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Earlier last month few could have escaped the surprise announcement of a new David Bowie album, scheduled for a March release, titled The Next Day.

The artwork dropped with almost as much of a shock, to some, as the album. The artwork places a white square over the original iconic cover of “Heroes”, Bowie’s 1977 collaboration with Brian Eno which is considered by many as one of his best works. While this was sacrilege to some, others, along with myself, thought it a brave masterstroke by Jonathan Barnbrook, who has worked with David Bowie for the last 10 years.

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David Bowie – The Next Day. Sleeve by Jonathan Barnbrook, 2013

On seeing Barnbrook’s work for Bowie, I immediately drew associations between The Next Day sleeve and a new jacket for George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty Four by David Pearson that was showcased on the Creative Review blog shortly before the announcement of the Bowie album. Here, Pearson obliterates the title and author of the book to reflect the redacting of history in this classic Orwellian tale.

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George Orwell – Nineteen Eighty Four, cover by David Pearson, 2013

Naturally enough though, I wasn’t the only person to make such a comparison as Richard Weston’s Ace Jet 170 blog testifies. And there, my thoughts would have rested, beaten in the blogosphere to writing a post about the Bowie/Orwell connection.

However, I then got thinking about these two pieces of work and their deliberate graphic obscuring—where one piece of communication has been interrupted by another to create a new work that forces the viewer to question what they are reading—and how this related to things I’d been observing in my everyday. For a little while now I’d been noticing such occurances as road markings being obliterated by the visual remains of where road works had taken place, their primary communication scarred and temporarily interrupted; or where different street signs had been overlaid partially obscuring aspects of one or both.

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JacobsWay

These observations have started to inform a new photographic project of mine, (working title Graphic Interruptions), which currently only consists of some test pieces posted to Flickr. The obvious differences here are that Barnbrook’s and Pearson’s work both deliberately interrupt one visual device with another to form a new narrative, where as what I had been looking at were mostly accidental. I don’t quite know yet where this project is going, but I’m finding it visually intriguing.

But then this visual intrigue was whetted again this week when I succumbed to buying the John Stezaker monograph, which I had been coveting for some time. The book was published in 2011 to accompany his exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery the same year. Unfortunately I missed the show, but was bowled over by the images that were shown alongside many of the rave reviews in newspapers and on blogs at the time. Could it be that this work, first seen a couple of years ago, had stayed with me and fed my visual thinking when walking around and noticing my graphic interruptions?

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John Stezaker, Mask IV, 2005

Mask IV is typical of the collage work that attracted me to Stezaker. At first, I didn’t make an immediate connection between all of the above and the influence Stezaker’s show, directly or indirectly, has potentially had on my thoughts about what the book calls ‘occlusion’, (the art of blocking).  But I am beginning to now.

And then, looking through the book, I came across two images that made me wonder whether Stezaker’s work had also influenced, consciously or otherwise, Barnbrook’s The Next Day sleeve:

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John Stezaker, Tabula Rasa XI, 2008

John Stezaker, Tabula Rasa II 1983

John Stezaker, Tabula Rasa II, 1983

With or without placing ‘The Next Day’ text in the white rectangle, you can easily see the connection between this and the sleeve of the anticipated David Bowie record.

My observations here are purely that, observations. I’m drawing together recent thoughts that may or may not have fed into each other, but that do spark a line of questioning regarding the narrative of an image. This might just become my 2013 obsession.

I read about Signal: A Journal of International Political Graphics & Culture, when Rick Poynor reviewed issue 02 for Design Observer recently, and his is a much better critique of this journal than I could give here, so I’ll keep this brief. Published in the United States, issue 01 came out in 2010, and went totally under my radar. Now, in 2012, the second edition has been released, I snapped up both as soon as I could. If you are at all interested in political/agitational graphic design, then they come highly recommended. However, I couldn’t promote one over the other as both are as packed with diverse and inspirational content as each other.

The latest issue features articles about Portuguese street murals; a painter from Mozambique called Malangatana Valente Nguenha, ; spreads of front covers of British Anarchist newspaper Freedom, from 1908 to 1917; and Gestetner Art, among other things.

Issue 01 features the adventures of Red Rat, a comic strip by Van de Weert that evolved from the Dutch punk and squatting scene in the early 1980s; Mexican protest graphics that surrounded the Mexico 68 Olympics; the Taller Tupac Amaru printmaking collective; and graffiti artist Impeach, whose work travels the United States subverting ‘wild style’ graffiti on subway trains into Wild West style graffiti on freight trains.

What I like most about this journal, edited by Alec Icky Dunn and Josh MacPhee, is the exploration of different cultures, examining work and contexts that don’t necessarily crop up in books about political graphic design. That, and the mix of historical and contemporary work. Both these things keep this small book alive and relevant, and stops it being filed under history with out any relevance to the modern day. There are some obvious ‘go to’ books for those interested in political visual communication: Liz McQuiston’s two volume set titled Graphic Agitation, Milton Glaser’s The Design of Dissent, and the recently published and excellent Beauty Is In The Street by Johan Kugelberg & Philippe Vermes. However, because Signal is published as a journal, it gives the wide range of contexts and material discussed a connection to the here and now, a relevant voice that suggests a continuation rather than a static recording.

Now that I’ve found Signal, I just hope the gap between issue 02 and 03 isn’t as great.

Yesterday, Lucienne Roberts and Rebecca Wright of GraphicDesign& put a call out for people to record everyday occurrences of graphic design in the context within which they found them. In a pop-up lab at the Design Museum, they received tweets of photographs of graphic design to go towards a research project titled Everything, which endeavours to prove how interconnected graphic design is with, well, everything.

In the spirit of this venture, I joined Twitter, and started snapping away, setting myself the task of recording every item of graphic design, professional or amateur, that I personally interacted with throughout the day. I did ignore some examples I came across: for example, on reading the Guardian, I only photographed the adverts that actually made me stop and read them. But other than that, I tried to capture every piece of graphic design that caught my attention for more than a passing glance.

After sending a couple of photos to @gdand_, it soon became apparent that this was going to be a mammoth task. I think I got most items throughout the day, apart from being too focussed on getting a Guardian and some croissants while in the Co-op to get my camera out while shopping in the morning. However, because I did only manage a couple of tweets to GraphicDesign& before their 5pm deadline, as I ended up going for a family walk where there wasn’t a 3G signal, I’ve documented the results here.

1–3 Cat feeding and morning tea
4–7 Ablutions
8–10 Dressing
11–13 Driving to the Co-op (for safety reasons, photos were only taken while stationary)
14–24 Breakfast and washing up
25 Strimmer battery
26 Checking the Tour de France map in my office
27–29 Posters (and a street sign) in my office
30 Checking the Guardian website
31 Branded cutlery at lunchtime
32–34 Drive to Orford (Claire was driving)
35–36 Orford car park
37 The bin I disposed bagged dog waste in
38–39 Amateur graphic design
40 A Union Jack
41 Beware
42 Footpath
43 A lighthouse in the distance (yes, this does constitute graphic design)
44–45 & 47 More footpath signs
46 Realising the pushchair my grandson was in was branded
48 Condiment packets on the table of the tearoom we stopped at
49 Toilet sign
50 Tourist posters
51–52 Dead fish being sold
53 On the way to the Indian takeaway and pub
54 Indian takeaway
55–58 The Fat Cat pub with just enough time for a pint while waiting for the takeaway
59 The Sun in the Indian takeaway
60 Watching the Tour while eating the takeaway back at home

This week I published number 1000 image of McJunk to Flickr. This is a noteworthy occasion, because at the publication of the McJunk photo book in January 2011, I had only just uploaded 500 images. Therefore, in less than one and a half years, I’ve doubled the number of photographs of McDonald’s litter it had previously taken me 9 years to collect. It is difficult to tell whether this is because there is more McJunk out there, or because since the publication of the book, I’ve been more proactive in capturing examples I happen upon.

Whatever the reason, I’ve decided to take a hiatus from McJunk to concentrate my spare time on some other project ideas I’ve been scribbling in notebooks recently. To mark this breathing space, I’ve decided to publicly publish the essay I wrote to accompany the book. I will continue to take submissions to the McJunk project and post them to Tumblr, and the book will still be available—see the McJunk website for details. The McFacebook page will, likewise, continue. And if you are interested in seeing what 1000 piece of McDonald’s litter looks like, please visit the Flickr set.

The essay can be downloaded from the Dubdog Archive page

McJunk number 1000

I’m currently putting together a lecture titled ‘What is a book?’ for a sixth form higher education taster day I’m involved in at UCS next week. In the process of my research, I came across this excellent video of Irma Boom talking about her work, which I had never seen before. Unfortunately it is a little too long to include in my lecture, so I thought I would share it here. It is worth 6 minutes of your time.

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