Monday, 22 August 2011

A holiday well spent

After the seemingly unending blah in the last post, I thought I should show you some of my typographic work with a little less backstory. The plane journey and my first few days in Cyprus were spent doing some hand-drawn typographic work. I started on the plane with a few diagonal letters in a didone font (high contrast, a class created by Didot and Bodoni), a result of boredom and being left alone with a Telegraph Magazine for too long in the flight. Doubtless to say I got a few funny looks, but the results were some of the best hand-drawn characters I've made. Serif fonts are much easier than sans-serifs to draw out because the serifs help to balance the letters out and the high contrast between thin and thick strokes is easy to represent with a single pen line as the former.

The first pages, which have no good characters other than a flimsy M and W.  I was totally ignorant of the actual form of the N, but we'll see that recitfied later. Also note the wrong emphases on the V and U. Early days.

The next page, and I ventured into unlikely territory for me -  lowercase. After a few tries at the holy grail of calligraphy - the g - I realised I was doing it the wrong way round and had a decent try. The j and y also came out nicely, with the strokes smoothly drawn. The older form of the j with the flat tail looks much better than the one with the ball terminal, to me.

The third page, with some successful Ws and an alright f - the ball terminal just needs to be more tucked in under the ascender. Everything else is poor.
After a little more experimentation, here are some of the 'final' results that I put in my Moleskine:

Some of the basic letters - unfortunately I achieved a better W in the first drawings, but ah well.

Some lowercase letters, using the diagonal top strokes on the bodies of the n, k and i which I was pleased with. The curve on the n is kinda awkward, though.

After some more drawings of Ns and squinting at the Telegraph Magazine (which uses a didone font in its titles) I realised that the bottom-right corner of the letter was a point, not seriffed as previously thought. That realised, I created a decent N and an M to go with it.
So those were my typographic doodles last week. I also did some drawings of cubes and shapes in isometric, which didn't turn out too well:

But which happily led to the geometric shapes in 'Resort',  which turned out very well (or should do when the film is developed). Here's one of many pages of planning I did for the project; this one mainly covers the shapes I made for the photoset and the nets involved. For the record, the three-quarter sphere drawn at the bottom didn't work, but was a fun idea.


And that's all I have to show you for now. Have a great end-of-summer and I'll blog again soon!

~John

Sunday, 21 August 2011

The expected observer

Good evening, readers. First I must apologise for the lack of posts this month - as I do almost constantly on this blog - but at least this time there's a reason: it's August! I was in Cyprus last week, trying desperately to get an internet connection at the oddly existent Costa's in the resort, but I didn't prevail (not that I had anything to blog about, anyway). I arrived home in the early hours of this morning and I think it's now time for a quick post to prove I'm not dead. To you, of course - I need no convincing on that matter, thankyouverymuch.

When I got home this morning, the huge pile of mail that had somehow built up in the course of a week was perused, and in its depths was a roll of developed film back from the mysterious people at Bonusprint (whose developing service is no longer on their website so I'm now sending my films out into the blue). This roll contained shots from a evening photoshoot I did with my friend Olly in London way back at the start of the summer, and also a few photos from another London shoot with my friend Olivia. The latter is a long story - it was going to be a Flickr meetup but by the time we got there it had been cancelled, so we decided to do a shoot anyway. So far the results have been great, but I'll leave those photos for another post.

So today, here are some photos from the first London shoot...


I began the shoot with Olly just before it got dark, and with absolutely no plans or ideas. It's an exciting feeling, let me tell you, to not know where you're going with your photography and yet go out for a shoot and just take whatever comes to you. There's no assurance it's going to work, but I was really relying on my creativity to find something new and take me that one step further. Yes, that post is still very relevant, sorry to bring it up again. Olly kept asking me what I wanted to take photos of, where I wanted to go, what I was looking for... and I knew none of the answers to those questions. I just told him I'd go wherever he was heading and hopefully my new idea of photography would form in the course of the evening.

Sadly, it didn't, but I made a start...

Everywhere I went, my as-ever indecpherable curiosity was piqued by the abundance of scaffolding and building works being done in London. Soon enough, an idea started to form about showing London hiding behind all the scaffolding; or perhaps tourists coming to London to see the landmarks and the buildings but they find both are obscured by scaffolding. I called it 'So much for London'. Here are three photos I took when I decided to give that idea a try:




And they're alright. Yeah. The idea's alright, too. It's got something more than aesthetic photography, but even at the time I knew it was not enough. I knew I was trying, but not succeding in pushing the boundaries I so wanted to push. It was more of what I'd deem a GCSE art concept; something that someone's put work into, but it's no professional artwork. Yet, luckily for this idea, the photos aren't purely aesthetic pieces with a meaning sellotaped on for the A* - the idea is the core of the photo, not an accessory.

Later that evening I had the idea of calling the project 'London Behind Bars' and instantly regretted it. Witty the title may be, but it's also unbearably clichéd. That should give you some idea of my attitude to my photography that evening.


Finally, here's a nice neat photo of some 70s architecture. Nothing special, and certainly not art, but a sign there is still a part of my mind which likes a nice bit of composition.

§

So where is this post leading? Am I still without a clue, lost for a description of the art medium I work with so much? Still searching?

Well, during my week in Cyprus, when I should have been sitting around by the pool and doing sod all, I found myself on the penultimate day bent double over a table, hurriedly making cubes and triangular prisms out of paper. If you don't already know I'm insane, let this be your moment of realisation, because I decided to forget the pool, the beaches, and the rest of the holiday in favour of making some art. Some photography art.

The idea was to bring some attention to the repression of natural materials and nature itself in the construction of the resort I was staying in. Though it may sound conservationalist, don't be fooled into thinking I was making it for the sake of the poor plants (sob sob). The project was borne of an unusual interest (or, for me, just an interest) in geometric shapes, specifically cubes, earlier in the week; combined with my usual dislike of the resort I was staying in. The photoset, called 'Resort', is less about the plants being the rightful owners of the land &c &c, but more about man's unstobbale need to inflict straight edges on the world. Cubes and other such basic shapes are found nowhere in nature, and are a purely human idea - restricted to the perfection achievable only in the human mind.

I'll leave the rest of the details of 'Resort' to when the photos are developed, but I do want to show you something important regarding what photography is to me. I was writing up the many ideas and meanings of 'Resort' that were fighting in my head for most of the week (no matter how school-ish write-ups are, this one was infinitely helpful to the final photos), and was suddenly struck with an understanding of what 'Resort' was, photography-wise:
The medium [of photography in 'Resort'] is beyond simple photography and in fact the project is more modern art than conventional photography, sensing that with so many years of good photography consisting of stretching the truth visually, photography has become an expected observer and in fact it is the raw contents of the photo that need to be the focus, not the manipulation of the medium itself.
And then it all made sense. Photography, for now at least, makes sense to me. I realised the London shoot was unsuccessful because stepping up to the next stage meant abandoning purely observational photography - there had to be some form of setup to achieve the meaning and effectiveness of the art. The other realisation was that of the 'expected observer', which, on understanding it, calmed my problems. The attitudes are threefold:

  1. Photography has become commonplace. People don't look at a photo and think about the technicalities of its medium; it is now totally normal to have such an accurate image of reality, as opposed to the paintings beforehand.
  2. Therefore we must strive to no longer focus on the medium and format of photography itself - that is a given, just as the brushstrokes and canvas of a painting are a given. The contents of the photo must be its core, rather than the manipulation of the medium (ie. Photoshop).
  3. The benefit of photography as a medium over paintings nowadays is that they are expected to be true and to show real things how they really are (if you wish to create something visually abstract then you can do it in a painting or other format). Thus, we can mould the emotions of the viewer by this preconviction that the photo will portray real occurrences. One interpretation of this is in favour of observational work, focusing on what really exists rather than the manipulation of photos of what exists. The other interpretation is what 'Resort' is - using photography to capture real-life 'sculptures' and occurrences that have been set up to mean something artistically. The user will therefore be more inclined to see the artwork as realistic and true (which may throw up a useful contrast with the surreality of the 'sculpture' itself). Photography's part in such a project is merely to capture it for the sake of the end viewer.
And with that, everything made sense to me. I was - and still am - satisfied with photography once again. How long this satisfaction will last, I don't know, but for now those uncertainties are silenced. Stay tuned for more posts, including one showing my short film 'Culture War' and another, eventually, showing 'Resort'.

~John

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Three snippets of graphic design

Hello, it's August. I'm ill, but up to this point productive so I thought I should use my plenteous time to make a blog post. My current musical obsession (other than the ever-present Arcade Fire) is Fleet Foxes' second album 'Helplessness Blues', so for the very few who give a shit, I'll inform you that it's playing while I write this post. Below are three little bits of graphic design that I've made in the past few weeks, and their justification and backgrounds.

1. LØRSKEAIR BOARDING PASS After a few weeks of no progress on Suspension - not even further developments on the first beta-only scene - I returned to the graphic design of its location, the citystate of Lørske, and designed a national airline. LørskeAir is based on a simple blue, grey and white colour scheme with a strong emphasis on symbols and simplistic graphics (you know me) because 'who says flying has to be a hassle?'. Above is the back of the boarding pass (airplane ticket), with three little pictures of how to use said ticket. The first shows an Oyster card-esque scan-for-entry idea, which is a progression on current plane tickets (because Suspension is set in the future), the second warns you to keep your ticket close at hand, and the third is your usual luggage pass thing.

Obviously you can see that my holiday is coming up, fast, so my attention turned to airport and airline design, and I really love the systems of it. I remember a designer said in an interview in the film Helvetica said his dream was to design the signage for an airport, and I really understand why. The film also showed me David Carson's frustratingly messy and unorganised design, but my anti-postmodernism rant is best saved for another post.

As for LørskeAir's placement in the game, I haven't decided on it yet. Obviously it would have a constant presence, with posters (see below) on walls and people with boarding passes in their houses/wallets, which you can find. I'm also thinking along the lines of a mysterious flight that went missing, and clues pointing to its whereabouts and details, but that's yet another subplot that I shouldn't indulge in. Still, it would be good to get the branding in there somewhere, considering there's no possibility of the player coming across Lørske City Airport (because, just, no).


2. LØRSKEAIR POSTER Here is a poster for the previously mentioned LørskeAir, continuing the branding of the airline and also incorporating the logo I designed - the circular thing in the bottom-left. You can't see it much here but I quite like it. It's intended to show an arrow going through a circle, like a plane's route taking off, but the two elements also look like the letter Ø in the word 'Lørske', so a double-hit of relevance.

For those of you who give even a fraction of a shit about typography, the typeface used in Johnston ITC, which many Londoners may recognise as being the branding face of Transport for London (TfL), so used on trains, tubes and buses around the capital. It has those distinctive diamond-shaped dots on the i and j, and diamond-shaped full stop and comma. I'd usually leave it alone as being too recognisable, but I recently saw it used in Coca Cola's UK Olympic Flame campaign and thought I'd give it a go. And I like it, actually. It has a little more purpose to it than Gill Sans, plus lacks its awful extra-bold weight.


3. CULTURE WAR TITLES I've been working mainly on my latest film, Culture War, this past week. It's coming together and I only need to shoot for another evening then I can get on with editing it. It's a music video to Arcade Fire's song of the same name, so for the titles I wanted to honour the album in my own way. The above picture shows hand-drawn typography by yours truly, similar to the style of 'The Suburbs' album cover, but not identical. I wanted to give the titles my own twist, make them a nod to the album's design but also keep them independent from it. The final titles will not be at an angle as you see above - for me that's a little too close to the original.

Stay tuned for that film sometime in the next week - I'll film the final few bits in a few days' time (need a break after I overworked myself on it yesterday), then take a couple of days to edit, then I'll reveal it to you. I'm quite excited about it, as long as the footage is decent.

Until then,
~John