Opal produces a jewel of a job for McCullin’s photos

By Max Goldbart, Monday 20 June 2016

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Bath-based Opal Print would have been as surprised as anyone to find out it had been selected to print acclaimed war photographer Don McCullin’s new retrospective Irreconcilable Truths.

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McCullin: "It is so nice for me to know that what I thought was impossible was very much possible"

McCullin and his publisher, The English Group, approached Opal in June 2014, wanting to keep the printing of the book in the UK so they could have more direct involvement and see its progress as it came off the press. 

What did the job entail?

Opal was tasked with producing a three-volume retrospective, for a limited 1,000-run edition that showcases McCullin’s portfolio. Totalling 1,350 pages, with pages sized 370x300mm, it contains 700 photographs, each of which required some tweaking on press. 

How was it produced?

All the pages for the retrospective were printed on Opal’s only press, a five-colour Heidelberg Speedmaster CD 74 after they had been scanned in on a Crosfield scanner. Opal consulted with McCullin on the colour to use on the background of each of the prints and settled on a cream varnish tri-tone, which Opal mixed up itself.

Paper merchant Antalis joined the project in 2015 and supplied its coated and recycled 170gsm Cocoon paper, part of its new Carefully Curated initiative. 

What challenges were faced along the way?

Opal managing director Keith Lunt said one of the biggest challenges, along with developing a new tri-tone from scratch, was the logistics of building the printing schedule around McCullin’s visits. He said: “Don was often out the country so we had to fit around him. It could make things quite difficult. Sometimes even after a couple of prints went through Don returned to his dark room to re-do a print. He remembered something about the picture that he wanted to bring out more on his print before we scanned it.”

What was the feedback?

McCullin was delighted with Opal’s work. He said: “I would love the Opal people to get another big commission. I mean I don’t know how the publishing world works with pricings, but it is so nice for me to know that what I thought was impossible was very much possible.”

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