April 13th, 2016
I can’t confess to being a huge Kafka Fan, having only read Metamorphosis 20 odd years ago and letting most of his other celebrated books such as The Trial and The Castle pass me by. But such is the iconic nature of the man – the term Kafka-esque is now part of common parlance – it often feels like I know far more about him than is actually the case.
What I did know about him was that he was deeply troubled and conflicted; a tortured soul who threw his lot into writing at a young age with an unflailing compulsion to let his thoughts spill onto the empty page, often as diatribes against a society increasingly governed by de-humanizing bureaucracy and mechanization. This and his own sense of isolation and feelings of inferiority – due in part to a fractious relationship with his overbearing father – would become consistent themes in his work, as would his relationship to Prague as both an intellectual and a Jew.
His was a light that burned fierce but brief as he died of Tuberculosis in 1924 at the age of 40, and his work – while lauded and celebrated today – was often reviled or simply ignored when originally published.
In an effort to find out more about the man, I visited the Kafka museum in Prague which sits beside the Vltava riverbank not too far from the Charles Bridge.
The exhibition designers have succeeded in creating a disorienting and slightly unnerving experience; using sound, lighting, visuals and props in imaginitive ways to tell, first, the story of Kafka’s formative years as a youngster growing up in Prague that later led him into literary circles and, second, more thematic content tied closely to his most famous novels.
I’m not sure if it was their intent, but the whole thing – set over two floors – feels like a journey through the man’s psyche – as if we’ve entered through a tiny hatch directly into Kafka’s head, quietly creeping around a dimly-lit ‘innerscape’ uncovering clues to Kafka’s enigmatic imagination.
The sound of bleating crows pierces the general stillness and a constant brooding drone can be heard as you navigate your way around the oddly shaped rooms with their skewed walls and low ceilings. A series of exhibition cases on the top floor contain book extracts, photographs and letters while more general information and intermittent quotes – in both Czech and English – are found dotted about on wall panels. Video screens show abstract short films more as atmospheric filler than to inform, but are effective in contextualizing Kafka’s thought process – particularly his love/hate relationship to Prague and how he saw the city as both an oppressive prison and the place that gifted him the many opportunities he had as a writer. As a direct reference to the time spent by Kafka in his administrative role for an insurance company, two rows of large black filing cabinets take up an entire room upstairs and a maze-like corridor on the ground floor. These black caskets strongly embody the stranglehold that this job would have on Kafka’s life and which forced him to relegate writing to his spare time.
An ominously lit wood paneled staircase leads down to the ground floor which includes – amongst other things – a model of the elaborate torture and execution device featured in the 1918 story In the Penal Colony, a selection of book covers and more lengthy analysis of the author’s key works.
Non Czech readers are at a definite disadvantage with this exhibition as so much of the original material is only partially translated. Kafka’s letters and diaries hold the key to so much of his pain, frustration and creative process – so not being able to read them in their entirety means that I was only getting glimpses of a picture rather than the picture as a whole. Space obviously limits the application of too much wordy captioning and signage, so it’s best for any English visitors to buy the exhibition catalogue for a fuller insight.
Categories: Architecture Design Film Photography
July 6th, 2015
It’s been a lively last few months, with new personal projects helping to break up the work routine. Photographer Martin Tompkins and I have worked together since the early days of Decode magazine back in the early 2000′s. Our first proper collaboration was for a book project we developed following a US road trip he and I took, along with my brother and two other friends, in 2003. The result was a limited edition hand-made book and accompanying exhibition at Bath’s Michael Tippett Centre called ‘Everything In-Between’. We collaborated again in 2013 on Havana Street Style, a book that documented Cuba’s burgeoning fashion conscious inhabitants in all their exuberant glory.
After a few beers recently, we got chatting about what to do next. A simple solution was agreed on to attempt a few quick outcomes that would test out new creative techniques. Nothing too precious and involving very little deliberation. The first project produced is a 12 page newspaper printed using Newspaper Club – an online service that allows you to produce limited numbers at a pretty affordable cost. Having never used the service before, there was an element of trial and error as we were using high density color for the photos taken. We were pretty pleased with the final result although the limitations of the process are pretty apparent as color quickly fades on newsprint.
All the photographs were taken during a one night walk around the city of Bath. We had it in our minds to show the city in an unfamiliar light – creating something ethereal and otherworldly. My response to the photographs was then to consider how typography and simple narrative could work alongside and help to compliment the imagery. All of the main typographic illustrations are bespoke forms inspired by the likes of Wassily Kandinski and Alexander Calder – formal yet modernist.
The words chosen for each illustration helped to then thread a simple narrative about ‘Night’ which in turn led to me choosing the Police’s song ‘Bring on the Night’ as both a title for the newspaper and the lyrics used as secondary running heads.
This first outcome has got us excited about doing some more experiments, so now all we need to do is find the time to devote to future projects. A tricky proposition as day-t0-day work needs to be prioritized but the will and enthusiasm are definitely there.
Creating these typographic forms also inspired me to have more of a play with words, so I had a crack at another approach using elongated crossbars, bowls and arms.
The full newspaper can be viewed at the Newspaper Club website:
Categories: Design Photography
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