You'll Never Walk Alone

“How many photos of the same ochre door in Liberty Square at Walt Disney World do I need?” Obviously, the answer is “never too many.” Organizing my iPhoto library this weekend, I found the same image photographed almost in the exact same location over the course of ten years. Clearly, each time I see this door, I think, “oh, that would make a nice photograph.” But clearly, my mind is a sieve.

The other surprising discovery was the large amount of Walt Disney World photos sans people. I’m not talking here about the lack of photos of family members. I mean no people, as in Life After People. This tells me something about my psychological makeup, but I can’t focus long enough to know what. I don’t know how I manage to take so many images at a place with millions of people that are devoid of human activity. And there are quite a few images that may have a couple of guests, but are of empty areas of concrete or sand.

I have a secret dream of retiring and creating a job at Disneyland helping people with their photos, and offering guidance to the guests looking lost. “Excuse me,” I would say, “Are you looking for Space Mountain?” Or, “May I help you with a photo tip? Bring your child forward, and let the castle be in the background.” I could wear a white shirt and black bow tie, and be the “Answer Man.” The trick would be to not direct people to shoot scenes without any human presence. “Now wait, ask your child to get out of the shot. Okay, there are no people in the frame, shoot it now.”

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/Lynda.com 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.

You're as Cold as Ice

I’ve been accused of being a shut-in. I like staying home, working in the yard, and eating gumbo. I’m not the type of person who would love to eat at fancy restaurants every night. However, for someone who supposedly is a shut-in, I’ve been to every continent on earth except Antarctica. This is one of my goals. I’ve seen documentaries about exploration cruises to Antarctica, but everyone looks like they are over 65. They all have orange coats, and I wonder if that’s coincidence, or a cruise gift.

Herbert Ponting was the photographer on Robert Falcon Scott’s Terra Nova Expedition in 1910. Illustration had been the art form used to document scientific expeditions for centuries. Ponting and Scott were determined to use photography as this resource. Ponting’s work, especially his film work, is the basis for every wildlife documentary we see now. After 14 months with the expedition, Ponting returned to England to catalogue the photographs. The Scott expedition, unfortunately, ended tragically with Scott and the other expedition members died from exposure, malnutrition, and exhaustion. While it may seem gruesome, he was buried inside the Ross Ice Shelf. His body will slowly move toward the sea, and eventually be set adrift inside an iceberg. This seems remarkably fitting for the polar explorer.

Ponting’s images were too sharp and clear for an Edwardian audience who preferred photographs soft and painterly. But this technique was a precursor to modernist photography and the sharp focus of Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, and Willard Van Dyke.

 

The Still Room of Quiet

I like to think of the 1950s and early 60s as some kind of wonderful “Pleasantville” experience. I imagine I’d wear my letterman’s jacket, do well in school, and come home in time for cookies, milk, and an early bedtime. It would all be so well ordered and clear. Recently, I found a box of slides at my grandparents’ house. I sent it out to be digitized and was rather alarmed when I looked at them on screen. They must have been taken around 1963. There is an image of President Kennedy’s funeral on the television. Some of the photos are at my great grandparents’ anniversary party. Others are at an unknown social event.

The upside is the television tray usage. I still have those TV trays. I use them at home, but didn’t realize they were appropriate for a party. Now I see how handy they can be. The downside is the subtext in every image of restrained frustration. Nobody looks comfortable. Everyone looks like they could use a stiff martini. I imagine the polite chatter, “Bob, how’s your golf game these days,” “Betty, I loved the coffee cake,” “Could you be more proud of Sherman, valedictorian?” But I’ve seen enough movies to know that everyone goes home drinks too much, cries, and screams. I hope. Otherwise there’s a whole lot o’ suppressed issues here.

This is a glimpse into the reality of the late 1950s. There was no room for differences or individuality. God forbid someone was African-American, Asian, gay, or just a little odd. Somehow this seems obvious on an episode of American Experience, but these slides made it real for me. It clarified why, several years later, my parents dropped out and moved to the Haight. And why there was so much tension between my parents and my grandparents, and I was somewhere in the middle.

 

Fake News: Blow Up

 

One of the pivotal scenes in Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow Up (1966) follows the protagonist, Thomas, as he enlarges a series of images. From these close-ups, he determines he accidentally photographed a murder. The viewer must decide if these photographs are evidence of a crime or merely abstract forms? The core of this question touches on our need to assign narrative to any shape, pattern, and imagery we see.

In 2014, people uploaded an average of 1.8 billion digital images every day. Today, in two minutes, people take more photographs than existed in total in 1866. In a culture flooded with this magnitude of imagery, the lines between truth and fiction are vague and confusing. Coupled with the ability to manipulate images digitally, the integrity of a photograph cannot be proven. The viewer must repeatedly determine on a daily basis if he or she believes the representation as actual or false. An uneasy and endlessly shifting sense of truth replaces the comfort of “seeing is believing.” Read More

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/Lynda.com 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.

Gateway Drug of Dessau

From Design Observer

I've heard the statement, "Modernism was a failed experiment," for thirty years. The expressive typography of the 1960s abandoned the tenets of simplicity and function. In the 1970s and 80s design shifted again to embrace historical references, illustrative imagery, and post-modern appropriation. Even the minimalism of the 2000s incorporated self-reference and irony. For these last thirty years, I felt like a character in Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 (1953), hiding my reverence for Bayer, Matter, and Moholy-Nagy. 

The typography and graphic design at the Bauhaus represent the most religious allegiance to Modernism. But, it is the photography at the Bauhaus that serves as a gateway drug. The imagery of happy art students is disarming and nostalgic now but revolutionized the way we see through the lens. Read More

 

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/Lynda.com 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.

Foresight

Last week, I filmed my latest course for Lynda.com/Linked In, Graphic Design History: The Bauhaus. I discuss all aspects at the Bauhaus from the modernist philosophy to Walter Gropius and Johannes Itten’s personal differences. But, while working on it, I kept returning to the images of life at the Bauhaus. The students and masters (“professors” in Bauhaus talk) working, eating in the canteen, sleeping on tables, and just hanging out. They all look so carefree and hopeful. They have the same vibrant and enthusiastic energy I see in design students today working, eating in the cafeteria, sleeping on tables, and hanging out.

But, we know what was to come. By 1933, the Bauhaus was closed. Many of its students and masters fled Germany to escape persecution as Jews, artists, intellectuals, homosexuals, and radical thinkers. Some were trapped and died either in the camps or as enlisted German soldiers. Others, like Marianne Brandt ended up on the wrong side after World War II, in East Germany under a Soviet-controlled government. Fortunately, some immigrated to the United States like Marguerite Wildenhain, Herbert Bayer, Josef Albers, and Mies van der Rose, bringing Bauhaus modernism to run through the American filter.

It is the nature of photography to capture a moment in time and create a personal relationship between the viewer and subject. Looking at a photograph has that small sense of voyeurism as if we are seeing the details too closely. 

The images of life at the Bauhaus are especially haunting. It is not possible to separate what we know when we see Bauhaus students enjoying a sunny afternoon on the balcony. We have the terrible truth of knowing their future. Perhaps it is difficult to look at these images without the sense of tragedy because they remind us too much of today. We question, “will someone in the future see similar photographs of today and think the same?”

These people believed in a future of good design for happy people living in peace. The photographs speak of the unexpected, sudden change, and fleeting small moments in life. 

 

 

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/Lynda.com 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.

Random Images with No Reason

You need to be careful what you wish for. Last year, I thought, "Gee, I haven't written a book in awhile. That would be fun." Within a week, two editors called me and asked me to write a book. I wrote the proposals and designed some spreads and the projects went off to publishing world. After a couple of months after not hearing anything back, I figured they were gone. Last month they both came back with the thumbs up. 

So now, in addition to my next LinkedIn/Lynda.com course, I'm working on two books. They all require examples of design, art, architecture, and products. I spend more time than I should researching imagery and looking for examples. 

Along the way, I find the most wonderful images that are entirely not relevant to the courses or books. I collect them and add them to the photo library and admire them. These, then, are some of my recent finds that have absolutely no reason to be.

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/Lynda.com 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.

Time after Time

Marianne Brandt, student at the Bauhaus, 1931

When someone asks me, "With all the different technologies, which one is the most important for a designer to learn?" If I were clever I'd answer, "flash." But I'm too honest and, of course, explain that good concepts and smart thinking will always be more important than the newest tools. Every generation believes they are the hippest chosen people of all time. The old people are clueless and totally square. It's good this happens, otherwise, culture would stop evolving and we'd be trapped in 1892.


Students and Professors at the Bauhaus, 1920s and 1930s

Images of students at the Bauhaus in the 1920s and 30s show super groovy people, strange art people, and tortured hairstyles. The same is true for Black Mountain College in the 1930s. Cool design students talking about design and hanging out. When I was at CalArts, we were certain we were so much cooler than anyone over thirty. We took artsy Polaroids and did live drawing from new wave models. Today, at ArtCenter, I can see myself through the eyes of my students, a square dude with odd plaid shirts and khakis. This may be true, but DO NOT mistake them for Dockers. They're Brooks Brothers and J. Crew., which is probably just as un-hip.


Students at Black Mountain College, 1930s and 1940s

Ray Johnson, Black Mountain College, 1945


CalArts, 1980s


ArtCenter, 2010s

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/Lynda.com 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.

Simple Language

Gene Thornton, by Robert Giard, 1984

I have an image of a distant cousin, Gene Thornton, that I love. I learned only recently that one of my favorite photographers, Robert Giard, made it. Giard's portraits are simple, unadorned, never tricky or clever, and subtle. What I love is that they are images of people as they simply are. The portraits are honest and humble. They are not images representing the subject as an icon or participant in a clever pun. The negative space, scale, and subtlety of light and shadow is flawless. His landscape images have the same humble and poetic tone.

Giard began this approach in 1985, after seeing a performance of Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart, about the AIDS crisis in the 1980s. The play influenced Giard to began documenting significant gay and lesbian literary figures in this straightforward and authentic way. 

A selection of these portraits was published by MIT Press in 1997 as the anthology Particular Voices: Portraits of Gay and Lesbian Writers. In 1998, The New York Public Library mounted an exhibition of his work with the same name.

I feel sorry for my friend, Blake Little, who has photographed me for twenty years. Each time we shoot a new headshot, I bring along my image of Gene Thornton, and ask for the same thing. This is, no doubt, like when a client sits down and hands you a Saul Bass, and says, "Can you match this?"

Above: Left to Right, Top to Bottom

Bernard Cooper 1989: Donna Kate Rushin 1987
Charles Henri Ford with Indra. The Dakota, NYC: Eric Bentley, 1986
Irena Klepfisz, 1987: Charles Henri Ford
Allen Ginsburg: Brad Gooch 1986
Chris Soller: David Leavitt 1987
Dennis Cooper: Edmund White 1985
Essex Hemphill 1991: Marianna Romo Carmona and June Chan
Giard Bechdel: Sapphire, 1988

Bare Hedge 1981

Teeter Totter House

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/Lynda.com 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.

Grain

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/Lynda.com 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 Images of the Mad

Or when bad photos happen to good people

As of today, I have 1,076 images In my iPhoto Disneyland album. That may seem excessive to some, and not enough for others. They're a mix of photos I took, images I found, and scans of artifacts. I had a friend who worked at the park and had a great collection of obese people there, but mine are mostly typography. On the other hand I have fewer than 30 print photographs of Disneyland from the time I was a kid to the 1990s. Strangely, these mostly suck

You'd think that the cost of film and prints coupled with a degree from art school later, would lead to well considered and composed images. No. I seem to either have been on crack or in the midst of a seizure when I took these. They're of odd items such as the roof of the River Belle Terrace, or they're crooked and blurry. There is no sense of a focal point or rule of thirds.

Today I get furious when I see guests photograph their subject thirty feet away: "Hold on until everyone passes. I want all of you in the frame with the castle." BRING YOUR SUBJECT TO THE FOREGROUND! We don't need to see their shoes. After finding my careless and oddly cropped images, I can no longer throw that stone.

Of course, I couldn't help myself, and decided to fix some of these. But I think I like the bad ones better.

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/Lynda.com 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

Frozen

Blake Little, Preservation

One of my favorite clients is Blake Little. I've known Blake for twenty years. He's the first call I make when I need a remarkable photographer for a project. Blake is also able to make me look halfway decent in photographs. The upside of this is that I look good in a headshot, the downside is that someone meets me in person and says, "oh, hmm."

A few years ago, Blake asked me to design his book, Dichotomy, followed by The Company of Men, and Manifest. I'd love to say they are incredibly challenging, but this is proof that it's hard to go wrong with great content.

Blake's most recent book, Preservation, is about to be released and there will be an exhibition of the work at the Kopeikin Gallery in February. Blake's work has an inherent sense of energy. Whether it's a piercing gaze, or coiled strength, or kinetic motion, the subjects share an intensity of power. The Preservation images have the same quality, but in this case, the energy and motion is frozen. The subjects appear to be unexpectedly trapped in amber. The result is a cross between a Rodin sculpture and frozen figures from Pompeii.

I thought I was being radically alternative to create an ultra-rigid grid and system for the typography as a counterpoint to the fluid imagery. But I have a feeling it's an instance of a designer getting caught up in the tiny details and saying, "But don't you see, the missing cross-bar on the 'A' changes the meaning entirely."

Shooting the Tube

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.

Left: Carleton Watkins, Right: Ansel Adams

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.

I'm Old Fashioned

Metropolitan Baseball Nine Team in 1882

I have a saying about students who refuse to listen to any criticism or advice, either from myself or other students, "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't beat it to death once it's there." Unfortunately, like many of my sayings, this is out of date. I asked Nathan in my office if the tires on his car, which are very thin, make it seem like riding in a horse-drawn buggy. Noreen suggested that few people spend time riding in a buggy, that I was again, out of touch.

I was pleased that many of you, and a nice article for Fast Company liked my Complaint poster for the Wolfsonian, or as I prefer to call it, Hate in Salmon Pink. If you look closely, you'll find several cameo appearances in here: Kim Novak in Vertigo, Audrey Hepburn, Cary Grant, Truman Capote, the flight attendant from 2001, even some of my trendy neighbors in Los Feliz, or as I now call it, "BBB: Beards, Bangs, and Beanies."  Here again, I was told my cultural references were out of date.

Recently, however, I found some wonderful images of baseball teams for my guest bathroom. Yes, wrong time frame.

University of Michigan, baseball team, 1888

University of Michigan, baseball team, 1886

The Accidental Totem

Slide 22  

Before people could take hundreds go photos a day without a care in the world, there was a time when every image counted. The prints and slides cost money. Each one, really. Consequently, people kept every print or slide, regardless of the quality. I recently converted a batch of family slides to a digital format. When I began to organize them, I found that my favorites were the odd photos that seemed to have no purpose. These were the accidents. Either the camera moved, or the subjects didn't cooperate, or they simply seem to be of odd things like a bush. But, they were costly, so nobody threw any out. And now, I find that I cannot put them in the trash either.

box-2-slide-38

 

box-2-slide-56 slide-026box-2-slide-21 box-2-slide-69 423-b 5b

Sweeter than Sweet

Conniff Up_Up_And_Away

I truly think I'm losing my mind. Yesterday, I stumbled across the Ray Conniff Singers. Of course, I have a few Ray Conniff albums. Who doesn't? But I never knew about the singers. First, the album covers are a symphony of blurry women. Each cover employees the lovely gauze filter that was popular for high school senior portraits when I was eighteen. I think it's time this style returns to fashion. I don't know why everyone is blurry. I understand watching Dynasty and the screen goes extremely soft when Joan Collins appears. The blurry effect is a good way to hide old age. Nobody would guess she isn't twenty-two. The Ray Conniff album women are young, so that doesn't apply. Perhaps they were embarrassed and requested a soft focus for recognition issues.

Second, the music. I thought I knew sweet and saccharine. I consider myself rather an aficionado of square and unhip, but this music transcends even my expertise. Their rendition of Up, Up, and Away is alarmingly nice and happy. It's truly sickening and could drive sane people to torture. It is, however, a wonderful tool with teenagers. If you have one, or two, play this in the car when driving them around. Insist on singing along if friends are there also. This is a sure fire way to help any teen step away from the dark side and become pleasant.

 

 

 

The Third Act

My first job was as a designer at The New York Public Library. Beside a major screw up when I handled a business card run for the executive team containing a misspelling, The New York Pubic Library, I had a wonderful time. In 1987, I designed the materials for an exhibition of Truman Capote artifacts. I asked the print and photograph division head for an image of Capote for the poster. He gave me a telephone number and suggested Dick might have a photo. Surprisingly, Richard Avedon answered the phone and asked me to come over to see a photo he took of Capote during the filming of In Cold Blood in Kansas.

I won’t go into Capote’s entire biography. In brief, Capote grew up in a chaotic environment, moving between relatives, an alcoholic mother, and stepfather. His first novel, Other Voices, Other Rooms was a critical success and bestseller in 1948. Over the next decade, he became one of America’s most celebrated authors.

Part of Capote’s success was his genius at self-promotion. He used his sexuality as a counterpoint to the accepted idea of macho masculinity in post-war America. His portraits are clearly gay, often seductive, and always flamboyant. He tackled subjects that challenged polite society. In his short story, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Holly Golightly is clearly a prostitute.

In 1966, Random House published Capote’s book In Cold Blood. The book is based on the 1959 murder of the Clutter family in rural Kansas. During the writing, Capote developed a close relationship with one of the killers, Perry Smith. After Smith’s execution, Capote changed. It was as though his childhood terrors caught up with him.

In the 1960s, Capote’s friends were New York society, upper class women who shopped and gossiped. His black and white ball in 1966 was the party of the decade. In 1975 Esquire magazine published excerpts from his unfinished novel, Answered Prayers. He based the short story, “La Côte Basque 1965,” on the secrets of his society friends. In turn, they rejected him. This led to years of alcoholism, drug use, and endless parties at Studio 54. Capote died in 1984 at 59.

What I find remarkable is the split between Capote’s life pre and post In Cold Blood. The ability to overcome a tragic childhood was lost. We are taught to expect stories of a hard childhood, incredible struggle, success, and a happy ending. In this instance, the narrative took a turn toward tragedy. It was as if his psyche was a sweater, and one thread began to unravel it.

For further reading: Capote: A Biography.

The View from Here

I gave a talk about the narrative design of Disneyland at the Cusp conference a couple of years ago. I covered the idea of a cinematic experience and viewer participation. The visual landscape of both Disneyland and Walt Disney World is carefully planned to create an experience like a film. For example, the tunnels on either side of the Main Street train station act like the darkening of a theater, then the guest passes onto Main Street and the “film” begins. But, the viewpoint is not straight down Main Street toward the castle. It’s to the right or left, then as the guest moves into the park, the view is revealed. The castle acts as a draw, or in Disney terms, a “weenie” and the guest is pulled toward the center of the park.

Each vista is planned to serve as a setting, information delivery vehicle, navigation device, and entertainment. At the same time, the overall sense of security and familiarity is created. Think of the experience this way: there are long shots of a Panavision nature, medium shots of singular buildings, close-ups of pedestrian level windows and doors, and detail shots of individual elements such as a birdcage on a porch or old apothecary bottles in a window.

While others are taking photos of their friends or family members in front of Sleeping Beauty Castle, I’m shooting the long shots and details. I’ve found shooting panoramas by standing in one spot and rotating 360 degrees, or moving down the street and taking a picture every twenty feet to work well. Of course it looks crazy, but so what?

As a side note, once again, bring your subject close and let the castle be a background. Unless you need to shoot their entire outfit with shoes, we don’t need to see their entire body. There is no need to be upset when people walk between you and the subject 50 feet away. If I see you do this I will purposely walk between you and the subject and stand there.

Walt Disney World Main Street east

Leaving My Behind in the Past

I’ve been thinking about the lyrics to the B-52s song, The Detour Thru Your Mind: I need to leave my past behind. I need to leave my behind in the past. Whenever I work on my historical self-portrait project, I think, “I have to stop this. It’s disturbing and points to insanity. I need to leave the past and move into the 21st century.” Then, I find a new technique to simulate photo grain in 1916 and start again. Some of you may be saying, “This is the most vain thing I have ever seen. How could someone be so self-absorbed?” Others might say, “Sad. Very sad when I mind is lost.”

You know how trans-gendered people feel like they are in the wrong body? I feel like I’m in the wrong time. Working on these images is a small attempt to place myself back in the right temporal place. Of course, I only use family photos. Otherwise it wouldn’t make any sense. I don’t want a different family. And, frankly, it looks fun to spend life summering in Newport and doing the European tour for four months each year, or running for president, or starting an artist colony in Big Sur during the depression. So, for your enjoyment, like watching a reality show when someone slowly goes mad, here is the latest batch.