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Book jacket proposal (front and back)—work in progress

Graphic Interruptions is reaching some sort of climax as I prepare the final artwork for a one off self-published book to go to print this week. As I near the end of this stage of the project, (i.e., an assessment hand-in for a 40 credit module in mid-May for my masters degree), for no reason what-so-ever other than a little procrastination, I’ve worked out some (sketchy) stats for the project to date:

—55 photographs in book, edited down from 224
—7 short psychogeographic writing trials
—1 long psychogeographic essay with umpteen drafts
—1 introduction essay of over 1300 words, 6 drafts and copious notebook ramblings
—3 book print trials
—7+ layout trials
—untold changes in direction
—7 months reading/researching, photographing, questioning, reflecting
—6 blog posts in duration of MA, (+1 associated)
—One 3 year old blog post, (genesis of project concept)
—3 presentations
—5 critiques
—2 ring binders
—63 plastic wallets
—2 sets of inkjet cartridges
—2 maps
—One 19x25cm Moleskine softcover notebook
—One 14x21cm Leuchtturm1917 softcover notebook
—3 or 4 Lamy rollerball cartridges
—untold visits to the library
—uncountable Google searches, RSS feed follow-ups and Evernote bookmarks
—1 part-related meeting with a publisher
—1 venn diagram

 

 

NYer

For the UCS Graphic Design trip to New York at the beginning of March, Russell set students and staff the challenge of producing a New Yorker cover that responded to their time in the city.

I had made no plans what I was going to do for the project before I went but I started drawing my walks around Manhattan from memory every evening. I didn’t attempt to draw these to any sort of scale, nor did I refer to any map. In creating these drawings it quickly became obvious that these would work for my New Yorker cover submission.

The maps represent all walks I did over the five days, typically two a day; one during the day and the other in the evening. The evening walks tended not to stray very far from the hotel we were staying in on 7th Avenue opposite Madison Square Gardens, (the red dot). The top of the map stops at the Guggenheim and the bottom in SoHo. I resisted including the boat trip around the island I took, as it wasn’t a walk, although there are a couple of bus journeys represented as these were routes to, or back from, walks I did.

Once back home I redrew the separate maps into a single record, and then scanned it and redrew it digitally in Illustrator. I did trial using a different colour for each day, but decided that a singular approach worked better and unified the whole piece. I tried tearing the graph paper to the shape of the island, but felt this gave a scale reference and detracted the emphasis from the memory-map.

This piece now forms part of an exhibition alongside student work at UCS, check out the Graphic Design course Facebook page for photos of other submissions here and here.

Scroll down here to view a couple of posts I’ve written about the trip with accompanying photos, or check out my Flickr site.

 

A selection of New York City Graphic Interruptions, as recorded 01–05 March 2016 on wanderings around the city.

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It has been an interesting week for me as after I published a post here, (Civic Pride), I was contacted by a local newspaper who wanted to run a feature on it. As a result I have seen unfold in-front of me reactions to my writing that have prompted some reflections on my part about the nature of writing, and how an audience responds to the written word.

The piece itself was a break from how I usually write, and a test for a personal project I am doing for my Masters degree. As I explained in an introduction to the piece I was starting to move away from this experiment, but was getting trapped into endless revisions which threatened my overall project. In posting the work I was attempting to make it more concrete in order that I could move away from it. 

The piece was written for a specific context, and in relation to specific experiences of psychogeographic wandering and wonderings I had undertaken. The departure in my writing style manifests itself mainly as a personal one, with my text being much more autobiographical with a strong critical undertow. Added to this were anecdotal experiences and historical pointers, and I wove in memories of many conversations I have had with people over the years that had filtered into my own reading/interpretation of events. I was aiming for a more reflective, reflexive narration, as I attempted to author from a similar starting point as some of my favourite writers who flirt with psychogeography: Bill Drummond; Will Self; Stewart Home, possibly Jonathan Meades, amongst others. I am in no way claiming that what I wrote is similar to them, or even as good, (it isn’t); just that they were an inspiration to me as I consciously changed my approach to writing.

What has been most interesting about this experience is how the readers of the local newspaper article have interpreted, often negatively, the intention of what I wrote. This has lead me to various observations about writing; the context it is read in; what the reader brings to the work; and therefore what they add to or take away from it. Here’s some of my thoughts:

Context is everything
Readers of the newspaper article were invited the comment on what the newspaper had reported that I had written. This removed the reader from the original context of the work. But for those that bothered to follow the link provided to the original blogpost, rather than just read what the newspaper said, had a context imposed on them before they actually read the piece. This clouded their mind and prevented them reading the piece as it was intended to be read.

The audience brings their own agenda to the work
It is interesting how some of the comments on the newspaper website seem to focus in on certain aspects of the piece I wrote, (whether they read the blog here or only related their comments to what was in the newspaper), and ignored other aspects. Some comments completely mis-read what was written and responded by applying their own belief in what they thought had been written. In one case, someone quoted what they thought I had written, but placed a word in a sentence that wasn’t actually there in my writing. This bought a new, and very loaded context to the table which completely skewed the meaning. 

You can’t choose your audience
When something is published it is there for anyone to read. This blog is subtitled: ‘Writings on art, design and music—mostly’; and much of the audience I expect to read what I post are either from an arts background or have a strong interest in what I may write about. People who don’t are quite rightly free to read what is published and so form their own opinion, but there is a higher chance of a mis-reading of the context as a result.

Interpretation of terminology is fluid
Some terms can have negative connotations for some, even if they were intended to be read positively.

The audience doesn’t necessarily assimilate the entire work
Some comments focussed on a point mid-way through the piece that meant they only considered that singular aspect. If that aspect was contextualised with what was said at a much later stage, it would have indicated a progression of thought within the piece and not a static mindset. As a writer, artist, designer etc, you know your own work intimately and therefore tend to see it in the ‘whole’. The reader will not have the same relationship with the work as you and therefore won’t see consider it in its totality.

Sarcasm doesn’t work in writing
Sarcasm doesn’t come across well in the written word and what might sound witty when read off the page by the author is unlikely to sound witty in the mind of the reader.

Audiences aren’t necessarily interested in past work
Previous writing by an author are potentially not known by the reader, and they may not be interested in hunting them out. Therefore the audience doesn’t necessarily ‘get’ the direction of the author’s thoughts over a period of time, despite the fact that what they are currently reading is an extension of what the author has created before.

The audience doesn’t know you
If an audience is reading something with no prior knowledge of you as a person, or have preconceived ideas about your intentions, they are going to layer their own personalities onto what you have written. Therefore any comments they make often say more about them than they do about you. 

An audience is equally the audience of others who have commented
If a reader reads others’ comments this automatically clouds the context of your work further.

In writing this post I have attempted to avoid discussing the actual contexts of what I originally wrote about and focussed on the nature of how people perceive work made by a writer, (or photographer or artist or designer or dancer or…). This is not an attempt to counter some of the comments made on the newspaper website, (however personal and negative some of them may have been), nor to correct being mis-quoted by the journalist. Ultimately what I wanted to explore here is the concept of the death of the author, as raised by Barthes, in a very modern context. This modern context considers social media within the mix of what Barthes and others have previously theorised over. The ability to comment online has added to their theories an additional consideration, and raises the notion of ‘the commenter being the author’. In this questioning of the nature of an audience which also reads other’s comments on a text, and has the ability to comment themselves, it has to be accepted that the reader not only brings their context and meaning to any work, but also what others have written and the origin of the piece is even further distanced from the original context and intentions of the person who first wrote the work.  

Find below an essay on civic pride, parks and gentrification, with accompanying map. This essay was initially written as part of a psychogeographic element of my Graphic Interruptions project. 

Psychogeography has been an aspect of my Graphic Interruptions project for a while now. It is a tricky term and there are many ideas about what defines the practice. Purists stick closely by Debord’s drift techniques, while others are happy to stretch the term. I fit the latter camp, and a large inspiration for me has been the book Walking Inside Out: Contemporary British Psychogeography, edited by Tina Richardson. The many different approaches and responses to the subject are documented over 14 essays, and these gave me the courage to experiment with my own personal written response to my walking.

At this stage in my project I am not sure I will continue in this vain as I evaluate the effectiveness of such personal, auto-biographical writing and whether this really sits comfortably with my photography and project intentions. With no pun intended, I am currently at a cross-roads with where I go next. While I am enjoying writing such self-reflective narratives they are becoming more distanced from the critical graphic design discourse I was aiming for in the first place, (as displayed in blog posts I’ve written about Graphic Interruptions in previous posts).

To help move on this internal debate I have decided to post this short piece of writing with a view to drawing a line under such a style. However, I may revisit this under a different banner in the future.

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California, Ipswich—you couldn’t find somewhere less like the West Coast of America.

I’ve spent many years walking to work and exercising the dog along these streets. The journey to work, depending on the route I choose, can take anything from 15–25 minutes, often through a small but perfectly formed park. The local Coop can delay me when there’s cat food or bread to buy. I’ve often wondered about the criteria to work in that most ethical of supermarkets, and from my observations it appears to be the inability to move at anything other than a slow pace, which I quite like as it is representative of the life here. Recently I joked about an item I was buying and I was stared at blankly. (I read somewhere that Mark E Smith said his idea of hell was being stuck in a lift with ‘chatty man’—I fear ‘chatty man’ only slightly less than I fear becoming ‘chatty man’.)

One of the greatest things about Ipswich is its array of parks. The one closest to my home and that I cross on my way to work holds many memories, not least because it is where I first saw my future wife. She was giving a speech prior to an anti-racist demonstration I’d travelled from Colchester to support. Then, as an outsider, Ipswich felt like a hotbed of radicalism in comparison to that virtually all-white garrison town. That was many years ago and the tree she orated under has long since been cut down. I often bring the dog here now and as a result I have become intimately familiar with its plethora of dog-shit bins, screaming at me all bright red with decaying decals. I once pondered on how those in charge of guide-dogs locate these bins before it occurred to me that the pungent smell that surrounds them render visual signifiers superfluous to all but the anosmia inflicted.

I have lived in Ipswich some 18 years. Its people, as is their right, are fiercely critical of the town; yet equally defensive of it if outsiders dare to pass negative comment. This, I suspect, is typical of most small towns. It could be argued that Ipswich is a working-class enclave within a county of great wealth. If you went along with such an argument it could equally be claimed it is ripe for gentrification—the only thing holding such a threat at bay being the dire train service to and from London. A 2015 property feature in The Guardian claimed that Ipswich was ‘up-and-coming’. Brian Eno was quoted in the same edition of the paper stating he thought the best thing to do with Ipswich was to drive through it. Such is the strange duality that hangs over the town.

The town has always been a poor cousin to others within the wider Eastern region, and I think that’s how many of its inhabitants feel: neglected in favour of the money that surrounds it. Like Brian Eno, John Peel lived just outside the town, not actually in it. Other London media notables have bought up cottages in the surrounding luscious countryside and shop in Ipswich’s more middle-class neighbouring towns.

But in the time I’ve lived here I’ve become loyal to this backwater town. I like the fact that local thrash-punk rockers Extreme Noise Terror were invited by arch-situtationists the KLF to perform with them at the Brit Awards in 1992. I’m proud that the once mighty Cowell’s printers developed the craft of fine-illustration printing from the Buttermarket in the town centre, which resulted in Barbar the Elephant being inked here. And my earliest memories of Ipswich are of its vibrant local music scene that I used to travel to from Essex—but now decent mid-sized venues have been turned into theme pubs or car parks. Until recently, on political maps, Ipswich was an island of red in Suffolk’s sea of blue, and that always bought me great pleasure until Gummer Jr halted any such menace.

Local movers and shakers are still hopeful that gentrification is on its way though and Ipswich’s real history is often overlooked by those whose idea of culture is a ‘vintage’ street market a few times a year and a waterfront marina full of yachts that locals can not afford. The heraldic symbols that look distressed on street signs and on rubbish bins around my neighbourhood seem a fitting metaphor for a town that can sometimes appear to be down on its luck but is trying not to admit it. It is difficult to see where this old town may go, and I’ve heard arguments from well meaning colleagues who are hopeful the area is ripe for new money to move in to. Unfortunately they didn’t get my protestations against financial cleansing.

8 years ago there was a spate of graffiti in my neighbourhood from a gang calling itself the Front Line Warriors. There are still a few traces of their visual scenting around the place, where the council have given up redacting all signs of the FLW. They laughingly painted: “welcome to the ghetto” on the side of the local primary school, (2015 Ofsted award: Good). But this area is no more a ghetto than it is anything like its namesake California. Thankfully rather than just paint over this act of self-social deprivation the school got their pupils to create 4 mural pieces for where the graffiti once lurked, ensuring that the local children feel part of their community. I hope it encourages them to believe they can change their own area for themselves rather than either wallowing in its demise or relying on others to march in and mend it for them. I pass these artworks everyday on my way to work and they never fail to make me smile as they reaffirm my belief that civic pride can still have a place in 21st century Britain and that Ipswich’s fighting spirit is still there just below the surface.

Lampost-lottery

The blogging on here is truly taking a back seat as I thought it would *, but my Graphic Interruptions project continues. I got validation this week about its direction in the form of results for the first piece of assessed work on my Masters course, and I’m stumbling across more examples every time I step out onto a pavement.

The above example is one of my recent favourites. The reason I like it is because the graphics aren’t decayed by weather and its form isn’t physically broken. This is the case with a lot of examples I find which could lead to an accusation the project is solely concerned with ‘ruin-porn’, which it isn’t. This piece of graphic design is interrupted because of human interaction as someone has decided, (without too much thought), that health & safety concerns trump communication. This ultimately renders the intention of this item useless when approached from this direction. The question then needs to be asked about the suitability of such a communication device, in the form of pavement signage, if it is liable to have people tripping over it? I also like the irony this implies: the item becomes a lottery—will you or won’t you trip over it?—and I wonder whether there is more chance of financial gain if you were to trip over this and put in a ‘no win no fee’ claim than actually buying a lottery ticket.

Until now I’ve been using Tumblr as an image dump for my finds. However, I’m not convinced I was getting the traffic I wanted and I find Tumblr a little clunky. Now that Instagram have made switching between multiple accounts easy, I’ve created one for this project: you can find it at @graphic_interruptions

Lastly, for now—the undergraduate graphic design course I lecture on at UCS is taking students to New York at the end of this month. Exciting as it is to visit New York, I’m doubly excited to have the opportunity to make this project international.

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* It is typical that when I am extremely busy, (as seems to constantly be the case now), an idea for a blog post will throw itself at me that can’t be ignored, as happened recently with the article I wrote for Eye. See previous post. 

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Since I last posted here about my Masters I have been fine tuning where I’m going with my work. Creating the above Venn diagram for a peer critique this week helped—the first Venn diagram I have ever produced! The problem I’ve had until now was making sense of what appeared to be very diverse aspects in my work and research. This diagram bought it all together visually and helped me explain where I was going to my peers. They got it, and gave me some very good feedback on the trial writing I have done to date.

Today I’ve been developing my written responses to photographs I’ve taken. In order to distance myself from what I had tried before, I used a series of images I shot earlier in the day while walking my dog in a local park. This writing was an exercise in honing the tone of voice I use, and testing the familiarity in my written language. I’m a long way from posting any of my writing for this project here, and I will only give a sneak peak when I do, wanting to save the major content for future printed publications that I produce. However, I now feel I’m starting to get a cohesive balance between descriptive elements, personal reflections, critical analysis and my use of humour.

As it will be some time before I have anything concrete to report here, such as publication details and images of designed work, I thought I’d share some of the photography from today’s session. Please bear in mind I am not presenting this as being in any sense ‘accomplished’ photography; these are purely shots I use to respond to in my writing and text & image will be seen side by side in any final outcomes.

The written context surrounding these images include: familiar scenery; walking to work; exercising the dog; sense of neighbourhood; Ipswich; civic pride; protest; and cat jokes.

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Street sign coat of arms

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Ipswich’s Alexandra Park

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Dog waste decal

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Dog waste bin

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Roger MacKay’s bench

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Rubbish bin coat of arms

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Front Line Warriors

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Front Line Warriors redacted

 

I have always been fascinated by maps. On returning from family camping holidays in France as a boy, my dad, a photographer by trade, would create a big photo album of our adventures, and in pride of place at the front of these albums he would stick a photostat map of France that detailed our journey. My father had itchy feet on holiday and we would rarely stay in one location more than 2 days before he bundled the five of us back in our rusty old Fiat van to trundle off to another site of interest. I think between the age of 8–14 I must have experienced most of France over 2 week periods every summer. Now days Claire and I mostly holiday in the UK, and as we near the date of departure we always buy an Ordinance Survey map of where we are heading and study it intently. It has become a bit of a ritual which I think harks back to the family holidays of my youth.

This information is given as background to the fact that I have recently come across several personal coincidences featuring maps. Two weeks ago it was my mother’s eightieth birthday, and struggling to think of what to get her I struck upon the idea to take her to Norfolk on a trip down memory lane, (my family had relocated there from London in the 1960s, and as a result it is my county of birth). The obvious way to physically give this as a present to my mum—with the date for the intended trip yet to be arranged—was via a map. So I bought an Ordinance Survey map of The Broads, some stickers, and wrapped them up with an instruction card informing her to choose the locations she wanted to revisit.

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The coincidence of maps on that weekend happened when early on the Saturday morning, prior to making my mum’s card and wrapping her present, I had to go to the Post Office to pick up my order of Where You Are by Visual Editions, a book / box of maps by “writers, artists and thinkers … each one exploring the idea of what a map can be”. The coincidence was cemented in my mind when sitting down to look through the Visual Edition maps, still prior to creating my mum’s card, and realising another book on my studio table waiting to be read had a map on its front cover. This book about typography and printing was published in 1947 by the long gone Cowell’s printers in Ipswich, which I had been prompted to buy the week before after reading Ruth Artmonsky’s excellent Do You Want It Good Or Do You Want It Tuesday: The Halcyon Days of W.S. Cowell Ltd. Printers.

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A Handbook of Printing Types by John Lewis, published by W.S Cowell Ltd, 1947

The former of these two books, Where You Are, really stretches the traditional concept of what a map actually is and how maps can be interpreted. I was particularly taken with Valeria Luiselli’s beautiful and mysterious Polariods in her map: Swings of Harlem contained within Where You Are, in which she photographed her daughter on every set of swings in every play-park in Harlem. In her text accompanying these images she passes detached thoughts on the location, the procedure of getting to the park, and her own mood as she watches her daughter play and eavesdrops on other people’s parent–child conversations.

I got to thinking about the concept of psychogeography as I read Luiselli’s piece over the following week. In particular I was considering how we can approach the world around us in a detached manner, forming our own maps of our circumstances and psychologies, and how these can differ greatly from maps produced with the purpose of trying to give order to the world around us. Feeding into this thought process was a post I read in February on Al Jazeera America questioning why the north ended up on top of the map. This led me to dig out The Situationist City by Simon Sadler, a book that had been sitting on my shelf unread since I bought it last year.

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The cover of Sadler’s book features Guy Debord’s 1959 psychogeographical map, of which the author says: “…made as part of Debord’s correspondence with his situationist colleague Constant, the piece was a tiny gem of situationist pot-latch (art created as a gift) and détournement (art composed from ‘diverted’ aesthetic elements).” This image in turn reminded me of a catalogue cover I had produced 12 years previously for a graffiti art-trail of Ipswich I curated. The project’s intention was to question what could be constituted as an art gallery and the cover image I designed openly and appropriately rips off Debord’s visual concept—appropriate because situationism was never afraid of plagiarism as a concept and actively courted it as an artistic device, as highlighted by Sadler above when discussing détournement.

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The catalogue, circa 2002, also contained a map I designed, (below), for exhibition goers to follow. A few years after designing this I realised it was similar to a map of London that NB Studio created, (see link). I don’t know when NB Studio made their work, but if it was prior to my map, I was completely ignorant of it at the time—this is a statement which I realise calls into question my honesty considering my previous comment about Debord’s map, but I swear it is true. Regardless of this, anyone looking at NB Studio’s map will soon agree that my mediocre design effort pales into insignificance in comparison.

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To wrap up all this map talk I suppose that I’ve come to realise that all my recent thinking around the subject has actually been a journey in itself, and therefore, this blog post is a map of my thought processes over the last few weeks. I will be the first to admit that these thoughts and coincidences are somewhat ill formed and disjointed at the moment, but I’m currently ruminating on many different thoughts with the hope of formulating some of the more interesting ones into a future project. So without wanting to force a pun, I haven’t come to the end of my journey in this matter, and I fully expect to return to it again here in the near future.

However, it is probably worth pointing out an irony from the starting point of this post. On the way to a celebratory meal in a pub for my mother’s eightieth birthday on the evening of the aforementioned Saturday, at which my childhood fellow French adverturer brother and sister were going to be present, Claire and I got completely lost on the drive there, too reliant were we on Apple’s iPhone Maps app!

 

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