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.

Saturday, 7 November 2015

Night light

I recently reviewed Lynn Saville's Dark city (ISBN 9788862084116) published this year, I liked her night photos enough to get this book published in 2009.  Both books are full of intriguing shots taken after the sun has nearly disappeared so that the only light source is artificial.  The work in both books is taken in New York though Dark city had a few taken elsewhere in the US.

Saville cleverly uses what light she can find and combined with shadows creates great photos that wouldn't have the same magic if taken during the day.  I particularly liked the subject matter, commercial areas, construction sites, bridges and parks in the city rather residential streets which tend to be more uniform in scale.

Of the two books I prefer Dark city because it has a slightly larger page size, finer printing screen than the 175 used in this book and cleaner presentation but both books show off some first class images after dark. 

Friday, 6 November 2015


Open the cover to reveal two books tucked into pockets.

The silly caption idea with a thin line of the photo's contours rather than a colored thumbnail.

There are only fifty-two photos in this two-books-in-one publication, some are really fascinating and pull you into the frame but with so few photos the also rans seem to overwhelm the excellent ones.  Both books look at contemporary housing developments in the south eastern Las Vegas area.  Because the landscape, in parts, is hilly developers had to flatten out the land by creating a series of turning terraces with the obligatory curving roads linking them together.  A few of these terrace photos make the land look quite extraordinary, the precision of the lots contrasting with the natural look of the non-vegetation hills.

With only two types of photos: terracing and homes, I thought the bird's eye view of housing provided the most interesting images.  Because the heat really doesn't encourage outdoor living the properties more or less fill the whole lot with a minimum of space for a garden.  McMansions with multiple roof-lines sit right next door to each other.  A photo of Roma Hills gated community  (which I saw recently used on a real estate website selling a still empty lot) shows the development neatly cut into the hillside.  The houses all have trees surrounding them, none of which existed before the building.  No solar panels or satellite dishes either, the community housing associations probably bans them.  The building style here is faux northern Mediterranean and the road names like Valenzano Way,  Tozzetti Lane or Latina Court reflecting the European aspiration in the Black Mountain developments.

The twenty-six photos of the Lake Las Vegas (it's actually a reservoir) area continues the Mediterranean feel with Strada di Villaggio, Via Tiberius Way, Mezza Luna Court, Camino Barcelona Place street names and perhaps even more flamboyant properties (palace might be a more accurate word for one or two of these) inside the many private communities.  The speculative nature of these developments is indicated by the many unbuilt lots clearly seen in the photos.

I've given the publication three stars because of the uneven flow of the photos, with only fifty-two there are thirty that basically show terracing and the empty landscape, some of these, as I've said, are remarkable but surely no more than ten or so would have covered this leaving the rest to reveal the visually much more interesting ongoing property developments.  Three stars also (or should that be two?) for the hopelessly unprofessional way the captions in the back pages have been presented to the reader.  Instead of an obvious color thumbnail of each spread, so it can be found easily, there is an outline box containing a thin drawn line of the significant contour shape from each photo -- this is pure designer whimsey and next to useless in finding a caption efficiently, also the twenty-six captions are needlessly spread over six pages in both books, one spread in each would have been enough.

*You can spend an interesting bit of time looking at the houses in the Ascaya and Lake Las Vegas areas with Street View and though the Google camera-car wasn't allowed into the gated communities switch to Bing maps for bird's eye views of these and remaining unbuilt terraces.

* As of today's date you can get the book from Amazon for less than $15, publisher's price is $60.