Lightboxes and Lettering’ was a major project focussing on the pre-digital era of printing in Hackney, Tower Hamlets, Waltham Forest and Clerkenwell, and the experiences of people involved in the industry. Lucy Harrison led the project with Rosa Ainley as part of Rendezvous Projects CIC, and it was funded by National Lottery Heritage Fund.

Lightboxes and Lettering ran from 2018 until early 2020, and culminated with an exhibition at the Nunnery Gallery in Bow, a publication and series of events. The exhibition was closed early due to the Covid 19 lockdown, and so an online exhibition was produced showing much of the material that was int he show.

The project explored how the printing industry has changed with the arrival of digital technologies, and how newer processes have transformed the everyday lives of print workers. Volunteers recorded oral history interviews with current and former employees, and helped to digitise archive material collected from existing and private collections. We ran a series of artist-led workshops during the exhibition, using some of the processes and exploring the archive material uncovered by volunteers.

Printing – including lithography, silkscreen and letter press – has been an important industry in east London for many years. Access to small presses allowed political and community groups to easily print their books, pamphlets and leaflets, and many of these smaller firms were in east London. In recent years, the industry has changed a great deal, with the number of print workshops now much reduced and those in operation working in very different ways to how they would have done just a few decades ago.

The project mapped former businesses, recorded the experiences of current and former employees, and has collected printed matter, images of print workshops and details of technical processes. It offered skills in oral history interviews, archive research and digital media to volunteers, and shared print processes with members of the public.

The project publication is available in the Rendezvous Projects online shop.

For more information see the project website


Image above: D. Smith & Sons Ltd, carton makers, 97 Lea Bridge Road, printing carton sheets, 1959.
Courtesy of Vestry House Museum, London Borough of Waltham Forest.


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