of aspiration – states: “We act as a daily source of inspiration for creatives whereby we uncover and share the work of the world’s most talented people who use the process of print in their work.”

People Of Print really is a creative hub and works as an online community, it also hosts a sister website called The Creative Universe that is a GumTree-like site for creatives to place a free listing, which we share via our media channels.

A strong counter culture revolution is underway that is seeing the current generation of youth turn back to the medium of print due to its tactile presence and cult status

Printing technology has taken on a whole new dimension. In the specialist’s eye, this new and advanced technology may only tacitly relate to, or even register with, the traditional printer and his or her long-standing relationship with the 2D method of wide format machines and inkjet technologies. While emphatically heralding a new era in printing technology, it feels also, as if it is completely independent of ‘traditional’ printing and the associations and attachments we have to this medium.

We have to remind ourselves about why we love print. This medium is creative, it is a canvas for expression and design, it allows autonomy but most importantly it is a touchable, tangible medium

We have to remind ourselves about why we love print? This medium is creative, it is a canvas for expression and design, it allows autonomy but most importantly it is a touchable, tangible medium. Amateur zines and print publications are material, in some way they hold more disseminative power that way, so far removed from the variety of digital media we consume. We only have to look towards the long queues formed along Parisian streets and the world influx in demand for the satirical Charlie Hebdo publication to cite the poignant dynamic between print, culture, and society.

We only have to look towards the long queues formed along Parisian streets and the world influx in demand for the satirical Charlie Hebdo publication to cite the poignant dynamic between print, culture and society


For me, this topical consideration is re-confirming a strong rapport attributed to our employment of print to document and disseminate. It is not simply the satirical mockery apparent in this case, but an important medium for all aspects of our democracy, society, and an important method of self-reflexivity.

What is also apparent is that adding value to print can be split into two or more categories. In a commercial sense this is about using quality inks, paper, innovative finishes, clever design, and strong colour ways. And secondly adding value to print through creating beauty and artistic. For the majority it is about printing something influential, artistic, iconic, or something that broadly communicates a strong message culturally through its content.

Cultural communication

For example, my early two thousand youth-fuelled discovery of an identity was circulated by the now-extinct Unity magazine. It provided key sub-cultural information to a small group of participants around the country and Europe that participated in skating. Similarly new trends in amateur creative zines communicate subcultural information amongst graphic designers. Indeed, zines offer an artistic outlet and a creative platform to communicate their work and therefore their feelings, tendencies, and viewpoints.

A good example is designer Redwan Elharrak, who enjoyed collating his design ethos into a zine of his own—that was made into around 20 copies. This was a fulfilling task creating an artefact that, in short, was a powerfully communicative example of a creative piece harnessing print. 

(Above & below) The worlds of online and print media intertwine: Tumblr allows individuals and businesses to distribute and sell their printed artefacts

Another amateur graphic designer Simon Isles, in his understated zine about his trip to Tuscany, is equally as informative although the publication is free from any text whatsoever. This zine really shows how graphics, photography, and print work timelessly together in the 21st century. Providing a retrospective photographic perspec-tive of his trip to Tuscany uses film, emotion, and sentiment cleverly documented using print. In its description he writes: “Two Fold is a photographic collaboration between two brothers. The photos were taken in turn over the period of a week in the heart of Tuscany. As always, we were surprised with the outcome and again reminded at the unpredictability of film.”

The list goes unreservedly on with zines being seemingly circulated amongst the small circles of shops that display them and people that especially request their pages.

Alternative broadsheets in print

This creative trend in print created some of the most influential and revolutionary alternative news outlets today. VICE News speaks overtly to young people representative of an agenda less than synonymous with traditional outlets. The print publication founded in 1994 anchored the publication’s influence and remit. It did the same thing on a different scale, communicating subcultural and compelling information through print and later online.

Now this trend has continued and can be seen in pubs, cafes, and eateries across the capital, normally free, typically unconventional in its analysis and regularly well designed and slick. Like zines, niche broadsheets that are not your typical institutional reportage.

Publications like The East End Re-view or Crack are very important examples of our continued relationship with print. These publications, which centre their remit around London or, in the case of Crack, tenders its content to each local distribution area, are a welcome addition, something that speaks to and holds relevance for people. The vast A3 pages still feel familiar and comfortable filled with contributed photographs, artwork, and patterns. The feel of a broadsheet coupled with the use of bold colour-ways, clever branding, an unconventional agenda (if any) and design is another triumph for independent publications like The East End Review.

Print is continuing to do what it has always done, which is disseminate and influence through its material pages; it holds something wholly more dominant and prevailing and real in our hands

Growth on Tumblr and Instagram to me show a sentimental desire to return to a more tangible media. And these arty photo collections can be transferred into exactly that. Print is continuing to do what it has always done, which is disseminate and influence through its material pages; it holds something wholly more dominant and prevailing and real in our hands.

Joseph Harvey writes on behalf of Instant Print W1. For more information on this W1 print company visit www.ipw1.co.uk

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