February 25th, 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
September 12th, 2012
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
April 19th, 2012
There is a fleeting scene about 8 minutes into Wim Wenders’ heartbreaking but life-affirming film Paris, Texas that has stayed with me ever since I first saw it twenty odd years ago. The scene is of Walt Henderson (Dean Stockwell) parked up at a gas station, checking his map which is propped up on the hood of his car while on the way to pick up his wayward brother Travis (Harry Dean Stanton) deep in the Texas scrubs. I had yet to experience the great American open road even though I was living in Los Angeles at the time, but this one glorious shot encapsulated what I had always imagined a typical Stateside road trip to look, and more importantly, feel like.
The first quarter of Paris, Texas is essentially a road movie which shows just how taken Wenders was, as so many of us are, by a generic roadside Americana that includes fabulously lit-up gas stations, convenience stores and diners bathed in multicolored neon that often transforms them into alluring dreamscapes. The unique ability of a film maker is of course to elevate these ‘non-places’ even more by the use of ambient sound, cinematography and action – something that Wenders has done so well throughout his career. As both a photographer and film maker, Wenders appreciates the power of the still image which may explain why many of his films use an idle camera that allows scenes to unfold within the space of a carefully composed frame. This lingering, elegiacal method fits perfectly with both the mood of Paris, Texas and the measured pace of Travis’ character as he makes slow but steady progress towards his personal redemption – and scenes such as Walt’s gas station pit stop help to establish this tone early on.
I’ve been lucky enough to venture out on a few American road trips since first watching the film in the late 1980s so now have my own experiences to compare to those onscreen, and while I’ve thoroughly enjoyed each journey none have quite lived up to the dreamy promise of Paris, Texas. Understandable I guess as reality very rarely lives up to a fictional account, especially one created by a film maker like Wim Wenders so versed in transforming the everyday into the extraordinary.
In his foreword to the book ‘On Location: Cities of the World in Film‘ Wenders describes this evocative nature of landscape:
‘A street, or a house front, or a mountain, or a bridge, or a river, or whatever, is not just “background”. Each also has a history, a “personality”, an identity that deserves to be taken seriously.’
He reinforces this idea by putting forth the example of how the Aboriginal people of Australia see every landscape formation as embodying some figure from a mythical past – every rock, tree or hill carrying a story that is related to their ‘dreamtime’. I can fully relate to this and remember a time in my own childhood when spaces, landscapes and objects had this kind of resonance, either in how I co-opted them into my own imagined play-space or seeing what they could reveal about my own fears and dreams i.e. that house is haunted or that skyscraper is literally scraping the sky.
These ideas and beliefs must inform the way in which Wenders makes his films and no doubt are one of the reasons why his films–Paris, Texas in particular–have made such an impression on me, essentially because I share the same beliefs. So when I see Walt sipping his coffee beside an ice dispensing machine as the setting sun ignites the sky into a thousand shades of orange, I don’t simply see what is there but what is ‘dreamed’, both by the the film maker and by my own imagination.
Categories: Architecture Design Film Photography