Future Book!

Thoughts on the creative possibilities of the future textbook

There is a slightly tatty paperback on my bookshelf. It doesn’t often get to see the light of day but in its time it’s hung around various design studios and has been passed around any number of creative types. It is the 1975 paperback edition of Josef Albers’ teaching tool The Interaction of Color.

Originally published in 1963 The Interaction of Color presented Albers’ theory that colour was governed by an “internal and deceptive logic”. Alongside the texts and commentary in the original edition Albers included 150 silkscreened plates intended for use in the classroom.

However, it’s my tatty 1975 paperback (with its small number of illustrations) that many would best know: a limiting format that doesn’t do the work any justice. The Interaction of Color was never meant to be read in such a limited, linear fashion, divorced from its rich illustrations. As such it is a perfect work to be given the interactive treatment – and in July this year Yale University Press launched the The Interaction of Color iPad app.

As a designer working in digital publishing this is an exciting project. The impact of digital on the industry is obviously huge, and projects like The Interaction of Color iPad app are significant pointers to the capabilities of the future textbook.

Albers’ exercises are all included in the app. Users can create, compare, save and share their own colour experiments. And of course functions that enable linking, annotating and bookmarking are all included – as is video. This is an addition that Albers could have never anticipated and it is to the app designers’ credit that this video content sits seamlessly alongside the texts and interactive studies. The ability to create studies is the most powerful tool in the app. Studies can be saved, commented on and shared. Colour pallets can be created and saved and used across studies.

The app does not pander to the book metaphor. There are no page curls or skeuomorphic page turning animations and so on. Unlike much of the digital publishing industry, it does not wholly align itself to the physical and metaphorical. It is the kind of design project that rises above the hackneyed ‘flat vs skeuomorphic’ debate. This app has great visual design – with enough affordance and signposting to understand the interactive model without relying too heavily on metaphors.

The Interaction of Color feels like an appropriately designed experience. It does not simply pander to current design trends and is a fantastic example of the level of design excellence that can be achieved at the intersection of hardware and software.

It is obvious tablet usage is growing as the technology gets cheaper. Tesco has just launched a £119 tablet with the questionable name of Hudl (‘the whole family can huddle around the Hudl’). Tablets and smartphones are becoming ubiquitous and integrated into our lives in a way unimaginable just 10 years ago. There is a mass of evidence pointing to the rise of tablet and mobile devices in the realm of education.

I was lucky enough to catch postgraduate medical student Joshua Harding talk at UKSG 2013 back in April. His presentation described his transformation into a paperless student.  He very succinctly summed up his issue with the printed textbook by showing a photo of the entire set of textbooks and ringbound notes from his first degree – a rather large pile.

His problem was obvious: how to quickly find information within that pile. So Joshua abandoned paper and went 100% digital. His iPad ‘study buddy’ was with him always, allowing him full access to all his texts wherever he might be. He could quickly find information through the search capabilities of his iPad. His notes and annotations were also made on his iPad – and could be linked and cross referenced with his textbook content.

Based on such experiences its easy to imagine the value of tablets in the classroom, and the opportunities digital brings to both instructors and students.

The networked device

There is a growing ‘standard’ feature set for digital texts. You can bookmark, highlight and annotate just like you could do with a paper textbook. But with digital you can also cite, track, organise, share, discuss and generally exploit the interconnectivities of the internet. No longer constrained by the linear format of the printed book, students can construct their own narratives individually and collectively and tailor the multitude of shared user generated narratives to their own needs.

The Kindle provides an excellent example of the usefulness of annotation tools within a networked environment. When a sentence gets highlighted everyone sees it – the more people that highlight the same sentence, the more affordance is given to the highlight that everyone sees. This functionality opens the door to user generated hierarchies just as link tracking helps generate user defined navigation.

To be able to align these sorts of social, utilitarian feature sets with the design consideration of texts such as The Interaction of Color and apply them to digital books that live online (and are therefore updatable, live, and delivered seamlessly across multiple devices) should be the utopian aim of today’s etextbook designers and developers.

In Future Shock (1970) Alvin Toffler argued that the accelerated rate of technological and social change caused people to be ‘Future Shocked’ or left in a state of “shattering stress and disorientation”.  It was hard not to think about Future Shock when I attended the recent AGI Open panel discussion on the current state of editorial design. There seemed to be a little bit of Future Shock in the eyes of the venerable members of the AGI when digital was discussed.

But they were reassured by strong evidence that print is not dead, or even dying. Hyphen Press and Unit Editions provided perfect examples of publishers producing small runs of beautifully crafted books for a niche audience. A smaller run means more care over design and construction and has a parallel with music formats. Vinyl had been long pronounced dead but a new audience has now embraced this (apparently) anachronistic format. Sales are up and so is the quality: todays pressings all seem to be of the 180g variety – reassuringly thick and heavy. A little like my huge Unit Editions Herb Lubalin book:

So the book is not dead. It has a little life yet. It’s possibly going to be more specialised, more  niche.

And with digital the opportunities and possibilities are there for all to see. The Interaction of Color app is an assured step into the future and hopefully a sign of things to come.

An edited (therefore probably less meandering) version of this post first appeared on the Semantico blog.

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Bouncer The One Armed Gunslinger: Alexandro Jodorowsky and Francois Boucq

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Published in late 2011 but only arriving on my lap the other day, Bouncer The One Armed Gunslinger (published by Humanoids) is the second volume of collected issues in the ongoing adventures (or misadventures) of the half indian one armed gunslinger Bouncer, written by Alexandro Jodorowsky with art by Francois Boucq.

Bouncer, as his name suggests is the bouncer of the Inferno Saloon in the frontier town of Barro City, and his story is a violent one. The varied cast of characters in this graphic novel include a creepy, freaky trio of Mexican assassins, an aged spooky indian, evil landowners, a loyal three legged dog, a whole array of raggedy outlaws and the odd lynch mob. These characters inhabit a story drenched with violence. All very Sergio Leone, very spaghetti western. Oh, I forgot to mention the opium dens, the revenge obsessed hangwoman, the freaky murderous monkey and the hideously burnt and bedridden owner of the Inferno Saloon. All vital ingredients in this quite epic but exploitive tale. And by exploitive I mean very 70’s, very B movie. Which is a good thing.

Published in late 2011 but only arriving on my lap the other day, Bouncer The One Armed Gunslinger (published by Humanoids, US) is the second volume of collected issues in the ongoing adventures (or misadventures) of the half indian one armed gunslinger Bouncer, written by Alexandro Jodorowsky with art by Francois Boucq.

Bouncer, as his name suggests is the bouncer of the Inferno Saloon in the frontier town of Barro City, and his story is a violent one. The varied cast of characters in this graphic novel include a creepy, freaky trio of Mexican assassins, an aged spooky indian, evil landowners, a loyal three legged dog, a whole array of raggedy outlaws and the odd lynch mob. These characters inhabit a story drenched with violence. All very Sergio Leone, very spaghetti western. Oh, I forgot to mention the opium dens, the revenge obsessed hangwoman, the freaky murderous monkey and the hideously burnt and bedridden owner of the Inferno Saloon. All vital ingredients in this quite epic but exploitive tale. And by exploitive I mean very 70’s, very B movie. Which is a good thing.

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The story opens with Bouncer becoming the town hangman against his wishes, corralled (contextual verb usage!) into the job by the town’s corrupt officials. Events conspire and he ends up being the reluctant hand that brings about the death of his old lover and her new amour. Both are victims of a set up by evil landowner Clark Cooper, with Bouncer the reluctant hangman. Clarke was previously embarrassed by Bouncer as he was booted out of the Inferno saloon and their mutual hatred fuels much of the plot. As all these shenanigans are going on, a mysterious old indian dude is jumping about the town rooftops knocking off members of the towns ruling elite by the nefarious means of a poisonous green coral snake.

There is much more to this graphic novel, and in particular the old Indian, than what I have described above. There is a flashback sequence that fills in some important backstory, and some heartbreaking plot twists and turns, but revealing more would be adding spoilers so I will resist it.

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As a writer and director Jodorowsky is simply legendary and he is rightly celebrated for his films as well as his comic book writing. I first saw his very tripped out film Holy Mountain a couple of years ago and reading Bouncer reminded me that I really need to watch El Topo, his famously weird western.

My first introduction to Jodorowsky was via comic artist genius Moebius and The Incal, a series of comics with a vaguely parallel plot to that of Holy Mountain, that of a twisted and somewhat surreal journey to spiritual awakening. On the back of the success of The Incal Jodorowsky went on to write some great science fiction, notably Les Technopères (The Technopriests). Bouncer … was my first view of Jodorowsky writing a western, and I was a little reluctant to pick it up as my first – my only exposure to Jodorowsky is through his sci fi writing, but I should not have been worried, after a couple of pages in I was hooked.

The art in Bouncer … is by Francois Boucq. A french comic legend, the only Boucq art I have been exposed to previously is the set of satirical shorts collected as Pioneers of the Human Adventure and featuring his absurd character Jérôme Moucherot (published in 1989 by Catalan Communications and translated by Elisabeth Bell who seems to have translated every foreign language comic I read growing up.)

The art by Boucq is excellent, he has that lovely loose but realistic french style, full of energy and expression, and with the analogue appearance of pens and pencils rather than the sterile computer generated look of many contemporary mainstream comics. His art in Bouncer … has moved along since the eighties and Monsieur Moucherot. The quality of line is less scratchy and urgent, but still fluid and expressive. The colouring more subtle and muted. The colour palette in Bouncer … is especially evocative of seventies westerns, all sepia and beautiful autumnal shades of red and orange.

The exaggerated proportions and features of his characters has been replaced with a much more considered approach, but there is still huge expression and character in the faces of his protagonists. Maybe this is due to the subject matter, I would be interested to check out his other contemporary work, and after reading Bouncer … I certainly will track some down.

 

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Chatting to my comicbook aficionado friend about Bouncer … the other night we both remarked on how painterly some of the panels look, in their composition. Bouncer looks like it has been inspired by the epic westerns of John Ford, and my friend pointed out that Ford himself was influenced by the great american painters of the frontier, painters like Thomas Cole, Frederic Church and Albert Bierstadt. Seeing the beautifully composed painterly panels within Bouncer … seems to complete the circle. Bouncer … is a perfect love letter to the Westerns of Ford, but it’s also a note scrawled in blood on the back of a fag packet, addressed to Sergio Leone.

All in all I can’t really fault Bouncer, The One Armed Gunslinger. I am not a huge fan of the western in comic format, Blueberry by Moebius aside. The fact that I enjoyed this so much is a testament to artist and writer. Having always been a fan of Jodorowsky’s writing, I am now on a mission to track down more contemporary English language translations of work by Boucq. Can’t say much more than that really.

 

Now in Lemon featuring at the ‘Magazine Library’ exhibition, Tokyo, Japan

Our self published art zine, Now in Lemon has been invited to be featured in the 2012 Magazine Library exhibition, Tokyo. From the exhibition organisers: “Since its launch in March of 2009 the travelling ‘Magazine Library’ exhibitions have featured more than 1000 magazines, art books and independent publications. The past 9 exhibitions welcomed more than 50,000 visitors and more than 30 publications have found new distribution routes in Japan via the Magazine Library”.

We are very pleased to have been invited, only wish we could make it over. Here is a video of the 2010 exhibition:

You can take a look at the 2012 Magazine Library exhibition website here.

We still have some copies of Now in Lemon for sale, check it out here.

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The Incal by Moebius and Jodorowsky

The Incal

I have wanted to write about Jean Giraud aka Moeibus, or at least post up some of his work for a while now and after picking up the 2011 hard cover collection of The Incal (Amazon UK) late last year I now have some sort of excuse to write about him (I could have used his huge exhibition staged at the Fondation Cartier Pour L’Art Contemporain in Paris last year as a reason to write up a post, but after making plans to visit work/life got in the way – a nice little micro site of the exhibition still exists, you can check it out here).

My introduction to Moebius was through my friend Tom and his huge comic collection. As a 16 year old I would be dropped off in town early –  Tom would sleep late, so I would climb through his bedroom window (it was on a lower ground floor) and get myself comfortable reading from his comic collection till he got up. Tom had a huge collection of comics, ranging from US marvel and DC imports, to European bande dessinée, in particular Heavy Metal (Métal Hurlant), which was always full of sci-fi and fantasy inspired strips and art, including quite a lot of work by Moebius (he was one of the founders). It was Heavy Metal and it’s more adult themes of sex and violence which introduced the 16 year old me to comics beyond the usual American fare.

So Moebius has always been an inspiration and has left an indelible Impression on me. It’s the elaborately detailed scenes he draws and beautifully colours, and the slightly seventies science fiction aesthetic that at the time seemed so futuristic and now, when I look at these panels again, still seems contemporary and a believable vision of a possible future.

The Incal

The Incal

It has taken a while for English language collections of Mobeius’s work to come onto the market – I was told by one of the staff at Dave’s Comics in Brighton that Mobeius was not all that bothered about getting his work translated or re-printed, if true it would certainly explain his relative lack of fame in America. In 2010 US publisher Humanoids put out a ‘classic collection’ of The Incal, now out of print it was a pricey affair, hand numbered and released in limited quantities. The copy I picked up is a UK edition published by Self Made Hero.

The Incal

Originally published in the early eighties, this is the first English lanuguage collection of The Incal that I am aware of (I think it was translated in the album format in the late eighties, but not collected). Anyone familiar with the films of Jodorowsky (in particular ‘The Holy Mountain’) will find the general plot of The Incal familiar – a physical journey of discovery that is a metaphor for spiritual awakening or cosmic transcendence. Or something like that. The Incal has a plot that is quite hard to describe; on the surface, The Incal is a race against time, and a confrontation against a great all encompassing evil. The ‘hero’ is the coward John Difool, chosen by cosmic coincidence to save the known universe along side a band of characters that include his pet concrete bird, Deepo, and the most feared mercenary in the universe: the Metabaron. Difool constantly endures the worst humiliations as he faces increasingly bizarre situations.

Detective John Difool is much more of an idiot than the ‘heroes’ Jodorowsky often shows on screen – almost as if Jodorowsky has been able to use the perceived low brow medium of comic books to add humor and a little self deprecation into the mix, all packaged up into the anti hero John Difool. The clue is in his name, he truly is a cosmic fool.

To sum up: if you are into graphic novels or comics buy some work by Moebius. And if you have never seen a film directed by Jodorowsky I suggest you check one out, you will have never seen anything like it before.

The Incal

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A little more Moebius:

  1. The Incal was also going to be a feature length animation – a trailer can be seen here.
  2. Jodorowsky and Moebius also collaborated on a film project of Dune in 1974, check out art work for this here.

Designers Don’t Have Influences: Austin Howe

I had better start by owning up to not having read Designers Don’t Read by Howe – I had seen lots of press for it but never got round to picking up a copy. So I have come to his second book without reading the first, but Designers Don’t Have Influences (Amazon US|CA|UK|DE) is stand-alone and can be picked up without any prior knowledge of Howe or his writing.

Designers Don’t Have Influences is a collection of short essays on people that have influenced Howe throughout his successful career in advertising. Rather than write about people working directly in his field Howe writes about all sorts of people from various disciplines. He writes in the forward:

“My basic premise is that we can often learn more from people in other disciplines than we can from our own”

This really resonated with me. As a designer my own influences are often from beyond my profession and can be divorced from their context. Howe’s introduction had already got me excited about reading on.

“Disclaimer: this book is not an exhaustive compendium of every notable author or artist or inventor or entrepreneur. It’s really more of a random collection of individuals who have impacted me in some way – people I think most designers would probably appreciate knowing a little more about.”

There are no work samples in the book – Howe explains that Designers Don’t Have Influences follows in the “spirit and tradition of Norman Potter’s little gem, What is a designer: Things, Places, Messages” (a book I would also recommend, Potter is a great influence on me). Howe also explains that he wanted to dismiss the idea that designers don’t read – hence the title of his first book.

Each chapter in Designers Don’t Have Influences is a self contained essay. At the start of each chapter is the estimated time it will take to read it – I loved this element (one he uses in Designers Don’t Read), as I could pick up the book in my lunch time, waiting for a tube, sitting on Brighton beach, and flick to a chapter which I knew I would be able to read in the time I had. I felt I was carrying round a bunch of observations and ideas I could dip into rather than a book I would have to read from page one onwards. Each chapter has a little nugget of Howe thinking, seemingly designed to make you think a little, question a little and maybe re-evaluate your position and approach to your design work.

Some of the chapters are simply Howe’s observations of the experiences of working with others in and around his industry – the chapter on Bill Cahan gives a great insight into the processes of an innovative and successful design agency and those that run it. Many of Howe’s other subjects will be familiar to designers, the ubiquitous Ayn Rand gets a chapter, as do the Saatchis, Julian Schnabel, Josef Müller-Brockman and Damien Hirst, but it is the people I had never heard of that interested me the most – a great example is the chapter on François Allaire, a Canadian Hockey goalie coach. As a Yorkshireman who grew up with only a passing interest in football (my trips to Elland Road were on the whim of friends, I was never a committed football fan), there was no way I was going to have heard of a Canadian Hockey coach. Within this chapter Howe explains how Allaire re-invented goalie coaching from the ground up, and coached some of the most successful goalies in Hockey history. Howe writes about how Allaire can be an influence to someone working in the field of design:

“First of all he teaches us that it can be done, wherever and whenever it is actually attempted. That by questioning the conventions of how something has been done for years, we can find new ways of approaching it, simply by being aware, observant, ambitious.”

At the back of the book, once the essays are over, there’s a collection of doodle style portraits of the chapters subjects (along side a quote), credited to Aaron James. – my favourite is the starey scary disembodied Damien Hirst, but Maurice Saatchi’s portrait is worth a mention. I also liked the book design and typography credited to Fredrik Averin – a seemingly modernist design subverted with bold lines striking through the words, a treatment carried through from the cover to the chapters headings.

Maurice Saatchi

The best accolade I can give this book is that I already have bought his first book on the back of this one – and I will be keeping an eye on out for further publications and writing by Howe.

This review also features on The Designer’s Review of Books.

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Tankboys: Manifesto project 2010

Tankboys are an independent design studio based in Venice. I recently got hold of their book: Manifesto. Information about this project from their site:

To say that the end result is what counts is just not true. Especially in design. Rather, a good designer is more concerned with the process; that winding, potholed road he embarks upon every time he gets a new job.

“Manifesto.” is an ongoing project that leaves the final result to one side so as to focus on the creative process. It brings together under one roof the personal manifestos of some of today’s smartest and most renowned international designers.

Whilst some of these statements are very well known, others have been prepared exclusively for the project: some are programmatic pieces of writing, some are detailed work manuals, all are passionate tributes to graphic design, creativity and the design culture.

Reading these manifestos without the authors work shown alongside is an interesting set up as the reality of the finished product does not interfere with the readers interpretation of the words and ideas. Although I am aware of many of the designers work, it was still novel to read the manifesto’s and not see the work itself – the ideas on process and ‘design philosophy’ can then be taken at their face value, and I can imagine more easily applying those ideas to my own work and design processes.

Going back about seven years, when 20three was a working studio, I toyed with the idea of writing a manifesto, or a statement of intent. It never materialized and looking back I think I was lacking the clarity of purpose that is needed to put such concise thoughts to paper. Reading these collected manifestos is inspiring and has given me the motivation to look again at seeing if I can sum up my own design philosophy in a short manifesto.

I wanted to re-produce a couple of the manifestos so readers of this blog get a taste of the book – there are a few I could have chosen but The cult of Done by Bre Pettis and Kio Stark is definitely one of my favorites, possibly as it made me smile the most.

The cult of Done Manifesto

01 There are three states of being. Not knowing, action and completion.

02 Accept that everything is a draft. It helps to get done.

03 There is no editing stage.

04 Pretending you know what you’re doing is almost the same as knowing what you are doing, so just accept that you know what you’re doing even if you don’t and do it.

05 Banish procrastination. If you wait more than a week to get an idea done, abandon it.

06 The point of being done is not to finish but to get other things done.

07 Once you’re done you can throw it away.

08 Laugh at perfection. It’s boring and keeps you from being done.

09 People without dirty hands are wrong. Doing something makes you right.

10 Failure counts as done. So do mistakes.

11 Destruction is a variant of done.

12 If you have an idea and publish it on the internet, that counts as a ghost of done.

13 Done is the engine of more.

Although the book is now sold out, you can read the manifesto’s here: http://www.manifestoproject.it

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Kevin Meredith: Toy Cameras, Creative Photos: High-end Results from 40 Plastic Cameras

I would think that most designers with an eye on the lo-fi will be familiar with the aesthetic of toy cameras. As an arty type with an interest in lo-fi technology and photography I have a couple of toy cameras myself, so when the opportunity came about to review Kevin Meredith’s book on toy cameras – Toy Cameras, Creative Photos: High-end Results from 40 Plastic Cameras (Amazon UK) I was keen to get my hands on it and see what other plastic fantastic cameras are out there.

So what is a toy camera? As Kevin Meredith states in his introduction, it might be a better to ask: “what is a serious camera?”

The answer to that question is simpler, a serious camera is one that has been designed to capture a scene with as much accuracy as possible. The resulting images, while technically perfect, can seem a bit lifeless to some people. Toy cameras are ideal for photographers who don’t want to capture a polished version of the world.

The books setup and approach is straightforward – 40 toy cameras and examples of photographs taken by those cameras. How the book is structured is also simple – Each camera gets a page with an image of, and a few paragraphs about, the camera in question and then several spreads of photography will follow, the photographs illustrating the cameras foibles and quirks. With many images the film type and other details such as the processing technique are given.

The text is informative and succinct. With each camera a little background or description is given, Meredith giving his opinion on the cameras practicality, drawbacks and quirks; for each camera information is given on lens type, aperture, shutter speed, film type, ISO and similar and variant models. The photography throughout the book is excellent – as well as the photography of the author, Meredith has also roped in a load of contributors all who have supplied quality photography.

I was initially surprised at the inclusion of digital cameras, but by Meredith’s own definition a toy camera can be digital and including them supports the inherent inclusiveness of toy cameras. The random ‘happy accidents’ of light leak and vignetting also add to this inclusiveness – no matter what your proficiency in photography the same random results will happen. This is were the divide happens – to embrace such lo-fi photography you have to accept and embrace these random quirks – control freaks should stick to their high-end SLR’s.

The book ends on brief but informative sections on film formats, processing, and toy camera basics: Film speed, shutter speed and aperture.

I don’t  have any real criticisms of this book, It is a simple proposition executed well. I would have preferred to have seen larger images of the cameras but that probably says more about me fetishizing cameras than anything else. I did find that the graphical elements of the book -  furniture and colour – is a little derivative. It looks like a Lomography product. Lomography is the commercial trademark of Lomographische AG, an Austrian company set up in the early nineties whose name is taken from the former Russian manufacturer LOMO PLC, and their camera the LOMO LC-A, which Lomographische AG distribute around Europe. Lomographische AG have very cleverly promoted and nurtured a large worldwide community whose interests are cheap plastic cameras, soviet imports and processing techniques such as cross processing and redscale. The design throughout Toy Cameras, Creative Photos… echo the Lomography branding used throughout their publications and marketing material. Of course there is nothing wrong with this, in fact from a marketing perspective it is probably the right approach as Lomography is such a recognisable entity and has such a large community. I guess I feel that there has been a missed opportunity for this book to have an identity of it’s own, and break the hegemony Lomographische AG have over lo-fi/toy camera culture. This is a minor gripe though and overall the important bits – the photography and text – are given plenty of space to breath.

For a newcomer to lo-fi photography and toy cameras this book will be a great introduction. To someone like me who has already got the lo-fi camera bug it is still a great buy. There are cameras featured in this book that I never knew existed, the action sampler cameras really stoked my imagination, I can see myself trawling ebay for an Oktomat sometime soon. The Ikimono looks cute too.

This book also works well as a reference book or a source of inspiration – there really is some great photography featured and anyone with an interest in photography, be it lo-fi, digital or film will appreciate the qualities of the images.

This review also appears on The Designer’s Review of Books.

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Jun’ichirō Tanizaki: In Praise of Shadows (谷崎 潤一郎: 陰翳礼讃)

In Praise of Shadows

I came across this slim book (which is more an extended essay) while looking into texts on aesthetics. I was particularly interested in books about the differences in perception. Not specifically from a design point of view but more general ideas on cultural differences in the perception of everyday objects, the spaces we occupy and how we interact with them.

I call this book an essay – I could easily call it a mild rant. A personal plea against homogeneity. In Praise of Shadows (Amazon UK US) concerns itself with the difference in attitudes regarding light, and how western influence has diluted the Japanese love of shadows.

Originally published in 1933 in Japanese, the English translation was published in 1977 and as the title hints at Jun’ichirō Tanizaki makes the claim that traditional Japanese objects such as lacquerware and the Japanese home itself have been made specifically for low light, or to be specific, the light produced as the day closes – for example the central living space in a traditional Japanese dwelling would always have a sand or neutral finish, all the best to subtly highlight an evenings fading light.

Why should this propensity to seek beauty in darkness be so strong only in Orientals? The West too has known a time when there was no electricity, gas, or petroleum, yest so far as I know the West has never been disposed to delight in shadows. Japanese ghosts have traditionally no feet; Western ghosts have feet, but are transparent. As even this trifle suggests, pitch darkness has always occupied our fantasies, while in the West even ghosts are clear as glass. This is true too of our household implements: we prefer colours compounded of darkness, they prefer the colours of sunlight. And of silverware and copperware: we love them for the burnish and patina, which they consider unclean, insanitary, and polish to a glittering brilliance. They paint their ceilings and walls in pale colours to drive out as many of the shadows as they can. We fill our gardens with dense plantings, they spread out a flat expanse of grass.

Tanizaki argues that the West is quite opposite to the Japanese: the West emphasize brightness and uniformity. Tanizaki believes that western culture associate brightness with cleanliness and hygiene. In modern western architecture light is a premium. Buildings are designed to be as bright as possible, no matter what the time of day. Shadows, dim corners, nooks and crannies are reduced. By contrast Japanese architecture regards light in a much more subtle fashion; light is seen as liquid and as having different properties depending on the time of day and season. Tanizaki believes that in Japanese culture shadows and low light are intrinsic to how their homes have evolved. Japanese homes filter and diffuse light through paper walls, letting it absorb onto neutral surfaces, reflecting the change in light throughout the day. This concept of varying light is not alien to western architects but Tanizaki’s bugbear is of western hegemony and to address this he needs to generalize.

An example of a Japanese interior he uses early in the book, and one that made me smile, is of the water closet. Tanizaki bemoans the loss of the traditional Japanese toilet – the western equivalent is made up of shiny metal faucets, highly reflective tiles or surfaces invariably white. The Japanese closet according to Tanizaki is a place of spiritual reflection:

“Every time I am shown to an old, dimly lit, and, I would add, impeccably clean toilet in a Nara or Kyoto temple, I am impressed with the singular virtues of Japanese architecture. The parlor may have its charms, but the Japanese toilet truly is a place of spiritual repose. It always stands apart from the main building, at the end of a corridor, in a grove fragrant with leaves and moss. No words can describe that sensation as one sits in the dim light, basking in the faint glow reflected from the shoji, lost in meditation or gazing out at the garden. The novelist Natsume Soseki counted his morning trips to the toilet a great pleasure, ‘a physiological delight’ he called it. And surely there could be no better place to savor this pleasure than a Japanese toilet where, surrounded by tranquil walls and finely grained wood, one looks out upon blue skies and green leaves.”

In Praise of Shadows jumps around from subject to subject with no apparent rhyme or reason – for such a slim book there is a fair amount of repetition, but this only adds to the character of the text, and the slightly chaotic feel seems to reflect the personal and singular attitude that Tanizaki takes with his subject matter.

The passage regarding skin colour was also quite revealing, discussing as it does the Japanese tradition of teeth blackening combined with green lipstick. Of course teeth blackening is not just a Japanese tradition and why this was seen as attractive or desirable in Japanese culture is never explained by Tanizaki. His explanation of why Japanese culture has such respect of the days changing light seems to be one of not surrendering to progress and the respect of tradition – I came away from this book thinking that Tanizaki had created a swansong to a disappearing culture – whether that is what he intended I can only presume, but the Japan he wistfully talks about probably does not now exist apart from in a few rural areas. I have never visited Japan, but I wonder what would Tanizaki think about my perception of the modern Japan, a perception gleaned from people I have met, movies, books, magazines, the internet and the TV: modern, technologically advanced, clean, bright – and neon.

So why would this book interest the designer? Maybe this book can serve as a reminder of how differently we view and use spaces and ‘things’ depending on our cultural background; that design decisions will always be fundamentally subjective no matter what the logic or rational that underpins them. Maybe it is a reminder to keep one eye on the passage of time and that ‘good’ design can be timeless.

This review also appears on The Designer’s Review of Books.

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Science Fiction book covers: a small selection

Following on from Grahams post about sci-fi and in particular his appreciation of pulp sci-fi cover art, I have scanned and uploaded a small selection of sci-fi books I have picked up over the years.

I have got round to reading most of them but I  choose them for the cover art and a few remain unread. Many of these books were bought from Rainbow books on Trafalgar street, Brighton. A few by Azimov I picked up in Solway books in Kircudbright.

I have added the designer or illustrator if one is credited.

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06 Cover illustration: Chris Foss

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07 Cover illustration: Chris Foss

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08 Cover illustration: Chris Foss

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09 Cover illustration: Chris Foss

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13 Cover photograph: Dennis Rolf

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14 Cover photograph: Dennis Rolf

15 Cover illustration: David Pelham

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17 Cover illustration: Tony Roberts

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18 Cover illustration: Paul Stinson

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23 Cover illustration: Paul Monteagle

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