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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Neil Young’s Greendale: Joshua Dysart & Cliff Chiang

Greendale hardback cover

I have to start this review by admitting that I am not a massive Neil Young fan. I quite like his soundtrack for Dead Man which I occasionally stick on the stereo, but that is were my relationship with Neil Young starts and ends. I was vaguely aware of his 2003 eco-political concept album, Greendale, which he released in 2003. What I didn’t know is that the album also spawned a film, a book and the obligatory ‘interactive tour’… and now there is the Greendale graphic novel (Amazon UK), written by Joshua Dysart with art by Cliff Chiang.

It did occur to me that to properly review Greendale I should track down the album, listen to it on headphones while completing the interactive tour on my laptop with the live action film on mute on the telly in the background. All that seemed quite a task simply for preparation for reading a comic book so I decided not to give the album even a cursory listen. Instead I dived right into the comic book without any in-depth knowledge of Young’s project apart from an inkling that it would contain tree hugging and maybe a mild rant against George Bush. I expect the creators of this graphic novel wanted it to be consumed without the need for backstory and that it should work as a stand alone piece. So that is how I approached it.

The story concerns a teenage girl called Sun who lives in the small southern US town of Greendale. Sun is part of a linage of women who all have special powers over nature – the narrative tracks the awakening of these powers in Sun and also how her political beliefs mature over time – she defeats a kind of demon with her newly realized powers and ends up hitching to Alaska to protest about oil drilling and the war in Iraq. Along the way she finds out about her magical heritage and her ancestry. The demon Sun defeats bears a strong resemblance to Neil Young and after noticing this I ended up thinking that most of the male characters looked a bit like Neil Young, but that could be my mind playing tricks. The demon also reminded me a little of the preacher in Poltergeist 2, in the way he is initially seen by Sun from a distance walking through walls, and how the demon is only visible to certain people. In Suns dreams the demon becomes a giant goat-like creature and these dream passages are the most enjoyable as it seems like Chiang lets his imagination loose and the panels seem more free and full of energy.

The overall book design is well executed, my copy is a hardback with a rough matt finish without a dust jacket, which makes a nice change. The family tree pages have a retro ‘vintage’ feel to the layout and typography. I presume that these design decisions were to give the book an ageless quality and this concept seems to extend to the art – the colour is quite desaturated in that 1050’s style but Chiang’s art is very fresh and clean and for me didn’t quite carry over the vintage concept.

I always like to see the artists ‘hand’ in comic books, which might seem paradoxical, but there is a current style for comic art to look quite perfect – lines are beautifully rendered, colours have smooth gradients and there is the feel and influence of the computer to the work. I have always preferred to see the sketches behind the drawing, or a much more loose style of drawing in the style of Eddie Campbell, Ted McKeever or Vincent Paronnaud for example – but this is only my personal preference and there are some lovingly rendered panels in Greendale, particularly the dream sequences – you can see the artists hand at work in these panels which for me are the most successful.

Greendale

Greendale

While I was looking at the various incarnations of the Greendale project I was particularly taken with the album cover art for Greendale, a beautiful illustration in a very ‘folk’ style by American artist James Mazzeo. I have not gone completely off topic, the illustration appears in the inside cover of the comic book. Anyone interested in contemporary American folk art should check him out.

Greendale album artwork by James Mazzeo

Greendale the graphic novel seems to be intended for a teenage audience, and the ‘coming of age’ sub plot combined with the ecological pro-active message fits that audience perfectly. Buy this comic book if you are young enough to have never heard of Neil Young.

Thanks to http://titanbooks.com for supplying a copy for review.

This review first appeared on bookgeeks.co.uk

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Winshluss: Pinocchio

Winshluss (Vincent Paronnaud) has taken the Pinocchio stories of Carlo Collodi and dragged it through the hundred or so years of popular culture that has passed since it was first written and given it a surreal dark twist. The results are quite an amazing comic book: Pinocchio by Winshluss (Amazon UK), an award winner, picking up book of the year at the French Angouleme festival.

Winshluss: Pinocchio

The book is published in French but mostly without text, the story told in descriptive panels in that classic Bandes Dessinées style intermixed with with full page and half page panels that also form part of the narrative. The only parts of the book with words are a few sections in black and white drawn in a loose sketchy style that nicely juxtaposes with the colour artwork that makes up the main body of the book. These black and white passages involve Jimmy the Cricket who has taken up home in Pinocchio’s head, and with my bad french I managed to just about understand what was going on, although you could easily understand the story with little or no french (like me).

The majority of the book is colour and wordless. Winshluss draws and paints in several mediums and there are several full page panels that I was amazed by. The coloring has that desaturated nostalgic feel that perfectly matches his drawing style.

Winshluss: Pinocchio

Winshluss: Pinocchio

The lame fox and blind cat from the original Carlo Collodi Pinocchio adventures become a smack-head and blind beggar, Monstro the great whale becomes a polluted toxic mutant fish destroying a Titanic style liner complete with white bearded captain and string ensemble who not only carry on playing when the ship goes down, but as they are being dissolved by the acidic bile in the stomach of the toxic fish.

Winshluss also makes several nods to Disney; Snow White and the seven dwarfs make an appearance, the dwarfs are a gruesome set of perverts and their involvement in Geppetto’s comeuppance is particularly twisted. There is even a film noir element, a hard boiled cop with a head like an Easter island statue who tracks down Geppetto and the seven perverted dwarfs. The book is certainly dark, but full of humor.

Pinocchio himself is a mute robot-boy, created by Geppetto to be a war machine who he initially tries to sell to the military. Pinocchio goes wandering after short circuiting while Jimmy the Cricket enters his robot brain. Pinocchio tumbles through this story, staying resolutely mute while the tale unfolds around him.

Winshluss: Pinocchio

Winshluss: Pinocchio

Vincent Paronnaud is also credited as co-writer and co-director with Marjane Satrapi on the film adaptation of her comic series Persépolis. What a talented chap.

You can see more artwork at a larger size here at http://www.bdgest.com.

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