Gabriel Solomons

Journal

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February 25th, 2014

Project updates February 2014

Well as is usually the case with websites, time flies and the lack of updates to it adds to a sense of neglect.

Rather than a lack of activity to report, which could account for the dearth of posts since March of last year, 2013 was pretty packed with various projects, trips and speaking engagements balanced alongside my ongoing lecturing duties at UWE.

The first six volumes of the Fan Phenomena series hit shops worldwide last September and seem to have reached a responsive audience as all six titles went into a second printing just 2 months later. I’m hoping for the same positive reaction to the next set of titles which are due out April to June this year. Titles include The Big Lebowski, Hunger Games, Audrey Hepburn, Supernatural, Sherlock Holmes and Marilyn Monroe. It will be interesting to see whether ‘character’ fan studies of Hepburn and Monroe are received in the same way as tv series or movies as these have a unique fan following. I do believe though that movie stars – when they become icons – can engender a fan following equally as ardent as that for say Star Wars or Doctor Who, primarily because they convey a mythical or archetypal quality which is at the root of much fan devotion.

 

The World Film Locations series continues apace with 12 new volumes being published in the last year. A few of the more popular cities have finally made an appearance, including San Francisco and Barcelona but it’s been good to see such a positive response to some more ‘off kilter’ locations such as Sao Paulo, Prague and Liverpool – all great movie cities in their own right with great cinematic traditions, but not necessarily the first places that spring to mind for ‘cine-tourists’ to visit. I took on editing duties for the book on Rome which has been alot of fun, affording me the chance to watch loads of classic Italian Neo-realist films that I’d been meaning to catch up on but never seemed to have the time. The series is drawing to a close as we approach our milestone 40 published volumes, but I am hoping that we can find some way of extending it in some manner as there are still so many locations to explore, and which people seem keen to write about.

 

Work is being completed on a book about street fashion in Havana for Intellect’s ‘Street Style’ series and I was so grateful for the opportunity to spend a week out in Cuba with my very good photographer friend Martin Tompkins, documenting the fascinating (and highly fashionable) people of Havana. The book will show just how diverse and ecclectic the fashion tastes of modern Cubans are at a time of real change for a nation that has made the most of very little over the last 50 odd years. I can honestly say that Cubans are some of the most generous, intelligent, honorable and diligent people I’ve ever met – with a grass-roots determination for facing each day with a smile and an industrious spirit that really was beautiful to be a part of. I finally got to meet Connor Gory, the main author of the book and a key collaborator for crafting an informed and engaging narrative to accompany Martin’s photographs. A US transplant to Havana, she has her fingers in more pies than I could count – running the first English bookshop in Havana, creator of the city app havana-good-time and generally buzzing around the city like one-woman creative queen-bee. her energy and enthusiasm will no doubt help to bring the book to life in a way no-one else could.

 

Categories: Design Film Photography Uncategorized

March 5th, 2013

Project updates, March 2013

It’s been a busy few months since the start of the year with four new World Film Location books hitting the shelves at once; Vancouver, Marseilles, Chicago and Venice. It’s a joy as ever to work on these books as each editor puts heart and soul into delivering a well researched, well written and entertaining manuscript for me to beautify. I can’t quite believe that we’ve now produced 22 titles in less than two years. The accumulation of content and the fantastic feedback I’ve received about the series as whole is both gratifying and encouraging.

The series has recently come to the attention of the V&A in London who invited me to talk about Los Angeles and film to coincide with their Hollywood Costume exhibition which ran from October last year until January 2013. My lecture accompanied others by Prof Clive Webb who spoke about LA as a city of angels and demons and Prof. Greg Votolato who’s lecture title was ‘the Architecture of Autopia’. The talks are part of the V&A’s Style Cities series. It was a real honour to speak at such a prestigious venue and, following a talk given last weekend about Venice onscreen, I’ve been asked back to talk about Berlin in June and New Orleans in September, both of which are cities that we’ve produced books for. The lectures are great fun and it’s been a real treat to meet so many knowledgeable people from such a diverse range of academic backgrounds.

Covers for the Fan Phenomena series are now done, so marketing can begin in earnest for the run-up to publication of all six in September. It’s been a long, hard slog getting this new series up and running but I’m so pleased with the content for each – again, the editors have been fantastic and have gathered together so many important and influential people involved with each one of these treasured fan subjects. I’m really looking forward to getting some marketing weight behind these now to raise awareness at conferences, on blogs, websites and through the press.

The covers will have a die-cut roundel that reveals the main iconic image through the hole. Colour matching the thick cover and text pages will be tricky but I’m hoping the overall effect will help the books stand out from the other shelf-fillers. The icons chosen and created had to be recognizable enough while leaving room for a touch of creativity, although there wasn’t much that needed doing to the Batman logo or Doctor Who Tardis. Six further books have now been commissioned for Spring 2014, so rejoice all fans of Sherlock Holmes, Audrey Hepburn, The Hunger Games, Marilyn Monroe, Supernatural and The Big Lebwoski – your cries of ‘what about us??’ have been heeded.

Categories: Education Film

September 12th, 2012

Refashioning consumption

Designers love ‘things’. Mostly beautiful things that are carefully considered and fulfill their purpose effectively. We live in an age where the gadget and gizmo have replaced the doohicky and doodad. Prone to the allure of all that is shiny, fiddly, stylish and trendy – the ordinary and everyday is often overlooked as some designers become too enamored with their own ability to re-fashion and consumers are too gullible to notice when the wool is being pulled firmly over their eyes (I mean seriously, are we really so lazy as to need this?).

I was reminded of this the other day when my 5 year old used a clothes peg to seal up a cereal packet that had been mysteriously separated from its box (the box was later found having been transformed into a multi-storey car park). Children have an innate ability to put everyday objects to multiple uses – the relationship between form and function being revisited each time a new object is picked up and used. Spending any length of time with a group of kids demonstrates just how inventive young minds are, often more open to interpreting new ways of putting an object to use beyond its initial and intended purpose.

I’ll never forget the time I saw a group of Palestinian kids playing with a cardboard box that had been converted into a wheel-less go cart that kept them occupied for ages or the Somalian children that refashioned coke cans into animals to sell for food – the added dimension of poverty creating an impetus for creativity. There are books and websites aplenty about the D.I.Y kids craze – which seems a clever way of cashing in on something that comes naturally to most – but designers can learn a lot about resourcefulness and ingenuity by simply observing young’uns at play.

The prevailing economic model of today is to sell us more things, more often – frequently trying to sell us the same stuff with arguably unnecessary minor additions or modifications. The term ‘planned obsolescence’ is accurate inasmuch as tech companies realise that desirability for new things can be more powerful than functionality, hence many gadgets are built with a limited ‘shelf’ life – either becoming unfashionable or simply failing to work properly after a certain period of time.

A designers role is not simply to make new ‘stuff’ but to make us think again, often about things that are around us and which have a world of possibility waiting to be revealed. Ken Garland in his original 1964 First Things First manifesto (and echoed later in the revised 2000 version) argued about the need for values in design and I would suggest interpreting that phrase literally: the value ‘in’ (a) design. Advertising and marketing can suggest the precise value of a given object but as mentioned above, this value can be extended and reinterpreted in the hands of a creative mind. Some recent projects, such as Rob Walker and Joshua Glenn’s ‘Significant Objects’ experiment have taken this idea even further by demonstrating that the effect of narrative on any given object’s subjective value can be measured objectively.

Sure I understand the need for jobs and the whole economic argument to support productivity, but ingenuity and creativity need to be aligned equally as much with cultural, environmental and political changes in a world that faces growing resource shortages, increased consumption and overpopulation.

This is a big topic and mine are small words, but I do feel that a more concerted awareness of – and reconnection with – childhood creativity continues to provide inspiration for everyone, not just designers.

Categories: Design Education

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