Not very many people are thinking about print in the way that Nicole Katz is. She is the current owner of Sunset Blvd’s Paper Chase Press, a boutique printer who does work for clients ranging from MOCA to Focus Features to Opening Ceremony. The business has been in her family for decades too: you could say the print is in the blood.
Nicole sits near the front of the Paper Chases storefront, at a plywood table that serves as their casual conference table. The whir of Sunset traffic offers an ambient sonic backdrop, one that the office has habituated to. A few employees type away orders and meet with clients in the background and a baby—Charlie—sits on said plywood table playing with a few geometric toys.
“You are going to take over the business next, won’t you Charlie?” Nicole asks. Charlie responds in a series of babbled consonants. The question, while funny, is quite realistic: Nicole took Paper Chase over from her father and her son—Charlie—may do the same in the future. After all, he’s going to be spending a lot of time in the shop as a child, just like his mother did.
“I was born and raised in Los Angeles,” Nicole says. “My parents started Paper Chase about forty years ago, in 1976. It’s always been a mom and pop shop. My mom even brought my sister and I to work two weeks after we were born. We grew up in the business. I probably started working at Paper Chase when I was a teenager.”
“We began as an office supply store and then my parents started printing stationary, which is how we got into printing. My parents were printing letterheads for lawyers and stuff like that and then, eventually, someone came into the shop and asked if we printed headshots. My father is the type of guy who says yes to everything so he said, ‘Of course we print headshots!’ We’ve always had high quality printing so, when we started doing headshots, we were doing them in a way that was nicer than all the other headshot shops in LA.”
“We all of a sudden became this really booming headshot business,” she says, still surprised by that piece of history. “That was amazing. We used to have lines of actors around the block for days! We eventually expanded and moved into this building in 1986. We started printing books and invitations and doing jobs for local museums but still doing a lot of headshot work. By the nineties, I think my father saw the writing on the wall and he didn’t want to do headshots anymore as he saw it eventually being unnecessary. He stopped offering that service and just focused on other clients that were coming in and, at that point, he had already cultivated a relationship with museums and art fairs.”
“That was our main focus: we became the first print company on the West coast to offer what’s called direct-to-plate printing since people had stopped using film and were beginning to work digitally. We grew the business and, in the early 2000s, a lot of printing moved overseas—to China—so larger shops like us were losing a lot of work to the Chinese market because we couldn’t compete with the prices. My father—who has been in printing for quite some time, working at Paper Chase for over forty years and, before then, selling presses for a living—is vey wise in that department. He realized that the only manufacturing in print that would be coming back to the US would be short runs, smaller jobs. At that point, he started looking for a digital press and, because we focus on higher quality work, it took him a long time to find a press that would keep our same customer base.”
Paper Chase got their new, fancy digital press around 2005, which has enabled them to do what they do now. Nicole’s father eventually retired from the business in the late 2000s and she and her partner Kane took over, relocating from New York back to Los Angeles. “We were both living in New York and have backgrounds in the arts. I was an arts dealer and worked in photo book publishing after having studied photography at Bard. This just seemed to make sense for us to do since it was a combination of all of our different interests.”
“We took over in 2009, after moving back in 2008, and opening a gallery called Eighth Veil that was next door. We started publishing art books and eventually took over Paper Chase formally. We’ve just been running it ever since. It’s been really great! The economy has been tough for the print market but since we do such high end, specialty work it ended up playing out in our favor because people don’t seem to do projects unless they are really special—and we are such a go to place for that.”
Running Paper Chase went very well, to the point where running both the gallery and business became a bit much. They eventually teamed up with D.A.P. who kept the exhibition space going. “It became a lot for us to continuing programming at the gallery and running Paper Chase so they—D.A.P.—opened up a showroom in the gallery and we still continue to publish contemporary art books. D.A.P. doesn’t have their showroom next door anymore but we had a robust program of events around books there.”
Paper Chase has seen a lot of great changes in recent years, much of it a result of the recent great migration to Los Angeles. Given the current creative climate of the city and it’s acceptance of newcomers, Nicole and company have found themselves in a favorable position. “The last year seems explosive. Way more businesses are opening here or opening outposts in Los Angeles, more than I’ve ever seen before—especially in the art world!” Nicole explains. “You have Matthew Marks down the street and Regen is in the neighborhood. I literally just got an email about a woman opening a new gallery on Wilcox. I feel like Hollywood is having a huge growth spurt in terms of the art world coming here. It’s happening all over LA, yes, but this neighborhood is special to many for the same reasons its special to us. It’s so central and still gritty and raw compared to areas like La Cienega.”
“It’s the same with fashion world. I had a French client who is a fashion photographer come in yesterday. I asked her why people from Paris are moving here (because I don’t get it and it’s such a new phenomena), she speculated that it’s because of Hedi Slimane moving here. All of a sudden fashion companies are finding it more viable to have production out here. Now every PR company has an office here and so many brands are moving out here: there has been a huge uptick in the past year. Maybe it has something to do with New York being unsustainable and people are seeing that it’s wide open out here.”
“Whatever it is, I cannot believe the growth in the past year,” she says with a smile.
The city has always sustained Paper Chase and they’ve always found ways to compliment the city as well, growing with it. The influence of the city on them and they on the city is very clear. “The first and biggest thing was those headshots. That’s so LA!” she says. “And we have always been centrally located in Hollywood, even before we opened this space in 1986: before that, we were on Fairfax and 3rd. More so than being in LA, being in this part of town has been really special for us because I feel like Hollywood is the center of everything. I always talk about how Hollywood happens in Hollywood because all the production and post-production companies are here. It’s really great for us to be so central and to be a part of that fabric.”
Nicole sees their specific area in Hollywood to be coming into its own too, evolving toward becoming an area people are paying attention to. To give back to the community, she’s trying to create a Business Improvement District called the Hollywood Village that celebrates and fosters what the area is doing. “We had the idea a few years ago because we had been in the neighborhood for so long that we wanted to give back and create a Business Improvement District that would span the length of Sunset between La Brea and Fairfax. This area is excluded from the City of West Hollywood and the Hollywood Entertainment District. It’s kind of this forgotten area that the city doesn’t invest in. We’ve been working with the same folks who do the Hollywood Entertainment District and the Hollywood Media District, who have been giving us advice on how to get our own bid going. That’s our big civic outreach project that we hope will bring the neighborhood together. It’s a really long and involved process, though.”
In addition to producing new products and working with publishing books for museums and art institutions like LACMA, the Hammer, and MOCA, Paper Chase is doing their best to get their name out there by physically engaging with various communities who are on the periphery of what they do. “We do a lot of public outreach that we didn’t do before, when my father was running the business. We participate in the LA Art Book Fair and the New York Art Book Fair and we have sponsorships with Art LA Contemporary and we have sponsorships with LAND: we do a lot more. When we had D.A.P., we brought a lot of people in who weren’t necessarily clients.”
“Physically seeing us somewhere and continuing our publishing program really help to show how committed we are to the printed form and that we feel there is a viable future there. It is important to make books for us not just for paid projects. All of those things really bolster our reputation as a partner for print production.”
The future will push Paper Chase out into the world even more, allowing them to evolve by being able to work with and connect with persons who may not have the means to access the brand. The future of Paper Chase is something bigger than printing on paper and printing with big businesses. “I spend a lot of time thinking about the future,” Nicole says. “My goal is to make Paper Chase more accessible to the masses. Right now, we predominately work with creative professionals and they come to us because they have an appreciation for fine, printed materials: they know they can come here to get a certain quality of work. You have to have a certain level of knowledge in designing your product in order to get in the door, too. What we’re working on now is developing a platform on our website for people to design their projects online so they don’t have to have knowledge of InDesign or Photoshop to work with us. We’re trying to make Paper Chase more accessible so that it could be a place where someone could come and even make a family photo album.”
“Were also working on expanding our retail line too. We’re working on top secret stuff that is basically about trying to bring our work to mass market (because I think we make the best books out there). We make really unique products and I want to focus on giving everyone the ability to do that themselves.”
Nicole’s thoughts on the future don’t end at the immediate future and on paper: they go way, way, way beyond that. Her point of view on the future of print is so radical and brilliant and unheard of. She—and Paper Chase—have the potential to revolutionize the future of print in a way no one has predicted. “Here’s my big thing about the future,” she says, leaning into the table. An excited grin comes across her face. “Print is everything. Right now people are saying print is dying but, actually, what he future holds is 3D printing. Everyone is going to have a desktop 3D printer soon! They already exist, actually—they’re even in Sky Mall!”
“We will all have 3D desktop printers and we will use them to print everything we need from food to clothing to diapers for our babies. Hospitals will be able to print organs—that technology already exists! Right now we predominately print on paper, yes, but down the line? We won’t only be printing on paper. We’ll be able to print on all sorts of substrates. I spend a lot of time thinking about this because it’s not print as we understand it because it’s not ink on paper: it will literally be everything. It’s like The Jetsons! That’s what’s going to happen. The people that won the Nobel Prize for science last year won from the technology they made from stem cells for printing organs.”
“And no printers are looking at it this way! That’s crazy to me,” she says, reflecting on contemporary thoughts on print. “We’re members of P.I.A., which is a printer’s association, and I monitor their conversations. There’s a lot of talk about saving the postal service and saving Kodak: that stuff is really important, yes. But, if you want to look at the end game, you are in the print industry, an industry that was once one of the biggest in the United States. Up until ten years ago, it was one of the largest employers in the country. There will be a return to that—but it will be very different. As the Internet and books become more popular, I only see what we do as being more valuable. I don’t see that as a negative! I have a very optimistic outlook on the industry, which I don’t think a lot of people have.”
“Print is everything in the future!” she says, happily. “I think were in a good position.”