Wednesday, 6:09pm
27 January 2010

Ditto – hard copy

‘I’d rather reach 100 people who care than 20,000 who don’t give a sh*t’

Some still prefer print, writes Chloë King, but is it sensible to start a small press and launch a printed journal during a recession, now so much is read online?

Ben Freeman thinks so, and for an RCA Communication Design graduate turned editor, publisher and documentarian, his reason is unusually simple: ‘I make books’.

And some books he makes: Grobisce: Society, Politics and Mass Graves presents a collection of interviews, photographs and archive material that document mass killings committed by partisans in 1945 (below). The result is a sombre and insightful account of whitewashed Slovene history. Freeman enjoys attacking pithy and challenging subjects; his current projects include a documentary about individuals who believe they are being targeted by government bodies, and a book on moral panic.

grobisce cover

‘I enjoy people’s reactions to things a lot,’ he says, and it’s clear he also takes pleasure in soliciting response, one of Freeman’s big ventures is Fun: an internationally distributed free magazine that is rich in satire and, for some, in raw bad taste (top and below).

FUN1 spread

Much of Freeman’s work is driven by both his fascination with human behaviour and what he calls his ‘streak of gobshite’: a rooted admiration for 1990s ‘thoughtful trash’ and comedic misanthropy. The growth of cult publication Vice since the early 1990s has spawned a generation of Beavis and Butt-head ‘journos’ but it remains a genre that few pull off with wit. A contributor to Vice, Freeman shares popular references with the scene – Viz, Exploitation flicks, Grindcore – yet he has managed to create his own brand with an ease that belies its complexity. By making Fun, Freeman and collaborator Deano Jo put two fingers up at the mainstream liberalism of the arty media in a way that is irritating, and necessary.

One of Freeman’s friendlier enterprises is a company that enables makers to affordably publish small runs of beautifully printed books. Along with business partner Lynsey Atkin, he founded Dalston based Ditto Press in November 2009. Ditto is the first UK company to specialise in Risograph printing, a digital process that produces a tactile aesthetic similar to silkscreen.

As well as offering service printing the Ditto imprint welcomes proposals for books and each month they publish a limited edition by an invited author.

Their first is a re-release of William Wilson, Edgar Allen Poe’s chilling tale about a double, expropriated in a way that is reminiscent of Four Corners’ Books ‘Familiars’ series designed by John Morgan (see ‘The Form of the Book 5’ on the Eye blog).

snowflakes pr shot cover

Their second, entitled The Effect of Duplication on Frozen Water Patterns comprises solely of playful visual experiments (above and below). It’s early days but these unpretentious, colourful books already display the creative benefits of housing design and production under the same roof.

snowflakes pr shot1

Freeman asserts that his favour for ‘shocking honesty’ in self-initiated work is very separate from their plans for Ditto, which is intended as an inclusive platform. When I asked him ‘Why print?’ he answered with characteristic spiky humour: ‘There are an awful lot of idiots online. I would rather engage with an audience of 100 people who really care than 20,000 people who don’t give a shit.’ And with this I am inclined to agree.

Eye, the international review of graphic design, is a quarterly journal you can read like a magazine and collect like a book. It’s available from all good design bookshops and at the online Eye shop, where you can order subscriptions, single issues and (new!) classic collections of themed back issues. Eye 74 is a Berlin special.