Sunday, 31 December 2017

Face the Futura

A fascinating and very detailed look at one of world's favorite typefaces, least until Helvetica and Arial took over with the help of the pc. Designed by Paul Renner (and incidentally his heirs still receive royalties) ninety years ago in conjunction with the Bauer type foundry. It's the original geometric sans and its immediate success convinced the foundry to release a complete range of weights from light to extra black. Success also meant that other foundries issued their own versions and the book shows several of these: Granby; Kabel; Metro; Spartan; Tempo; Vogue.

The eight chapters poke around in the corners of Futura's history and its use today including sixteen pages of photos revealing the way the face is used on contemporary shop fronts and signage. Page fifty-seven has an intriguing 1939 ad from a printing trade journal with the headline: Boycott Nazi type! and lists German made faces and American types available to replace the most commonly used Nazi faces. NASA was a big fan of Futura, using it on a whole range of printed matter and products.

The book looks at several examples of Futura used in branding and its availability on the pc, the author makes an interesting point that despite a face being called Futura it comes in all sorts of different styles though they are all the same weight. Nike; USA Today, Volkswagon, BP, Samsung all use the type but made subtle changes to various letters to create their own corporate version. Even as a digital alphabet available to everyone there are variations, page 124 shows six versions with near impossible to spot differences, page 125 has an outline cap S from Adobe, Bitsream, URW showing variations in the curves and letter endings. The book is heavily illustrated with images printed in black, red and blue (and maybe it was a mistake to print the six point captions in red or blue).

Douglas Thomas has written about a type that most designers have used at sometime or other without realizing its interesting background.

Saturday, 23 December 2017

The monumental man of photography

The two hundred and thirteen photos in this sumptuous book must surely be considered Fiedlander's greatest achievement. Originally published in 1976 (the bicentennial year) when he was forty-two, the photos were selected from over a thousand mostly taken in the proceeding six years. Eakins Press Foundation  published three editions, a trade version of two thousand copies, a limited edition of one hundred and fifty and a de-luxe, two volume edition of fifty, all of them are selling for thousands if you can find them at all.

This 2017 reprint (of two thousand) is identical to the 1976 trade edition but it has an extra essay by Peter Galassi. An interesting footnote explains the unusual presentation of binding the book with three pins which is usually assumed to mean that pages could be removed for display but actually the reason was cost. Every page is printed on one side only, not two and then folded as is usual with a normal book, using pins was the only way to bind the book. I don't know what screen was used for the earlier editions but this one uses three hundred for the duotones and printed with ultraviolet inks.

The monument photos are quite extraordinary and unique to Friedlander. who else would photograph the statue of Admiral Raphael Semmes in Mobile Alabama with just a sliver of his profile showing because he was behind a street utility pole and a phone kiosk or the heads at Mount Rushmore reflected, quite small, in the visitor center windows showing tourists looking at the Presidents. What I thought was remarkable about the photos was the way Friedlander frequently pulls back and shows the statues, plaques and monuments in their environment and taking up only a small part of the total image. This is the way the locals would see them every day.

This is a big book, seventeen inches wide and designed to give the appearance of a photo album. Some pages have just one big photo with others showing between two and nine. Themes run through several pages, on one photos 104 to 108 are all in Columbus, Ohio,  another page has nine statues of doughboys in various cities. Monument is seen by Friedlander in it's broadest sense, three photos on one page show the Supreme Court Building in Washington, Federal Court Building in Oklahoma City and the Courthouse in San Angelo, Texas. All the photos have a geographic caption though oddly none are dated.

This really is a monumental book.

Thursday, 14 December 2017

A worthwhile copy of the original

This new book has an interesting pedigree, described in an essay by Caldecot Chubb on a loose, buff coloured insert in the book. Eggleston was commissioned to photograph the area around Plains, Georgia, the birthplace of Jimmy Carter just before the Presidential election in 1976. The photos were never used but Chubb decided to publish a hundred of them, though maybe published is not quite the right word, made might be more accurate, eight copies were produced each comprising of two books with actual prints stuck onto the pages, leather bound and placed in a linen box. Five copies were for sale (MoMA has one) one each for Chubb and Eggleston and the last an exhibition copy. It would have been useful if a still life photo of the original two volume book was included with Chubb's essay.

 The photos Eggleston took in 1976 are beautiful as one would expect, with a subtle quietness capturing the countryside and small towns in this part of the South. They don't have the dazzle and exuberance of the ten volume Democratic Forest (also published by Steidl) which I consider a sort of Eggleston photo biography.  Instead the images have a predominance of green, brown and blue skies. These colours interestingly run through the town photos where I would have expected to see a flamboyant combination of commercial signage, neon, brightly coloured vehicles and architecture, Eggleston seems to have avoided this aspect of small towns for this commission.

I thought the sequencing of the photos particularly good with the first twenty or so revealing some wonderfully observed views of the countryside, close-up and middle distance, followed by shots of houses and commercial buildings on the edge of various towns near Plains. Thirty-two photos are of Plains and its vicinity. The hundred photos, of course, have nothing to do with the Presidential election they are just fascinating images of the South focusing on an area where one of the election candidates was born and lived. Oddly one photo seems out of place, seventy-two shows part of the bottom legs of a water tower, a utility pole and trees in the background, somehow I just didn't think it blended in seamlessly with the other ninety-nine in the book.

Once again Steidl have produced the perfect photobook, the pictures are only on the right-hand pages surrounded by generous margins, the opposite page has a brief geographic caption. Though the screen is only 175 it brings out all the detail when printed on a slightly creamy 170gsm matt art paper. The five for sale copies of Election Eve are now probably worth thousands but this new edition captures the greatness for a reasonable price.

Thursday, 7 December 2017

...and neither side gives an inch

This piece of rather nondescript countryside one hundred and fifty-four miles long and two and half wide manages to produce some fascinating photos of two worlds facing each other. The DMZ is a relic of the Korean War which ended with a truce in 1953 (so North and South Korea are still legally at war) and created this no man's land strip between the countries. Photographer Park Jongwoo was commissioned by a South Korean newspaper to capture the DMZ at its sixtieth anniversary of the start of the war. He mentions in his intro that to take the photos he had to get permission from every military jobsworth involved in the running of the DMZ.

The photos certainly reveal an unusual mix of the natural landscape with miles of barbed wire, sometimes three rolls wide, concrete walls, small square guard posts and huge command posts surrounded by more barbed wire, metal posts and painted in arbitrary colors. They look very temporary but have probably been there for years. One chapter covers Panmunjom (where endless peace talks are held) and it's the only place in the DMZ where both sides actually face each other, mere yards apart, military police control this area with the South Koreans wearing bullet proof helmets and sun glasses while on duty.

Jongwoo spent three years on this commission photographing everything through the changing seasons (and Korea has a significant amount of snow) following regular patrols on land and rivers and as the place has an undisturbed middle there are several photos of wild life free from man but not landmines.

The book is divided into nine chapters, each has a brief essay followed by pages of photos which are mostly spreads, I thought it was a bit unfortunate that single page photos actually butt together in the book's middle. There are no captions because all the photos bleed of the page. The final chapter: The North, has twelve photos of North Korea showing a rather forlorn collection of houses and other buildings plus a shot of their flag flying from the world's tallest flagpole. I was surprised that there was no mention of the roads that cross the border, the Kaesong industrial area has factories paid for by South Korean companies and use North Korean labour to make goods (mostly for China) but South Korean managers regularly travel between the two countries though at the moment travel is banned.

Overall an intriguing book of photos revealing in detail a unique man-made place.