Monday, 28 March 2016

Hollywood on your wall

A clever publishing idea from 1973 that only half comes off. Hollywood movie posters have been a visual treat for decades but unless you worked in the industry virtually impossible to get hold of. Why not publish a very large spiral bound book so the poster can easily be removed. The page size is 17.25 by 12 inches with the whole page posters are a bit less because of the margin. Where it falls down slightly is that only half the book is in color: the right-hand pages. Most of these are whole page but sometimes two landscapes stacked.

The first color one is How Bella was won from 1911 then each decade gets a showing up to the sixties with a mono Walk on the wild side (1962). With a rough count of the index I reckon there are 250 plus posters in the 174 pages. Find a copy of the book and start your own movie poster gallery.

Sunday, 27 March 2016

Mostly forgotten

Maybe if Horace Bristol hadn't given up being a photojournalist in the early sixties, when he moved to Mexico to design and build houses, he would probably be remembered more than a footnote in the history of photography.

This book, published in 1996, is an excellent overview of work with one hundred and twenty photos. The five chapters: Early years; Magazine work; The Grapes of Wrath; World War II; Japan and Southeast Asia, each sub-divided into smaller portfolios and you'll see that here was a dedicated, creative and caring photographer. The Grapes of Wrath chapter has thirteen photos worthy of Stryker's FSA output. Bristol was interested in working with John Steinbeck to work on a project similar to You have seen their faces by Margaret Bourke-White and Erskine Caldwell. They traveled to the Central Valley during the winter of 1937-38 but after Bristol said he had enough photos for the book, Steinbeck withdraw from the project and wrote his book instead. Some of the photos did appear in Life magazine in 1939 and 1940.

The Japan and Southeast Asia chapter, with thirty-seven photos, reflect Bristol's two decades of living in Japan. He was Time/Life's photographer covering the aftermath of war but he eventually started his own news photo agency. Because of the part of Asia covered he was often on assignments and away from his wife, Virgina, who felt increasingly isolated and took an overdose in 1956. Bristol was devastated by her death and blaming himself he burned all his prints and negatives. His photographic career more or less ceased, though his last Life assignment was in 1964. He left Japan in 1967 and died in 1997, aged eighty-eight.

I like this book and having had it for some years it's always a pleasure to look through it again. Nicely designed and printed with one photo a page and short essays to introduce each chapter. Horace Bristol wasn't one of most well known photographers but these pages reveal a good, solid professionalism.

Monday, 21 March 2016

Building a book

The author, Andre Tavares, has researched a fascinating study of the architectural book through the centuries.  While a Visiting Scholar at the Canadian Centre for Architecture he  used their extensive library of historical books about building design and they provided the majority of the 120 images throughout these pages.  The book is in two sections with Part one considering titles related to the 1851 Crystal Palace Exhibition and Giedion's 1929 book Befreites wohnen (Living liberated).  Part two is divided into five chapters based on the essentials of architecture: Texture; Surface; Rhythm; Structure; Scale.

Giedion's book, has the most pages devoted to an individual title (forty-three) and Tavares uses it as a reasonable template for the ideal architectural book, though Giedion was no book designer and it shows.  Professor Sokratis Georgiadis is quoted that the design "is not just devoid of style, it is, deliberately, downright ugly."  Pages eighty and eighty-one reproduce twenty-five spreads showing a mixture of upright photos and landscape ones requiring the book frequently to be turned round.  In the chapter devoted to Rhythm there are reproductions of Laszlo Moholy-Nagy's Moterei, photographie, film (1925) and Erich Mendelsohn's Amerika (1926) which both have a much more interesting page design.

Part two with its five chapters reproduces some wonderful pages from architectural books.  Obviously a book was the best way of passing on construction knowledge though printing techniques sometimes meant that text was printed first then another print run for the images.  Two spreads from a 1521 book about Vitruvius show a very clean looking layout with text and images, it looks clean because there are no separate paragraphs, all text runs on with paragraphs indicated by a symbol within the text.  Architect Humphrey Repton in his 1800 book The Red Book of Hatchlands in Surrey developed a technique of overlays for his building pictures allowing the reader to flip from reality to the building's future look.   Several examples of this technique are shown.  The chapter on Structure gets down to basics of construction.  Two French books reveal the details using pictures, one from 1762  has a spread showing a pile-driver, an 1859 one dissects an interior buttress and the springing point of an arch.  The last chapter on Scale features several pages from books and a prospectus designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, they all look as interesting as his buildings.

I think it's worth commenting on this book's anatomy.  It's beautifully conceived with two columns per page, a wide one for the main text and a narrower one for the Notes, there are just over nine hundred of these, other publishers might have put them in the back pages where they would require plenty of flipping backwards and forwards.  The Notes here appear on their relevant pages.  All the images of book spreads and pages are treated as cutouts with the addition of a slight shadow to give them a dimensional look on the page.  The non-text pages (title, contents, index et cetera) are designed with an elegant simplicity that works for the reader.

Andre Tavares has written and Lars Muller published a remarkable book about building books.