imageTwo days in to this New York trip with my colleague Russell Walker and UCS graphic design and illustration students and they’ve been busy ones. I can’t even try to imagine how many miles I’ve walked so far.

The journey wasn’t without its problems, which I won’t go into here, but now we’ve settled in and are walking, walking, walking, and filling up memory card after memory card of photos. Here’s a few I’ve taken, with comments, while I manage to jump on Macy’s free wifi from my hotel room.

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The first day I went to The Highline, an overhead deserted rail line that has been converted into a mile and a half long public park. It is absolutely stunning. Luckily the weather was excellent and it was a good choice of activity for the first day. It really helped me to feel embedded within New York as you get a real sense of location walking a few metres above the Avenues and Streets of this city and in amongst apartment blocks.

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I was also very impressed with the honesty of the rubbish bins, labelling landfill waste as just that.

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Other graphics that have impressed included this cycle path road sign with the addition of a cycling helmet. And no trip to New York for a graphic designer would be complete if it didn’t include some vernacular type spotting.

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There have also been a plethora of Graphic Interruptions for me to record, such as this:

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Today I went to The Guggenheim and saw an excellent Fischli & Weiss retrospective titled How To Work Better, and a Photo-poetics exhibition. The F&W exhibition opened my eyes to a lot of their work I hadn’t seen before, and I drew parallels between them and designers like Daniel Eatock, (as well as explaining to a few students I bumped into that the Honda ‘Cog’ ad ripped them off). With the photo exhibition I’ve found a few new names to research for my Masters, such as Erica Baum. Obviously though, it doesn’t really matter what is on at The Guggenheim as the building is stunning in itself and worth the entrance fee just to see the architecture.

I had planned to drop into MoMA on my way back to the hotel after visiting The Guggenheim, but having walked from the bottom of Central Park to the gallery and back, I was exhausted so jumped on a bus back to the hotel for afternoon tea. However, I did manage to get a few tourist shots in Central Park.

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So as I write this I’m sitting in my very basic hotel room with a heater rattling away in the background, which at least helps to drown out the sounds of the street at night. Not that I’m getting much sleep, as while I hit the sack at a reasonable (US) hour, my body & brain seem to be colluding and waking me up in UK time, so sorry if this post is slightly uncoordinated and bitty. But I’m ploughing on regardless, and tomorrow I plan to take a boat trip around Manhatten Island that some of the students have done already and highly recommend. It’s predicted to be colder than today, (snow forecast for Friday), so I’m glad I packed some gloves because the camera will be out all the time.

I’ll leave you with my favourite photo I’ve taken so far, a shrine to rubbish, but expect more to follow on Flickr once I’ve had a chance to go through everything in a few weeks time.

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10 years ago I started blogging, which I guess makes me a blogger, (not a descriptive term I’ve ever considered using for myself before now—not sure why). On 4 April 2006 the photograph above was the first thing I posted over on Blogger.com. It was taken in New York on my first visit to the city a few days beforehand.

In that decade there have been some significant changes to my life. I’ve changed jobs; very nearly moved house; been to lots of exhibitions and seen lots of bands; suffered the loss of some close relatives, friends and pets; stopped making music; stopped smoking; started taking shit loads of photographs; published a book; designed a few things; taught a lot of students; travelled this country much more extensively; been to lots of conferences; read a lot of books; listened to lots of music; become a grandfather; started an MA (ongoing); and written hundreds of blog posts of widely variying qualities. I’ve also managed to stay married to my lovely wife, which in itself is a major achievement considering how much I must annoy her a lot of the time.

The reason for this post is that tomorrow I am off to New York once again, the first time since my previous visit 10 years ago. The fact my blogging and my first visit to NYC coincided are mostly coincidental, although the it could be that the original trip opened up my eyes to a bigger world which made me want to document my part in it.

I’m going for slightly longer this time, but only an extra couple of days, (6 in total), but hope to get as much out of the visit as I did last time. Equally, I hope the students that I am going with will get as much out of the experience as I did on my first visit, and I’m looking forward to spending time with my colleague who has spent a lot of time in the city and claims to know the best bars.

Expect Dubdog: field readings to have a stateside focus over the next week—wifi access dependant—and probably for a while afterwards. Follow Twitter and Instagram updates via the links on the ‘elsewhere’ page.

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.

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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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The UK’s gutters and hedgerows will soon see new graphics on the McJunk strewn there. Below is a link to an article I wrote for Eye magazine blog about an uncritical design press showcasing the new designs, asking whether well respected blogs are just becoming advertising hoardings for big brands trying to ingratiating themselves with those working in the creative industries.

Gutter press on Eye blog

A Dubdog year in music. No favourites, no hierarchy, but a list of albums that have been bought, downloaded or given and have been returned to for more than one listen. Listed in reverse order from December to January.

Recorded  
Julia Holter – Have You In My Wilderness
Thee Oh Sees – Mutilator Defeated At Last
Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit And Think, Sometimes I Just Sit
Eleanor Friedberger – Personal Record
Rocketnumbernine – Two Ways EP
Lynched – Cold Old Fire
Julia Kent – Asperities
Kode9 – Nothing
The Thing – Shake
British Sea Power – Sea Of Brass
Alternative TV – Viva La Rock ‘n’ Roll: The Complete Deptford Fun City Recordings 1977–1980
Roots Manuva – Bleeds
Mogwai – Central Belters
Niney The Observer – Sledge Hammer Dub In The Streets Of Jamaica
Sun Ra and his Arkestra – In The Orbit Of Ra
Various – The Wire Tapper 39
Girl Band – The Early Years EP / Holding Hands With Jamie
John Grant – Grey Tickles, Black Pressure
Sons of Kemet – Lest We Forget What We Came Here To Do
Various – Trevor Jackson’s Science Fiction Dancehall Classics
Arcade Fire – Reflektor (deluxe extra tracks)
Run The Jewels – Meow The Jewels
John Grant – Pale Green Ghosts
King Midas Sound / Fennesz – Edition 1
Low – Ones And Sixes
Jah Wobble – Redux: Anthology 1979–2015
The Bug – Zim Zim Zim
AFX – Orphaned Deejay Seek 2006–2008
FKA Twigs – M3LL155X EP
Various – King Jammy’s: Roots, Reality And Sleng Teng
Various – Rastafari: The Dreads Enter Babylon 1955–83
The Mothmen – Pay Attention!
Singers & Players – War Of Words
Beak> – Split EP
Storm Bugs – HKY502
Sleaford Mods – Key Markets
Chemical Brothers – Born In The Echoes
Various – Studio One Rude Boys
FKA Twigs – LP1
Dr Feelgood – All Through The City
Public Enemy – Man Plans God Laughs
The Nightingales – Mind Over Matter
Githead – Waiting For A Sign
Alternative TV – Opposing Forces
African Head Charge – My Life In A Hole In The Ground
Mark Stewart & The Maffia – Learning To Cope With Cowardice (Director’s Cut)
Alborosie vs King Jammy – Dub Of Thrones
Ezra Furman – Perpetual Motion People
Killing Joke – For Beginners
The Refused – Freedom
The Fall – Sub-lingual Tablet
Killing Joke – What’s This For…!
Linval Thompson – Strong Like Sampson
Burning Spear – Social Living/Living Dub
FFS – FFS
Viet Cong – Viet Cong
The Pre New – The Male Eunuch
Róisín Murphy – Hairless Toys
The Mountain Goats – Beat The Champ
Wire – Wire
Various – Sherwood At The Controls Volume 1 1979–1984
Young Fathers – White Men Are Black Men Too
The Unthanks – Mount The Air
The Special AKA – In The Studio (Remastered)
Polar Bear – Same As You
The Specials – Specials (Remastered) , More Specials (Remastered)
Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell
Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Asunder, Sweet And Other Distress
The Skull Defekts – Dances In The Dreams Of The Known Unknown
Steven Ball – Collected Local Songs
Bad Breeding – Burn This Flag
Dexys – One Day I’m Going To Soar
The Screaming Blue Messiahs – Good And Gone
The Grubby Mitts – What The World Needs Now Is
Various – The Wire Tapper 38
Andy Moor & Yannis Kyriakides – A Life Is A Billion Heartbeats
Elvis Presley – Elvis Presley
The Pop Group – Citizen Zombie + Versions Galore EP
Sherwood & Pinch – Late Night Endless
Various – Bunny ‘Striker’ Lee’s Early Reggae Productions 1968–72
Vic Godard & Subway Sect – 1979 Now!
Various – Studio One Classics
New Order – Substance 1987
Ragga Twins – On A Ragga Trip
King Champion Sounds – Songs For The Golden Hour
Aphex Twin – Computer Controlled Acoustic Instruments pt2 EP
Björk – Vulnicura
The Decemberists – What A Terrible World, What A Beautiful World
Belle & Sebastian – Girls In Peacetime Want To Dance
Fire! Orchestra – Enter
Panda Bear – Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper

And the odd trip to see a band at a venue or festival. In alphabetical order.

Live
Marc Almond
Belle & Sebastian
Martin Carthy
Ezra Firman
The Pop Group
Portishead
The Savages
Sleaford Mods
Wire
…and a friend’s heavy metal covers band whose name escapes me, (sorry Scott)

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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

Alexander

Ipswich’s Alexandra Park

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Dog waste decal

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Dog waste bin

Bench

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

 

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In my teens in the 1980s, as I was becoming politically aware and active, (going on CND demonstrations and reading radical publications), it is difficult for me not to be very familiar with the work of Peter Kennard. I think I must have held several of his images in my hands as placards and certainly stuck some of his photomontages on my bedroom wall torn from pages in lefty rags. When I heard he was having a retrospective at the Imperial War Museum, titled Unofficial War Artist, I debated whether I should go or not, thinking that I knew what I would get and worried about it being an exercise in personal nostalgia. It wasn’t until I read Art-e-facts’ review of her several visits to the show that I decided to go, and without a shadow of a doubt it blew me away, (no pun intended).

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From the outset it was refreshing to see an exhibition with both process and application on show, as you can see below in the anti-apartheid image for The Guardian.

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It was equally good to see some sketchbook work that wasn’t ever applied.

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The skilfulness of Kennard’s photomontage is without question. There is an assured confidence and directness in his visual metaphors that makes them work with little-to-no text. His use of imagery isn’t subtle, but then neither are the effects of war. In that respect Kennard’s work creates a powerful message that hits its target again and again. Regardless of this skilfulness of technique, it is amazing that one man can find so many ways to keep attacking power-mongers’ lust for weaponry. For all of Kennard’s sheer determination we should have seen the back of nuclear weapons years ago, and it seems unfathomable to me that Jeremy Corbyn is criticised in 2015 for coming out saying he would not press the nuclear button, but I digress.

Up until I saw the show, what I knew of Kennard’s output was largely confined to his ‘Thatcher’ period. Before attending I considered what it is to be so defined by an era, just as John Heartfield was to the 1930s and Jamie Ried was to the mid-late 1970s. As the 80s moved to the 90s it isn’t surprising that Kennard became somewhat dejected, stating: “a mixture of personal experience, disillusion with organised politics and the use of the media of innumerable digital photomontages,” caused him to, “question the effectiveness of photomontage as a critical, social probe”, (exhibition panel.) Imagine coming to the realisation that such dedication of energy doesn’t appear to have actually won any battles and that the ‘opposition’ then adopt your mechanisms of protest for their own ends. While you could call any faith in art being able to change the world naive, with Kennard you need to remember that he cut his political teeth on the student protests of the late 1960s, when a different world really did seem possible.

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Not knowing much of his work past the 1980s, (save for the infamous Blair Photo-op), it was what Kennard did following this period that really blew me away as he started making work that was even more powerful, direct, and particularly brutal.

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From the large eyes staring out at you from the Reading Room exhibit, and the hands clawing at newspaper columns, you sense humanity grasping and pleading for some sanity in a world full of marginalised desperate people. Then a corridor of paintings suduces you in with ghostly portraits that stop you in your tracks as their mouthless, thus voiceless, apparitions stare back at you. I was stunned into silence also by their power.

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And all this before you enter the room with his most recent work, The Boardroom, an ongoing project of Kennard’s that revisits photomontage but in a 3D space. This room is not for the faint-hearted—the imagery is particularly brutal while equations and statistics about war, hunger and poverty adorn the handrails you just might need to cling to in order to steady yourself against the visual onslaught.

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No photograph can do justice to this room—it is truly powerful stuff. If you do not feel emotionally affected by its overload of the injustices of war then you either do not have a soul, or you are a government minister.

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The statistics displayed are as equally an important element of the work as the visuals are. In the exhibition’s accompanying book, Kennard states: “I realise the seed for the idea…was actually planted a quarter of a century ago, … I made a speech at the UN to open my exhibition that began with a series of numbers I heard from Dr Hiroshi Nakajima, Director General of the World Health Organisation. I recounted in the speech how these numbers had been haunting me. For one billion dollars, he had said, or the cost of 20 modern military planes, the world could control illnesses that kill 11 million children every year in the developing world. At that moment, I saw that the connection between children needlessly dying from illness and bloated military spending was concealed in our society; the numbers that are the foundation of our modern world”. (2015, Kennard, IWM.) That phrase is worth repeating as you look at the image below: the numbers are the foundation of the modern world.

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On leaving the exhibition and reflecting on the necessary brutality of The Boardroom, I thought of the bravery of the Imperial War Museum to commission this exhibition. It continues until May 2016, and I hope that when it is taken down, the museum consider making this last room a permanent exhibition in their collection.

Peter Kennard: Unofficial War Artist is free: go see.

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