Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Speeding to that destination

The two hundred posters in this book are probably the pick of the collection from the National Railway Museum in York, England where the two authors worked while compiling the book. Like a lot of US railroad posters the destination was the strong selling point in the early years of the last century and this particularly applies to the output of the four rail companies featured in the book. Eventually, besides the destination, speed and the train (ships as well) were used as a selling point.

I think it's worth saying though that although nearly all these posters have the most beautiful paintings very few of them are what I would call well designed overall. The format was either a painting of a destination placed in a framing devise with the typography below the frame or the art was poster size with the type dropped onto an empty spaces.  Cassandre's famous 1927 Nord Express (page sixty-nine) and Irwin Brown's 1930 poster for the centenary of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway (page 102) are what I would consider designed posters: combining the painting, graphic and type as one considered whole.

I found the book enjoyable because of the art, the range of styles is very impressive from the mosaic paintings of Ronald Lampitt, flowers and nature by Audrey Weber to flat graphics from H G Gawthorn. All of the artists are incredibly professional. The authors have done a lot of research into the artists and how the rail companies used their work to sell travel.

As well as lovely posters to look at the book presents them in a very attractive way and frequently with the clever devise of enlarging part of a painting on many of the spreads throughout the book. The back pages have artist's biogs and a short bibliography.

Monday, 14 August 2017

Unfortunately not bound to please

The 'book' relates to an exhibition of photobooks at Barcelona's Centre for contemporary culture. The 'book' is actually eight loose sixteen page booklets and a fold-out poster (one has all the titles's credits) in a sealed cardboard box. You have to tear off one side of the box to access the booklets which have their cotton binding showing (it's as if they were printed but instead of binding them into a book they were left as individual sections and put in a box).

I found the contents a rather mixed bag of essays. Worth reading is Moritz Neumuller and Lesley Martin's overview of photobooks from the last few decades. Martin Parr looks at fifty seven books basically as detailed captions under a photo of each title. Markus Schaden and Frederic Lezmi essay has a go at a typographic interpretation of Klein's Life is good & good for you in New York by enlarging various words in an attempt to capture the visual pacing in Klein's title. Gerry Badger makes some good points in his essay on propaganda versus protest books. The other four books I thought somewhat elitist.

Perhaps all these illustrated essays would have more credence if they were actually presented as a proper book rather than unbound and in a sealed box. This unorthodox production is no more than a bit of designer whimsy and rather expensive, too.

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Check every detail then CLICK

Ryan Schude and Gregory Crewdson seem to be the masters of tableau photography. The book has 102 photos and most are carefully choreographed situations with people frozen in motion. There are some portraits and eighteen shots with individuals and cars at the back of the book.

Schude, like Cewdson create amazing photographic dramas that pull the eyes into the image and you scan every part of it hoping to capture and maybe interpret correctly just what is going on but I think only Schude really knows. I haven't a clue about some of these images but I love the sheer nerve of the photographer in attempting (and succeeding) to capture lots of folk collectively doing everyday things at the same time for the camera. The front cover is a good example of this, it's called Phoot camp.

One of the nice things about looking at these photos is that repeat viewing throws up something you hadn't noticed before, usually an object, maybe partially obscured and away from the main focal point of the image. The back pages have thumbnails of all the photos with a title, date and location, the titles are mostly one word and don't offer any insight about the content.

The book is a handsome production, printed in Italy by Damiani with a three hundred screen on a silky matt art paper and it can be picked up quite cheaply, too.

Friday, 28 July 2017

Japan, just picture it

Look inside the Soviet photobook here

In 2015 Steidl published the remarkable (and visually stunning) Soviet photobook 1920-1941 edited by Manfred Heiting, the theme continues with this look at Japanese photobooks which he also edited. This survey considers 511 books starting with the funeral of the Meiji Emperor published in 1912 containing eighty-two photos by Ogawa Kazumasa. Before this printing techniques were still being developed and many books of photos existed as single unbound pages.

The book's twenty chapters examine Japanese photography as revealed in photobooks with a detailed look at specific historical highlights, for example: propaganda 1930-1944; the German influence; Leica camera 1937-1939; protest books 1960-1978; underground 1968-1978. The chapter on Manchukuo 1932-1942 (after 1945 Manchuria) has some fascinating picture books showing  new developments with buildings, industry and agriculture which Japan hoped, with overseas distribution, would be the fastest way for international recognition for the country they invaded.

Japan and Germany signed an Anti-Comintern Pact in 1936 (essentially to contain the Soviet Union) and this produced a rather intriguing collection of photobooks about the 1936 Olympic Games, Bauhaus design, the small hand-held Leica (ten books featured) and of course WW2. The Japanese military produced a visually exciting propaganda magazine called Front (with design inspiration from the famous USSR in construction) there are forty spreads in the book showing an amazing use of photos and design. Page 228 shows Hitler's Mein kampf published in Japanese with photos by Heinrich Hoffmann (which were absent from the German editions).

An unusual chapter The photocopy photobook shows several 'books' of photos run-off in the seventies from Araki Nobuyoshi and others using lightweight CH paper with stapled sheets and in short editions that exploited the reduced grey tones of the Xerox copier. The longest chapter, over seventy-three pages, looks at photobook series from 1909 to 1982, this seems an area of publishing that is almost unique to Japan with books published as a visual record of the countries culture and development over the decades. There are three chapters without a specific title other than Book selection, 1945-1959, 1960-1975 and 1976-1990. It's a chance to display the cover and inside spreads from a choice of worthwhile photo titles.

As with the Soviet photobook I mentioned this Japanese edition is a handsome looking production, the 3,500 covers and spreads all have a slight drop shadow with printing using a 175 screen. Despite the huge number of illustrations they are all very legible and nicely lots of the titles get a very generous helping of pages so the reader can get a feel of the book, for example Japan: the nation in panorama has the color cover and thirty-three spreads.