Tuesday, August 12, 2014

A piece of priceless piffle

The other day I found the photograph you see below in my inbox. From Germany, it was a short email containing the photograph you see below, a subject line "What can I say?" followed by "The irreverence for books...turned around to "neutralize the color statement.."


I have no indication of who took the photograph or where it first appeared or even why it was published though it's easy guess all three. Generally speaking, bloggers are not photographers of note – pressing a button on a phone does not make one a photographer – yet this unregarded fact does not stop any of us from showing our pix in a blog, this modern version of the post-vacation slideshow.

Anyway, my point is this: if you are going to make a statement such as this piece of priceless piffle – neutralizing the color statement, indeed – then make sure your photograph has the authority of professionalism. A well-photographed and styled vignette could enhance or, at best, detract from the fact that all the books and magazines are facing the back of the shelves, as if in shame. (It makes one wonder what goes on in that bed between the two Ikea lamps, the matching tables, and the serving dish used as a vase.)

Books have been treated prettily shabbily this last few years: as plinths; as pillows; as incidentals on objet-laden shelves; as trophies; as color-stories; as bundles, stripped of their boards and tied with string – in fact, as anything other than what they are. 

As an attempt at originality, turning book spines to the wall, is silly. 

18 comments:

  1. I loved your line "as if in shame…"
    Wracking my brain to recall where I had seen that image
    (or its doppelgänger) published, with the fatuous caption.
    It was not an amateur effort--which makes it all the more reprehensible. I suppose they were aiming for the 'chic' of sheer perversity?

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    1. Toby Worthington, thank you. I'm surprised to hear it is a professional job. Can you imagine the time it took to do it all? And to what end? To appear obstreperously original?

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  2. Plus: you can't find the book you want. But perhaps the person in his room doesn't read?

    I once saw a WOI bookcase in which all the tomes were sheathed in white covers, the spines having neat script. It seemed inventive at the time, and I subsequently saw it repeated elsewhere. I'd do it if I had a minimalist apartment I suppose. But who wants to cover up a friend?

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    1. Daniel James Shigo, thank you. Finding a particular book is not important, I think – how could it be? – but the reaction it engenders is. I remember the white covers and though gorgeously minimal it struck me even then as an utter waste of time and cartridge paper. Who wants to cover up a friend indeed?

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  3. These books in detention with backs to the wall make me want to scream. There is an eerie sense of Fahrenheit 451 about the whole thing. It is a way of censoring, of marginalizing, of dismissing books as merely an art installation.

    I am closer to Gutenberg than to an I Pad. I worked for my hometown newspaper that was still letter press for several years before going to that newfangled offset world. I marveled at the typesetter who chose each letter. I still remember the beauty of the page locked into place ready to print.

    Now with words ready at the speed of light, of libraries giving away its books because who needs books when you can get them on the internet, I think my tribe gets smaller and smaller. Those of us who love AND read books stand in the clear minority.

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    1. home before dark, thank you. "books in detention" is a lovely way of putting it and the reference to Farenheit 451 occurred to me too as I wrote.

      I learned how to typeset and remember the happiness of being able to finally do it competently and once I'd also learned how to accurately draw a display font by hand was a major stepping stone for me.

      Perhaps the potential of the ebook has not yet been realised. I read them a lot but will not and cannot leave the idea that a well-designed and well-made physical book is a thing of beauty and utility.

      We are, as you say, I fear, in the minority. One piece of good news is that Barnes and Noble is doing better but I'm not quite sure what that actually means for book readers.

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  4. I think "home before dark" nailed it in commenting that these books look to be in detention.

    The world has become a mad place indeed if this is the way forward.

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    1. Chronica Domus, thank you. I agree, "home before dark" nailed it. What we really are discussing here, amongst other things, is the intersection of fashion and publicity.

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  5. Books are awfully decorative...don't you think? Gloria Upson in Auntie Mame

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    1. Thomas, thank you, and thank you again for the reference to Gloria Upson. What a delight!

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  6. To say nothing of the pathetic excuse for a "bed"!

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    1. columnist, thank you. Totally agree.

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  7. Agreed that this is silly as well as irreverent. While my blog is filled with my own snapshots I would never refer to myself as a photographer for the reasons you state. A snapshot does not make one a photographer just as in writing a design blog does not make you a designer ( I won't name names). While a photographer may take snapshots and a designer may have a blog - doing one of those don't make you a professional in reverse.

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    1. ArchitectDesign, thank you. I so wish ..... but there's no use! I'm so sick of bloggers, decorettes and desecrators thinking that vignetting is designing. It seems that any old crap piled on some 1980s "design" books on a shelf, preferably with a picture hung from same shelf, is decorating nowadays. Who knew?

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    2. I think the larger problem is that the objects and books in question have no personality or spark of imagination. They're not collections but rather bad copies of more interesting objects the offenders have seen in magazines and picked up cheap copies at TJMAXX or the like. Less copying and more originality!

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    3. ArchitectDesign, Thank you. I cannot agree more. More originality – there's a thought!

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  8. I love the rant, but I think you identify the wrong motive, which is an ostentatious boast of intimacy with one's library. One of the most estimable booksellers I've known - you'd have loved him, his collections were right up your street - explained to me once how he trained his staff to know where every volume in the shop was, with the lights off. So much for detention, the covering up of friends, the witless if not also cowardly solution, and all the horrors down the line. But isn't it perfectly reasonable to empathise with dismay at the poor taste of most publishers, in the styling of their spines, and with despair at ever allowing Doubleday's garish "Gulag" to share the shelf with Assouline's noisy "Lacoste." Anyone here, who hasn't positioned a volume to give less offense, is enviably indifferent to visual experience, but that is a brave position to take in public. Woe unto the bookbinding services of this world, to hear how little their trade comports with the well bred display of libraries? But tomorrow will moot the whole matter; we'll all be reading kindles.

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