I admit I'm a chump for crappy photos. It's a 4K world and everyone wants to see every pore on a subject's face. Sharper, sharper, SHARPER! seems to be the battle cry. But like most execution issues this can be the cover for a really sucky concept. "What do you mean there was no plot? Didn't the Golden Gate Bridge look totally real when it was hit by the tsunami?"

There is something about poor quality black and white image that speaks to authenticity. The image is so sad there must be a good idea in there. Fuck the Draft is one of my favorites, and here you have a choice to order one and have another sent to several choices including Mrs. Lady Bird Johnson, Mrs. Shirley Temple Black, and Madame Ngo Dinh Nhu. 

I also enjoy this page from a typography book that equates typefaces with personalities and architecture at the time of its development. The message here, regardless of the mug shot quality photos, is that Johann Goethe liked Italienne, Karl Marx couldn't get enough Clarendon, and Madame Curie insisted on Akzidenz-Grotesk. Could be true, what do I know? 

These images also talk to memory and carry emotional resonance that is often lost with high-definition ultra sharp iamges. The next time you are handed a gritty and sad black and white photo to use, don't be angry. Embrace the badness. Love the anti-sharp.

Sean Adams

Sean Adams is the Chair of the undergraduate and graduate Graphic Design Program at ArtCenter, founder of Burning Settlers Cabin studio, and on-screen author for LinkedIn Learning/ He is the only two term AIGA national president in AIGA’s 100 year history. In 2014, Adams was awarded the AIGA Medal, the highest honor in the profession. He is an AIGA Fellow, and Aspen Design Fellow. He has been recognized by every major competition and publication including; How, Print, Step, Communication Arts, Graphis, AIGA, The Type Directors Club, The British Art Director’s Club, and the Art Director’s Club. Adams has been exhibited often, including a solo exhibition at The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Adams is an author of multiple magazine columns, and several best-selling books. He has been cited as one of the forty most important people shaping design internationally, and one of the top ten influential designers in the United States. Previously, Adams was a founding partner at AdamsMorioka, whose clients included The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Disney, Mohawk Fine Papers, The Metropolitan Opera, Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History, Richard Meier & Partners, Sundance, and the University of Southern California.