Sunday, 27 November 2016

The complete VU






















For a weekly magazine that only published 665 issues (21 March 1928 -- 5 June 1940) VU left behind a remarkable legacy as revealed in these pages.  There are eight main chapters: Page layouts; Faces; Photo stories; Photomontages; The rise of Hitler; Sensation and spectacle; Image innovations; Covers and each is crammed with spreads and covers from the magazine and lots of them are big enough to read the stories and captions (assuming you know French).

VU was created by publisher Lucien Vogel with editor Carlo Rim and art editor Alexander Liberman (who became US Vogue's art editor and later creative director of Conde Nast) as a general interest picture weekly, some years before Life and Look in the US and Picture Post in Britain. They all took advantage of developing technologies of the day like wire transmission of photos and rotogravure printing. VU was the first though to use photos in a very creative way, especially with montages created by Liberman, no doubt influenced by Russian magazines of the twenties designed Rodchenko, Tellingater, Lissitzky and Stepanova.

Vogel and Rim seem to have had an editorial knack of creating pages and spreads from ordinary looking photos. Pages eighty-eight and nine has a spread from a March 1937 issue showing, on the left, comedian comedian Joe E brown and on the right actress Martha Raye, both are laughing, with the headline Look at them and try not to laugh. A spread from a February 1932 issue has five close-up photos of models faces with the heading Eyelashes: creating glamour with false lashes, or from May 1932 six photos taken at extreme angles and a filling a spread about painting the Eiffel Tower.

Far easier editorially was handling news photos. The chapter on Hitler has a selection of spreads and covers, arranged in year order, revealing his rise in Germany, anti-Semitism, concentration camps (Dachau in December, 1933) a Nuremberg rally, Hitler at home in ten photos over three pages from August 1935. The chapter on covers has forty-six, all of them eye-catching because the photo or montage is so prominent, the cover headline or text is played down unlike today's magazine covers with headlines getting an equal billing with the photo or graphic. Incidentally the VU logo was designed by AM Cassandre.

The book is a very thorough look at VU. There are seven chapters after the main pictorial section with essays about photography and illustration, cameras, photo agencies, printing techniques, a manifesto from the first issue, biographies of the editorial staff and date list of major photo-stories arranged by photographer. What I didn't find out about VU was did it carry ads, none are shown and the rather odd issue and page numbering. Most pages had the issue number starting from the first one in 1928 and a page number which seemed to start from each new year so that a page from December 6, 1933 is issue 299 and page 1807.

The book is now remainder stock and can be picked up quite cheaply...a bargain.

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