The End of an Era: Cupiss Press Photo-Essay by Dominic Whiten

Cupiss Press Photo Essay By Dominic Whiten on Shoot It With Film
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Our latest feature is a wonderful photo essay from film photographer Dominic Whiten. Dominic was able to document the closing of Cupiss Press in England, 192 year-old business. Scroll below to view the images and read more from Dominic about Cupiss Press…

Analog cameras and films used: Canon EOS 1N (Find at KEH Camera or on eBay), Bronica S2A (Find at KEH Camera or on eBay) | Ilford HP5+ (Find on Amazon)

Connect with Dominic: Website | Instagram

The End of an Era

A Photo Essay by Dominic Whiten

Cupiss Press Photo Essay By Dominic Whiten on Shoot It With Film
Cupiss Press Photo Essay By Dominic Whiten on Shoot It With Film
Cupiss Press Photo Essay By Dominic Whiten on Shoot It With Film
Cupiss Press Photo Essay By Dominic Whiten on Shoot It With Film

Tucked away, down a side turning of a bustling country market town, you’d be forgiven for never knowing of the existence of Cupiss Press.

This small, family-owned business was founded in the town of Diss in East Anglia in 1830 by Francis Cupiss, a vet and prolific inventor. He came up with formulations for salad cream, hair restorer, and was best known for ‘Cupiss Constitution & Cough Balls’ – a remedy that the firm continued making well into the 21st century.

Cupiss Press Photo Essay By Dominic Whiten on Shoot It With Film
Cupiss Press Photo Essay By Dominic Whiten on Shoot It With Film
Cupiss Press Photo Essay By Dominic Whiten on Shoot It With Film
Cupiss Press Photo Essay By Dominic Whiten on Shoot It With Film

To support his various enterprises, Cupiss needed to print various labels, flyers, and posters, so he invested in his own printing press. He quickly took on printing jobs from other local firms, and this side of the business took over.

In 2020, the present owner John Harding was nearing retirement and looking to hand the business on to a new generation. Sadly, he was unable to find a buyer and in the summer of 2022, the press closed its door for the final time, bringing to an end 192 years of trading in the local community.

Cupiss Press Photo Essay By Dominic Whiten on Shoot It With Film
Cupiss Press Photo Essay By Dominic Whiten on Shoot It With Film
Cupiss Press Photo Essay By Dominic Whiten on Shoot It With Film
Cupiss Press Photo Essay By Dominic Whiten on Shoot It With Film

Seeing the press in action was a visceral experience. The smell, sound, and vibration of vintage Heidelberg presses was mesmerizing.

Also, taking time to look closely at the building itself revealed something of its history. On the walls were the original pre-electric, gas-light fittings. Before housing the press, during the 18th century, the building had been a private grammar school, and one couldn’t help but try to imagine what life must have been like for the children then.

Cupiss Press Photo Essay By Dominic Whiten on Shoot It With Film
Cupiss Press Photo Essay By Dominic Whiten on Shoot It With Film
Cupiss Press Photo Essay By Dominic Whiten on Shoot It With Film
Cupiss Press Photo Essay By Dominic Whiten on Shoot It With Film

Cupiss Press encapsulated a significant piece of the area’s social history, and one can’t help but feel nostalgia for a bygone era and what is lost to the inevitable march of progress.

Amidst the sorrow of closure, we must hear a call to action. As photographers, we are in a unique position to document and record the stories which surround us and create a legacy for future generations.

Cupiss Press Photo Essay By Dominic Whiten on Shoot It With Film
Cupiss Press Photo Essay By Dominic Whiten on Shoot It With Film
Cupiss Press Photo Essay By Dominic Whiten on Shoot It With Film
Cupiss Press Photo Essay By Dominic Whiten on Shoot It With Film

Check out all of our film photography features here, and if you want to have your own film work featured on the site, view our submissions process!

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Blog Comments

What a sad end to an historic printing business! It’s said this is ‘progress’ but it’s my opinion it’s regression. Congratulations to Dominic for his foresight in capturing the business in its sundown era, otherwise there might be little record of this business and its part in the printing industry. I note he used sheet film. Wonderful! I have a friend living in Perth (Western Australia) who had a century-old Heidelberg printing machine. We both belong to the Velocette Owners Club of Australia and I had some Velocette printing blocks used in the 1960s to advertise these motorcycles. I was visiting his printing business when on holidays and we set up the Heidelberg and used my blocks to print several hundred A4 letterheads using a gold-coloured ink. I still have plenty left. The Heidelberg had a life of its own when operating, and there was the pleasant smell of the printing inks. He has since donated his Heidelberg to a museum, even though it was still operable but rarely used. They were great letterpress machines! Unfortunately offset printing has taken over.

Hi Ray, thanks so much for your comment – glad you like the photos. I could have listened to the Heidelberg press running for ages. The combination of clicks, clacks, hisses and rumbles made its own music and was almost hypnotic. The chaps in the press knew their machines so well, they could hear and feel if they needed adjustment, almost through intuition. At the time, I was reminded of the opening few pages of Pirsig’s ‘Zen & the art of motorcycle maintenance’ – worth a read if you haven’t already. Enjoy your Velocette and headed paper 🙂

This is a wonderful set of images and perfectly demonstrates the beauty of medium format film. These kinds of businesses and people are often times overlooked and under appreciated. The end comes quietly and a person who has devoted themselves to a craft disappears without notice. I strongly believe in documentary work and this photo set gives a glimpse into that genre. Analog machines such as the ones in this print shop are a testament to old school design and build quality. The intent and build philosophy that it should last a lifetime or more has all but disappeared and represents what most consider outdated thinking. Medium format b&w film and a Bronica S2A seem perfectly suited to stand against that thinking.

Thanks Bill. As you mention, the story of Cupiss Press is by no means unique, but sad nonetheless. Whilst we’ve gained so much and benefitted from the digital revolution, its speed and impact has far reaching consequences. I’m sure people felt the same during the Industrial Revolution.

The S2A is a lovely camera to use. It’s not without its quirks and idiosyncrasies, but that just lends character. Ironically, we’re the same age – it was made in the year I was born. I wonder if a brand new digital camera will still be useable in 2079!

One of the cameras I still shoot with is a Canon ftb-QL that I purchased used in 1977. It does everything I need. Learning the quirks and idiosyncrasies of any camera then leveraging that knowledge to help in the pursuit of that special photo is part of the adventure.

I remember helping my dad produce the Sunday church bulletin by getting to crank the handle on the mimeograph machine. The sounds, smells and visual memories still linger after more than sixty years. I have been a freelance photo retoucher since 1976 and made the transition to digital in 2006. I now see my place in photography disappearing as many other artisans have experienced down through the ages. It’s a little sad but I am proud of my contribution to tens of thousands of photographs and I really enjoy the friendships I have built with so many talented photographers. I’m still an analog man and that will always be a part of every image I touch. Keep up the good work.

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