How time passes...

I'm reactivating this old thread to answer my 2005 self because I just found the work of someone who went quite far into the artistic use of Kodalith, but who's probably a bit forgotten nowadays.

Syl Labrot (1929-1977) was an American well-recognized photographer, painter, educator, and prepress expert back in the days. He is an early colour photographer, doing mostly abstracts, but not one who has resurfaced as a pre-Eggleston pioneer (yet?). He did a fair amount of commercial work, which taught him how to use Kodalith for offset reproduction. Eventually, he started using it as a medium on its own. There's only one witness of this work, the 1976 book Pleasure Beach (

It's hard to find images of it around the Web, and even then it wouldn't do justice to the very peculiar texture he's achieving. Pleasure Beach is a mixture of text, collaged images, and graphic effects, but instead of happening at the level of book dummy (which was then rephotographed through the halftone process for repro), it's happening at the level of the plate-making process itself. Labrot would manipulate bits of images on Kodalith, texts, and work directly on the large sheets of film for colour separation that would be used for burning the printing plates with scratches, overlays, etc.

This has for effect of using incredible ink densities (something rare for a colour photography book then), extra-sharp images (almost painfully so; there is quite a lot of unsharp masking halos), and a material facture that is unique: touching the pages feels like a handmade silkscreen because there's so much ink. Some of the effects are more subtle, but they all display a wicked sense of mad genius toying with the printing press (the fact that printers let him do that is a testament to the trust they had in his prepress abilities).

The result is stunning, but I'm not sure if it's been long enough for it not to look a bit "of its era" (not to say "dated"!). I think the 1980s are to blame for this perception: checking out Labrot's book made me realize how much of a visual commonplace it was in magazines of this era to see giant halftone dots, visible traces of the colour separation work, and high contrast. In fact, these days there's a CoverGirl ad with singer Pink that's on the air, and which reuses a lot of this graphic language. It's yet another "ironic" or "nostalgic" take on visual culture, but it shows how commonplace it's once been.

At any rate, if you have a good university library (or just access to interlibray loans), it's worth checking out Pleasure Beach, as it's probably no the kind of book that could be made anymore.

Worth also checking out the catalog of an exhibit featuring him and other artists exploiting offset lithography as their medium :