Shooting the Tube

October 9th, 2014 by Sean
LeRoy Grannis, 1969

LeRoy Grannis, 1969

There is a huge difference between a dull photograph of Yosemite Valley and an Ansel Adams photo. Adams didn’t photograph Yosemite Valley, he shot the weather in the valley.

In the same way, there is a lot of bad surfing photography. It’s the same shot over and over, someone tube-riding shot from below. LeRoy Grannis‘ photos, however, are good, really good, surfing photos. They are not the same shot over and over. Beside the obvious issues of lighting, composition, color, and content, Grannis’ images work because they are not photos of surfing. He photographs the people surfing. The images are about culture and community. They objectively depict the surf community in the 1960s and 70s. This separates the work from traditional sports photography. The action is the backdrop to the individuals in the frame.

They also work because everyone is super groovy, even the elderly spectators with bitchin’ sunglasses.

153 18 16 13 12 10 9 7 4 2 8 1965

Carleton Watkins, Yosemite Valley, 1881

Carleton Watkins, Yosemite Valley, 1881

Ansel Adams, Yosemite Valley, 1942

Ansel Adams, Yosemite Valley, 1942

 

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Erotic Abandon

September 22nd, 2014 by Sean
Eros magazine, Herb Lubalin Art Director, 1968

Eros magazine, Herb Lubalin Art Director, 1968

This is frustrating: I suggest that a student have more fun and freedom on a project and they return the next week with the most itsy-bitsy slight change. I don’t understand the timidness. It’s as if they believe God will strike them dead if they use a quickly drawn gesture, or too much color, or an enormously scaled grainy image. So I get the tidy and polite vector art solutions or lovely but dead photographs. It really drives me to murder. I’m the opposite of the cranky professors who say, “Oh, that’s gone too far.” I beg them, “Please, please go so far that everyone in the room is shocked and aghast at your complete lack of restraint.”

I’m not pushing students to go outside of their comfort level and work in broad strokes to be mean. I don’t want them to spend their lives designing tasteful wine labels and polite brochures. I want them to be wonderful.

The example I use is Herb Lubalin and Ralph Ginzburg’s Eros magazine. Eros was short lived, only four issues from 1968 to 1971. By today’s standards it tame. You can find more explicit imagery by doing a google search for “cat”. Lubalin uses the page like a giant canvas, not a small magazine. When he uses negative space, he does past the comfortable spot. When he handles headlines, he does bad things like smashing the copy together in a corner. The images are dramatic and play with radical scale and cropping. At the same time, the thing is refined to death.

Partners at a law firm usually make more than graphic designers. That’s ok because they have to wear real life work clothes and we don’t. And we can have fun. That’s the trade-off. Why be miserable and uptight, and a graphic designer. You can do that as a financial analyst and make much more money.

Spread images via: http://westread.blogspot.fr/

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Get off the lawn you damn kids

September 8th, 2014 by Sean
Four Seasons Hualalai

Four Seasons Hualalai

Four Seasons Hualalai

Four Seasons Hualalai

Four Seasons Hualalai Palm Grove

Four Seasons Hualalai Palm Grove

I spent last week at the Four Seasons Hualalai. We go there every year, typically in September. The staff at the Four Seasons is incredible. I don’t know how, but they always remember our names (we may be on the problem guest list). They are genuinely happy to be working there, and can solve any problem. You know you’re being treated well, when people come to your beach chaise to clean your sunglasses.

I’ve truly become the angry old person/high maintenance guest. We stay in the Palm Grove, which is the quiet zone. It’s very zen and peaceful. A couple of days into the trip a few really annoying people sat in the pool drinking and shouting about football and SDSU. The next day, we saw the same dudes playing golf and blasting rock music from their golf cart. Not good form.

A few days later, a group of doctors for a conference acted like the Palm Grove pool was Fort Lauderdale at spring break. Okay, I know this sounds jerky, but after doing everything possible to cancel the noise, I called the front desk and asked for some help. Security showed up and they either lowered their voices or all went back to their rooms to pass out.

Later, I felt bad when I was told they were cancer doctors. They’re saving lives and I’m cranky that they are having fun in the pool.

I decided that this was simply the way of the world. Those times of good manners were a thing of the past. I was the problem and needed to accept change and get over it.

But, I was wrong. The next morning two senior managers tracked us down in person and apologised. Boy, did I feel dumb. I was truly amazed. You’ve heard me say before, follow the three “R”s with clients when something goes wrong: Recognize the problem, express remorse, and resolve it. They did that. If it were me, I’d be scared to talk to me. That old uptight white guy is complaining about the noise. How fun can it be to talk with him?

Lionel Walden, 1920

Lionel Walden, 1920

Four Seasons Hualalai

Four Seasons Hualalai

Four Seasons Hualalai

Four Seasons Hualalai

Four Seasons Hualalai

Four Seasons Hualalai

My shells for mobiles

My shells for mobiles

Nothing

August 27th, 2014 by Sean
Richard Danne

Richard Danne

I’ll keep this simple. I like work that doesn’t try too hard. It’s so easy to work on a project until I’ve beaten every last bit of life from it. It’s good to know when to stop. And the work I like best looks like the designer did one thing like set the type in Akzidenz Grotesk and then said, “Yeah, I’m done.” Perfect.

Young designers tell me all the time, “Are you sure, it seems empty.” But the idea makes it full, and in fact it’s not empty, it’s filled with a ton of negative space. I think of it like dark energy and dark matter. It’s strong enough to hold everything together. I deeply covet Richard Danne’s desk calendar from 1974. I think there’s that place in hell that I’ve mentioned before (the one where amateur musicians pull a guitar out at a party) for people who steal. But, I’d steal it.

All of these projects are confident and clear. They resonate with harmony because every tiny detail has been refined, refined, and refined. So try this on your next project. Do one thing and stop. It’ll be hard and the evil workings of layers in Photoshop or Illustrator will be calling, “Add more, add more.” Resist.

Richard Danne

Richard Danne

Paul Rand business card

Paul Rand business card

Please note the call room number

Please note the call room number

Ray Eames

Ray Eames

Reid Miles

Reid Miles

Brownjohn, Chermayeff and Geismar

Brownjohn, Chermayeff and Geismar

A.G. Franzoni

A.G. Franzoni

Fridolin Müller

Fridolin Müller

John Massey

John Massey

George Tscherny

George Tscherny

George Tscherny

George Tscherny

Paul Rand

Paul Rand

Louis Danziger

Louis Danziger

Carson/Roberts

Carson/Roberts

Richard Danne

Richard Danne

Twelve Inches of Pleasure

August 23rd, 2014 by Sean
Roland Young, Joan Baez: Where are you now, my son? album cover

Roland Young, Joan Baez: Where are you now, my son? album cover

Roland Young

Roland Young

I’m currently writing a new course for Lynda.com, Fundamentals of Graphic Design History. You’d think this would be easy. I know the history, have the images, and am so old I knew Guttenberg personally. But condensing all of the Bauhaus into a three-minute format and making sure it doesn’t sound like, “Bueller, Bueller, anyone?” is tricky. It’s a great challenge and fun.

When I started writing about design in the 1970s, I kept circling around album covers. The emotional impact of these artifacts is extraordinary. Sure, there was great corporate identity and typography at the time and more than enough to discuss with those alone. But when I mention a specific album, people light up. “Oh, I stared at The Tubes cover for hours trying to figure out how it worked.” or “I kept the Frampton cover on the top of my pile of records just to see it when I woke up every morning.

When I went to college, Roland Young was one of my teachers. I was 19 and knew everything. On the first day, when I realized that Roland was responsible for a big part of the record covers I loved, I was impressed. And that’s not easy for an asshole 19 year-old. Today, Roland is a good friend. I took over his Communication Design 1 class at Art Center and still hear from almuni, “Wow, when I had Roland for that class my life changed.” My students say, “You were funny.”

I recently discovered his cover for Joan Baez, Where are you now, my son?. This cover may seem unassuming and quiet, but it’s masterful. The sharp typography with the confidence to be just what it is and the texture of the grainy image is contrast at its best. The image of Baez that speaks to the object of a printed photograph is about a moment in time and intimacy. The Smiths tried this later with some covers, but the original is still my favorite.

Roland’s body of work and career, from working with Lou Danziger to art director to teacher, is immense and impossible to show without a major book. Publishers, publishers, anyone?.

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