Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Tracking down the trains

Valle's book is still available if you search round the net.

At last, a fascinating overview of Jack Delano's railroad photography.  His work on this subject has certainly been neglected.  Some photos were in Don Ball's The decade of trains: the 1940s published in 1977 and the same year saw James Valle's The iron horse at war with 272 wonderful mono photos unfortunately presented in a very bland looking book (incidentally it can still be picked up quite cheaply if you look around the net).

This new title is in four portfolios: FSA photos 1940-1942; OWI Chicago; OWI across the country with Santa Fe; FSA/OWI railroads in color 1940-1943 (this portfolio has thirty-three shot).  The nature of Delano's work lifts way above the usual railroad book full of track side shots of heavy freights pulled by multiple diesels, the photos here are in a way the opposite of that because they mostly show workers doing their jobs to keep the (rather rundown) industry going as the country moved into the war years.  I thought the photo selection particularly inspiring because mixed in with the medium and long shots of engines being repaired and serviced or out on the track there are close-up portraits of the workers and the color section nicely has five shots of female railroaders

The back pages have an interesting nine pages devoted to Roy Stryker's railroad shooting scripts followed Notes over four pages (well worth reading, too) then a Bibliography and Index.  The book is well produced in its landscape format, all the photos are captioned including their Library of Congress number.  

Jack Delano's railroad photography comes alive in these pages.

Saturday, 12 December 2015

Write design

Three other books on the Swissness of design

I bought a copy recently and it's like returning to an old friend.  I had the original when it was published in 1961 and kept it on my desk at the office.  It was always being looked through by colleagues, pages copied, dropped on the floor, borrowed (and luckily returned) but as is the way with office books it eventually disappeared.  I was familiar enough with the pages not to buy a copy until nostalgia got the better of me and I thought I really should own a new edition.

Despite the contents being over fifty years old what JM-B writes is still relevant today, not in the sense that pages are full of hands-on information, though there is some of that in the text but more a philosophical approach to commercial creativity which is revealed to the reader by studying the displayed work.  The majority of this has been created by JM-B during the fifties and nicely cover a wide range of print material.  My favorite sections are the series of posters for the Zurich Tonhalle Gesellschaft, these are just timeless designs, the other is the student work in the last chapter, some of the graphic design and typography is quite remarkable.

Obviously the digital age was decades away when the book was first published and maybe website designers might strain to find anything of relevance to their creative output but companies still need print: brochures; magazine; booklets; letterheads; reports; packaging; logos and more.  These pages will provide the inspiration to design problems.

Sunday, 29 November 2015

Star quality

The unusual upright shape of this thick book adds to its well designed look.

The endpapers

A rather unusual biography because of its large size and pictorial content.  I estimate there maybe six or seven hundred photos throughout the four hundred pages so the contents are really a visual life story rather than a text heavy conventional star biography and actually the lines are well spaced so that they fill the page space left by the photos on each spread.  There are two parts: Memories and myths (231 pages) and The movies (134 pages) the remaining pages have look at Short subjects, Television, Stage, Appendix and Index.

The first part is bursting with those shots of Lana in the public arena with a male friend (usually in a restaurant or night club) the sort that Hollywood snappers took by the thousand of Tinsel Town stars (under the strict control of the studios of course) to satisfy print media back then, other photos show her at home with husband and daughter Cheryl.  All of them are basically posed, the sort the publisher might describe as 'many never seen before', none are candid shots taken without Lana being aware she was being photographed.  I thought the most interesting ones were the studio shots with their perfect lighting and extensive retouching to produce a flawless skin, fortunately some of these are whole page and they look quite stunning.   The second section has a synopsis of Lana's movies from 1937 to 1976 with plenty stills and general studio shots with co-stars.  Nicely, there is usually a color poster of each film.

The book is a rather sumptuous production with thick matt art paper and well printed.  The designers resisted the temptation to angle or overlap any of the photos and there is a subtle use of color panels.  Overall I thought this was a handsome looking book, the upright shape helps too and because of so many photos (in mono and color) it's a treasure trove for Lana fans.

Friday, 27 November 2015

The ultimate swipe file

The first Pentagram Papers keepsake.

The Pentagram Papers featured a selection of the first three letters of the alphabet.

A fascinating book that originally started out as the first issue of the Pentagram Papers in 1975.  Thompson and Davenport couldn't find a publisher for their book but the first three letters of the alphabet provided the ideal material as a printed keepsake for Pentagram's clients, eventually the book was published in 1980 by Bergstrom+Boyle a small London publisher.   I bought my copy back then and I've always enjoyed a browse through it over the years. 

The essence of the book is a collection of images that illustrate a word, for example G has gallows, games, games and battles, garden, garter, gate, general signs, giant, giraffe, girder each illustrated with one or more printed examples with a sort of rather large thumbnail.  The book's strength is that all the printed items are well designed with so many of them from the US and Europe in the fifties and sixties, a particularly rich period for graphic design creativity.

It's a marvel that the two authors managed to find such a wonderful variety of printed matter to illustrate the words and now thirty-five years later these pages can still provide plenty of creative stimulus for today's designers.  The great shame is that the book wasn't printed in color.