The Empty Water

Ed Ruscha, Nine Swimming Pools and a Broken Glass, 1968

The pagination of a book should be like a film. There will be loud and energetic scenes, quiet moments, long shots and close-ups, and titles and credits. If you haven't watched Chris Marker's La Jetee, watch it now. It is the best example of pagination and pacing with still images. 

Ed Ruscha's Nine Swimming Pools and a Broken Glass is another wonderful example. The images of swimming pools without people, expanses of blue, and blank white pages talk about the sense of emptiness and absence in a world of luxury and leisure. The broken glass image adds a hint of danger. Ruscha made this book in 1968, a year before the Manson murders. In Slouching Toward Bethlehem, Joan Didion captured the atmosphere of emptiness and looming danger in the late 1960s: 

The center was not holding. It was a country of bankruptcy notices and public-auction announcements and commonplace reports of casual killings and misplaced children and abandoned homes and vandals who misplaced even the four-letter words they scrawled. It was a country in which families routinely disappeared, trailing bad checks and repossession papers. Adolescents drifted from city to torn city, sloughing off both the past and the future as snakes shed their skins, children who were never taught and would never now learn the games that had held the society together. People were missing. Children were missing. Parents were missing. Those left behind filed desultory missing persons reports, then moved on themselves.

And then there is the simple beauty of the book. The turquoise color and minimal typography in Stymie are aesthetically incredible. Nine Swimming Pools and a Broken Glass is the best argument that the pages do not have nothing on them, that negative space is bank. There's a whole lot of emptiness there.

images via Elisabeth Tonnard

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.

The Meaning of a Second

Like most of you, I have a closet of plastic shoeboxes filled with printed photos. Last week began scanning many of them. One of them is the image above of my grandmother, mother, aunt, and me sitting on the steps with dappled light. It's not particularly well composed, but it feels like summer. It reminded me of the scene in Blade Runner, when Harrison Ford looks through his own family photos. For a second, the light dappling on the subject of the photo he holds begins to move.

That scene has its roots in Chris Marker's La Jettée. La Jetée is the story later remade into 12 Monkeys. It was created with only still images, no motion. But there is one moment in the film when, for a brief second, one of the characters opens her eyes. Then the film continues with the series of still images.

A similar concept is used in Michelangelo Antonioni's Blow-Up. A series of black and white photographs display the sequence of events of a murder. There is no motion, but the sound of the trees is added to strengthen the narrative. The effect in all of these is an increased sense of connection for the viewer.

I may be simple, but it's those quiet moves that I like in a film. I'm okay with blowing up spaceships too, but I think Guardians of the Galaxy would have been improved with a sequence of still images and the sound of trees.

sequence begins at 1:00

Blade Runner

Blow Up, sequence begins at 1:15

In Time

One of my favorite films is Chris Marker's La Jetee from 1962. If you've seen 12 Monkeys, you know the plot, minus Brad Pitt's crazy person. If not, here's the gist of it: A boy is at the airport in Paris and witnesses a man being shot. Later, this same man is sent back in time after the 3rd World War. He meets a woman and falls in love with her. She sees him as a spirit. He wants to stay in the past, but this isn't allowed. He goes back and is shot at the Paris airport by a man from the future. He is the same man he saw as a boy.

Okay, on paper this sounds very sci-fi action packed, with car chases and explosions. But the 26 minute Marker film is poetic. The entire film is made with narration and black and white still photographs. There is one moment of live action that lasts for a couple of seconds as the woman in the film opens her eyes. The images individually are genius. Paired with the standard French film of the 1960s existential questions, they are dreamlike. The book version designed by Bruce Mau reproduces the images with the script.

I'm not using the French version here because I'm tres chic and continental. The film loses something when it's redone in English. I have no problem with 12 Monkeys which is based on this. La Jetee, however, strips away all excess, is simple, and concise. I know it could be a stretch if you're hoping for Terminator-esque action sequences, but think of it more like an exhibition of photographs in a quiet dream.

La Jetee, the book