The Photographic Historical Society of Canada

Lumiere Press - Making Limited Edition Photography Books
Michael Torosian
Program date: April 15, 2009

Michael Torosian
Michael Torosian

First book: Weston
First Book: Weston

Font Wall
Font wall

Hand Type-setting
Hand type-setting

Intertype C3
Intertype C3

Key board
Intertype keyboard

Manual kerning

Raw words
Liquid letters

two pages up
Galley two up

Our April speaker, an accomplished Toronto photographer, added a new perspective to the impact of digital technology on traditional processes. In the 1970s, recognizing the problems he faced getting his work published, Torosian took the opportunity offered by printing equipment newly made obsolete - and affordable to establish a new business as a publisher producing beautiful hand made limited edition art books on photography.

Years in the darkroom gave Torosian a solid understanding of basics such as tone control and product uniformity - skills which easily transferred to press work. For his first book, he decided to feature Edward Weston. He contacted Weston’s youngest son, Cole who had written an essay on his father for the old Camera 35 magazine. Cole was delighted to give his permission for his essay to be re-published. His second book was on the work of Michael Lambeth, one of his teachers. For his third title, he chose his own work. He was invited to do his fourth book for the Ninth Street Show in New York City. The famous Witkin Gallery invited him to do a book celebrating their 25th anniversary. You can see a precise on all his publications on the Lumiere Press Web site.

Torosian's "word processor" is a circa 1950 Intertype C-3 machine, which with its competition, the Linotype, was once the mainstay of newspaper and book publishers everywhere. Its keyboard offers Upper Case, Lower Case, Small Caps, and Punctuation. The machine creates lines of type one character at a time using a brass matrix for each character with shims added to provide character kerning. This kerning can take hours per page to get exactly the desired spacing. The brass matrices come in various fonts. Torosian has about 16 variations allowing him to choose a suitable font for each title. The Intertype lines up the matrices in a "composing stick". The composing stick moves on to a mold where hot lead is poured into the stick to form a “slug” - a line of type. The slugs are assembled in sequence to create a galley for each page. The galleys transfer ink to paper in a press.

The first first few titles Michael produced were printed on a hand-cranked press which required about 15,000 cranks back and forth for each book. This tremendous effort - creating many thousands of pages - eventually sent him to hospital with shoulder injuries. Through a cousin, he learned of two old Vandercook Universal 3 presses which were destined for the scrap yard. He took both of them and managed to make one working press from the parts. Prints are either created with traditional darkroom processes and tipped in, or printed using the finest offset printing.

Like the printing, his early books were all hand stitched. He eventually found an old c1926 Brehmer Stitching machine, but had no idea how to operate it. He puzzled over this strange machine for over a year - even calling the factory in Germany, but all information including operating and maintenance procedures was lost in the war. Perseverance paid off and he now has the stitching machine working. Michael uses a 19c Krause stamping and embossing press to close the stitch holes before gluing the book with a Potdevin gluing machine.

Each book is a labour of love, with the topics chosen by Torosian. A title can take up to a year to create. The print runs are short - a few hundred copies - and mostly pre-sold with remaining copies snapped up within a few weeks of publication. He uses only the very best materials, choosing the fonts, paper, ink, fabrics, and design to complement the content.

As a result of his devotion to perfection, Lumiere Press has won awards for the quality and design of its books. One title was short listed for the 2006 “Best Book Design” at Leipzig.

Michael's talk was illustrated with slides of the steps taken in 2003 to print “Korea”, a 50th anniversary celebration of Dave Heath’s famous photographs of the Korean war in 1953/54. A small selection of the copies included a print from one of Heath’s original negatives, printed by Torosian and signed by Heath. You can see the full slide presentation Michael used tonight by visiting his archive web page "The Making of a Book at Lumiere Press".

Our thanks to Michael for providing us with a copy of his slides for use on this web page. Visit his web site for more information on the fascinating world of museum quality hand made books in this era of fast and throw-away products.

Proof reading
Cut and paste
Cut and paste
Vandercook Press
Vandercook C3 Press Closeup
Printed sheets
Printed pages
Glue me
Gluing machine
Korea by David Heath

This page was designed in Dreamweaver CS4 on an iMac running OS X 10.6 (Snow Leopard). Picture of Michael Torosian taken with a Sony F828 digital still camera and subsequently adjusted in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom V2.2 and Photoshop CS4. All the other images are ©2009 by Michael Torosian and may not be used without his permission. Contents ©2009 by the Photographic Historical Society of Canada and may be used freely provided the source is clearly indicated. Copies of photographs displayed during this presentation may not be used without the copyright holder's permission. Contact PHSC at if you would like more information on the items discussed on this page.

Bob Carter

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