Uncanny lunch

Today, I took some photos of the cafe where I had lunch in Margate. The decor and setting reminded me of the colours

Before – raw image
After – edited in Photoshop
Working with different layers, I ramped up the colours, saturation and played with tones to evoke.
Before – raw image
After – edited in Photoshop
The wider shot creates a cinematic feel and captures more empty chair, portraying a sense of loneliness

Blue Velvet

Last night I watched Blue Velvet directed by David Lynch with cinematography by Frederick Elmes.

Blue Velvet — Small Town Horror Tale - The American Society of  Cinematographers

Heavily psychological and dreamlike images combine to create a mood of almost unendurable dread, yet his dark visuals are infused with a peculiar beauty and humor.
“The whole idea of the film is going underneath the surface of a supposedly peaceful neighborhood in a small American town,” Lynch says. “It’s a real American film and it starts, because it’s so personal to me, with that first image of blue skies and a picket fence and the roses and the angle looking up I don’t know if Fred and I even talked about the angle, but it’s something that had to be looking up because it’s a childhood sort of image. It had to start with that kind of thing, but then it had to go from there and there’s a transition from the blue skies to things that are connected to plants and watering, and then that became pressure and then it had to do with introducing certain people. The image of the mother watching television and the image of the gun on TV didn’t happen until the very end, but it said something about Jeffrey and his love for a detective thing — it gives it a mood.”

Part of the contrast Elmes was seeking was built right into the film’s structure from the outset. Both Lynch and Elmes had agreed that the opening and closing sequences of the film should be mirror images of each other in overly bright, cheery tones — a sandwich made with Wonder Bread surrounding the dark meat that makes up the film’s disturbing middle section. “We had always planned to have the beginning and the end look like this very cheerful — slightly too cheerful — a little-bit-more-than-real world that David wanted to create,” Elmes says. “We designed it with that in mind. We didn’t do anything to manipulate it, except to light it in such a way that the colors really appeared to be saturated. That, contrasted with the middle part of the film, gives you that sense of difference.”

The joyride upon which Frank and his cronies have taken young Jeffrey pauses for a brief time at Ben’s club, undoubtedly the film’s most bizarre location, not so much because of the setting itself, but due to the unusual clientele the place attracts. Then again, Ben, as played by Dean Stockwell, is an effete counterpoint to Hopper’s brutal Frank, and the usual byplay between these two characters is largely responsible for building the perverse mood of this sequence. 

Simplicity became the key to their approach, and then the true horror and humor of the situation became apparent. Simplicity is a deceptive word because it tends to make things sound easy; Elmes’ photography in the sequence is flawless, and its apparent artlessness is so artful that the scene becomes painfully real. The audience is made to feel that they’re in a horrible, claustrophobic environment with some very unsavory though oddly amusing types, and Elmes does nothing photographically to make it look the least bit inviting. “What’s interesting about this scene is that we have this group of very strange characters in one room,” Elmes remarks. 

“We’d already chosen the exterior of the building, so we knew what the interior should look like and then David and Patty Norris spent a lot of time talking about it and I think she came up with a wonderful design for the apartment. It was quite fabulous and styled after the era. Also, the palette of colors in there is very well chosen and sets a real mood for the things that happen.” 

“We chose our slats carefully because we knew we’d be spending some time in the closet, and we knew this element of his voyeurism was important to the script,” Elmes explains. “We tried a couple of different things and this one seemed to be the one that gave him the best visibility and also gave us the opportunity to do an interesting light that we knew we’d have to live with for awhile once we established it. We never shot anything that he couldn’t actually see from the closet. The set was designed in such a way that the closet was in a special spot where Jeffrey can see the living room, he can see down the hall to the bathroom, and he can see part of the kitchen, but he can’t see around the corner which is the place Dorothy sneaks up on him with a knife. 

A production still from German filmmaker Peter Braatz’s 2016 documentary Blue Velvet Revisited, showing Elmes operating a closeup on Rossellini while shooting the cabaret sequence (seen below).

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The Uncanny

The ‘uncanny’ is a concept in art associated with psychologist Sigmund Freud which describes a strange and anxious feeling sometimes created by familiar objects in unfamiliar contexts.

The term was first used by German psychiatrist Ernst Jentsch in his essay On the Psychology of the Uncanny, 1906. Jentsch describes the uncanny – in German ‘unheimlich’ (unhomely) – as something new and unknown that can often be seen as negative at first.

Sigmund Freud’s essay The Uncanny (1919) however repositioned the idea as the instance when something can be familiar and yet alien at the same time. He suggested that ‘unheimlich’ was specifically in opposition to ‘heimlich’, which can mean homely and familiar but also secret and concealed or private. ‘Unheimlich’ therefore was not just unknown, but also, he argued, bringing out something that was hidden or repressed. He called it ‘that class of frightening which leads back to what is known of old and long familiar’ (source).

Surrealism aims to revolutionise human experience. It balances a rational vision of life with one that asserts the power of the unconscious and dreams. The movement’s artists find magic and strange beauty in the unexpected and the uncanny, the disregarded and the unconventional. At the core of their work is the willingness to challenge imposed values and norms, and a search for freedom.

The word ‘surrealist’ (suggesting ‘beyond reality’) was coined by the French avant-garde poet Guillaume Apollinaire in the preface to a play performed in 1917 (source).

Artists, including some associated with the surrealist movement drew on this description and made artworks that combined familiar things in unexpected ways to create uncanny feelings (source).

“Uncanny is in reality nothing new or alien, but something which is familiar and old-established in the mind and which has become alienated from it only through the process of repression” SIGMUND FREUD (source).

Man Ray, ‘Cadeau’ 1921, editioned replica 1972
Man Ray
Cadeau 1921, editioned replica 1972
Tate
© Man Ray Trust/ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2022
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‘The negative prefix un- is the indicator of repression’ Sigmund Freud, The Uncanny.

To experience the uncanny is to experience ‘the return of the repressed’, the coming back into consciousness of a fear, once intimate and familiar, but since made strange or ‘othered’ by disavowal. (unheimlich – unhomely)
The Uncanny Handbook Presentation by Phil Gomm

Light, shadow and harsh contrast plays with mood and emotion

Playing with colour, pattern and symmetry to evoke emotion

The fact that Stanley Kubrick had full control over the design of the sets in The Shining suggests that any errors or inaccuracies in its design were intentional; as a result, instead of creating a functioning space, he presents us with an implausible and irrational design. The space within the hotel therefore is spatially impossible. The film has been studied by a number of enthusiasts who have attempted to map out the space of the hotel. They have discovered numerous errors – doors and hallways lead to nowhere, while impossible windows, such as Stuart Ullman’s office window, exist in a number of rooms

The interiors of the hotel, where we spend much of our time over the course of the film, were constructed at the Elstree Studios in England. In using three different settings, Stanley Kubrick was interested in achieving a specific look for his film, one that required him to use different locations for these establishing scenes. In addition, constructing the interiors of the hotel in a studio provided him with full artistic control over the space (source).

At a base level, the Hotel resembles just an enormously empty hotel for a horror narrative to play over. However, referring back to Affron’s framework of set design, the Overlook is much more than a setting and is crucially ‘set as embellishment’ (1995:38-9) as it ‘does have a relationship with the real, but at the same time is striking and unfamiliar.’ Fundamentally the set at its base level is in-fact verisimilitude. However, in its design, there are countless surreal anomalies such as; televisions projecting images without power-cords, geographically impossible windows, and doors that essentially can lead to nowhere.

Overlook itself is presented as an omniscient being that entraps its protagonists.According to Kuter (1957: 5), ‘[t]he modern day art director must be very nearly a modern-day Leonardo Da Vinci in a wide range of his interests, capabilities, talents and knowledge.’ This statement can be true in regard to Roy Walker’s position of art director, as it appears his set was designed to work perfectly in simpatico with Kubrick’s idiosyncratic; cinematography, high key lighting, and innovative camera movement with the inclusion of the newly invented Steadicam (source).

Minovsky on Twitter: "The bathroom in the FBI headquarters in Hannibal was  deliberately modeled after the bathroom in The Shining's Overlook Hotel. An  impressive level of set design for a sequence that
Overlook Hotel
Inspiration: The Overlook Hotel's Bathrooms | Bathroom design, Bathroom  design luxury, Interior design art
Overlook Hotel
Excellent Photos of the Ahwahnee/Overlook Hotel from 'The Shining' |  FirstShowing.net
Overlook Hotel

1946 … Nescafe! by Victor Keppler

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Victor Keppler (1904-1987) was an award-winning American commercial photographer.

Keppler was born in New York City on September 30th. He is best known for his commercial photography, which won him numerous awards throughout his career.

Keppler was a pioneer in the world of commercial advertising, and made a name for himself as one of the foremost artists in colour advertising photography. Using the carbro colour process, he mastered techniques drawn from the latest trends in other visual art mediums to make images that were fresh and modern.

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Portfolio Acceleration: Typography

1. Title of project

The Green Sheen

2. Focus

My project idea came about by the lack of recycling signs and instructions on products and in public spaces – the confusion of what household items can or cannot be recycled.

Further research led me to find out that a lot of the items we consume can’t actually be recycled properly. Eg the new paper straws McDonalds uses and claimed to be eco-friendly cannot actually be recycled due their thickness which makes it difficult for them to be processed.

This led onto the concept of “greenwashing” which is essentially when a company or organisation spends more time and money on marketing themselves as being sustainable than on actually minimising their environmental impact. It’s a deceitful advertising method to gain favour with consumers and takes up valuable space in the fight against environmental issues.

A lot of the climate change posters I came across are very aesthetically pleasing and designed well but they didn’t necessarily teach what changes we could be doing to help contribute to a better planet.

I want to use the project to help educate consumers but also subtly call out large corporations who have a responsibility when it comes to their carbon footprint and who uses greenwashing techniques to favour consumers.

I want to respond by producing a series of large-scale [bespoke size] posters to protest against greenwashing . The series will be an exploration of how ‘typography treatment’ can be used to communicate tone of voice, personality, age, gender and mood – alongside experimenting with typography treatment, I will experiment with more sustainable mediums to endure, create and emphasise the meaning behind the project.

3. Research 

• book references, web links, blog posts

The term greenwashing was coined by environmentalist Jay Westerveld in 1986 in an essay criticising the irony of the “save the towel” movement in hotels at the time. He noticed the vast amount of waste he had come across throughout the rest of the hotel, where there were no visible signs of efforts being made to become more sustainable. He said that instead, the hotel was simply trying to reduce costs by not having to wash towels as much but while trying to market it as being eco-friendly. 

I was inspired by the Reverting to Type online exhibition organised by New North Press which featured protest posters from 100 letterpress artists.

Richard Ardagh, who curated the show said “The slow and systematic process of letterpress is therapeutic in a way a lot of people seem to be searching for with mindfulness and meditation…” 

Make Peace not War, Poster by Simon Wahlers as part of the Reverting to Type online exhibition.

I particularly enjoy the playful composition of type falling across the page — the broken words, floating away from the block text which hugs the left hand edge of the paper, creates a playful composition. I’d like to experiment with a similar idea within my final project — drawing the viewers’ eye to emphasise key words or facts.
May be an image of map
No photo description available.

These examples are from Make the Wave project I helped with in the summer, 2021. The project asked the local community to participate by making their own mark and message onto large recycled curtains responding to the climate crisis and what it means to them. It was a simple concept and used handprinted techniques eg a wooden stamp was created using the FabLab’s laser cutter as well as hand-cut stencils. It was impactful and grabbed the attention of passers by.

May be an image of outdoors
Image of the public exhibition of Make the Wave outside TMS.

I would like to experiment with different printing techniques such as stencil making and larger letterpress.

Artwork by Robert Brownjohn. I like the continuous line drawing of written text and mixed media. I want to take this idea further and experiment with embroidery and stitching techniques in the artwork which to create a more tactile effect.

The women’s suffrage movement was a large-scale propaganda campaign that relied heavily on processions and printed material to convey its message. Banners were used extensively. Unlike trade union banners, suffrage banners were embroidered, stencilled or appliquéd and were created from within the movement. Women’s traditional needlework skills were employed in a collective and creative endeavour. Some 150 banners were produced between 1908 and 1913, many by the Artists’ Suffrage League. The designs were heavily influenced by the arts and crafts movement and were much smaller and simpler than trade union banners.

Juxtapoz Magazine - Rediscovering Robert Brownjohn
Artwork by Robert Brownjohn. The repetition of VIBRATIONS emphasises the meaning and relates back to the idea of ‘concrete poetry’ which I am interested in to exploring further.
More repetition by Robert Brownjohn. The composition and warped effect emphasises the meaning behind the message.

I will think carefully about the production methods when creating my series for the project. Eg I discovered that RISO is a more environmentally friendly printing option which I would like to explore.

“Nothing captures the passion and spontaneity of protest like handmade signage. Often the urgency behind a protest means you just have to grab a marker and start writing.” (source)

4. Key experiments 

• quick photos of sketchbook / links to blog posts / digital images 

These experimentations are from the letterpress workshop with David Wadmore. I used the letters in my name, separating the vowels and overlaying them back over the top of the remaining letters. There was a couple of attempts to position the letters in place and create a balance between the but the juxtaposing red and black block letters.

Layout, composition and colour experiments in InDesign. The idea would be create stencils for the large letters and print onto fabric, the red text would be hand printed over the top. Each artwork/banner would consist of several layers and sections. These examples would represent one section of the large-scale banner.

5. Projected output 

• the thing you’ll produce

Up to three large-scale artworks printed onto recycled materials. The designs will showcase hand written type at various sizes presenting bold language and informative text of key facts/case studies.

6. Outcome

• intended result / impact 

I want to leverage the project to help educate and inform consumers about the broader term of Greenwashing. As well as subtly call out large corporations who have a huge environment responsibility and uses Greenwashing techniques to favour consumers. I want the large-scale artworks to be chaotic, imposing in size and messaging and have an impact when displayed in the public space.

7. Your audience

The target audience for the posters will be cross-generational, from late teens to the older generation.

8. How it will be seen and where

The prints will be hung in a public space (gallery or outside TBC) with the possibility of them draping on the floor — almost symbolising mass consumption + production.

9. Prototype of finished piece

Not quite there yet!

10. Project timetable to cover 

• Research stage

• Presentations and blogs 

• Concepts stage

• Refinement

• Production

Project timetableDates 2021/22
Research Ongoing
Experimentation17, 20, 21, 22 Dec
Concepts stageSend concepts to printers end of 22 Dec
Refinement27, 28, 29 Dec 
ProductionWeekend of 8 Jan 

Portfolio Acceleration: Visual Language

1. Title of project

The Status Quo

2. Focus

My project will respond – with an alternative approach – to news articles specific to Margate. I’ve named the project ‘The Status Quo’ as the work is a response to current situations and ironically challenges the status quo of accompanying illustrations seen in local newspapers. I will translate articles into an artwork which will be an experimentation of verbal language, photography, colour, and composition.

3. Research 

• book references, web links, blog posts

My work takes inspiration from design movements such as Swiss Style and Swiss Punk Typography which used the strict grid-based arrangement convention. I was drawn to graphic designers who influenced those movements, such as Wolfgang Weingart, who distorted and experimented with type, creating unconventional compositions. I wanted to take this inspiration and learn how to incorporate, and be more brave with the use of different colours and combinations of colour throughout my artwork.

Further research led me to an archive of French New Wave poster designs from the 60s such as this one by Clément Hurel. I am particularly interested in the composition and the interplay between black and white, high contrast imagery, alongside striking coloured text.

I also came across this album cover on Pinterest, redesigned by designer Jeff Rochester. I like the simple and tactile feel. Even though it is simply overlapping blue rectangles, it creates a strong sense of feeling and has a timeless appeal. This is something I could take inspiration from and explore further through my work.


Sho Shibuya’s New York Times paintings from 2020 interpret the chaos of the world and the beauty of each sunrise as an alternate, artistic historical record. From the start of lockdown, he began painting the sky from his Brooklyn apartment window as a daily meditation; using the front page of the newspaper for the first time as the country neared 100,000 deaths. Over months, gradient colour washes are punctuated by key dates that he interprets more graphically, with the series ending as Joe Biden gets elected president of the United States. Each composition is a personal expression, both escapist and all too real.

Sho Shibuya is an artist, graphic designer and founder of the creative studio Placeholder. Born in Japan, he has lived in New York City since 2011. He has designed numerous brand identities for start-ups and established companies alike, and created the non-profit project Plastic Paper, which uses creativity as a platform for sustainability. (source)

SUNRISE FROM A SMALL WINDOW by Sho Shibuya

Artwork by art director Robert Brownjohn. The relationship between the projected text within a low-lit space and onto the human body creates a distorting and tantalising effect. This gave me the idea to test this further — projecting text onto various objects in different lighting conditions.

4. Key experiments 

• quick photos of sketchbook / links to blog posts / digital images 

This example was created in the InDesign workshop — we experimented with text wrapping around shapes and paths. I want to take what I’ve learnt from this workshop and apply it in my final piece experiments.

5. Projected output 

• the thing you’ll produce

Up to five artworks printed onto newsprint and at the size of a double page spread newspaper. The paper choice is to further the essence of a newspaper. The titles of each artwork will be in a list format and will use keywords from the news headline that is being reflected in the work. The newsprint will create a textured appearance.

6. Outcome

• intended result / impact 

I intend for the prints to be somewhat emotive, composing a delicate interplay between verbal language, colour and photography. I want the prints to be nostalgic – eg ‘Sewage Row’ when you couldn’t swim in the sea.

7. Your audience

The work will aim to resonate with local people who live or work in Margate and the surrounding area. Age bracket between late teens and above.

8. How it will be seen and where

The prints will be framed and installed in a gallery setting in Margate. Framing the artwork will create a fine art appearance and contradict the lifecycle of a generic newspaper. 

9. Prototype of finished piece

Not quite there yet!

10. Project timetable to cover 

• Research stage

• Presentations and blogs 

• Concepts stage

• Refinement

• Production

Project timetableDates 2021/22
Research Ongoing
Experimentation17, 20, 21, 22 Dec
Concepts stageSend concepts to printers end of 22 Dec
Refinement27, 28, 29 Dec 
ProductionWeekend of 8 Jan 

‘Pentagram Papers 32: No Waste’ | Book Design

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union and its satellite states in the early 1990s, Cuba entered a period of severe economic crisis and deprivation. Homemade and handmade objects proliferated, cobbled together from whatever materials were available. Produced in collaboration with the Laboratorio de Creación Maldeojo, Pentagram Papers 32: No Waste documented these ingenious everyday items.

I like the simplicity of bold capitalised words and images accompanying each other and which creates a narrative throughout the book. The effective cutout book title on the cover, ‘NO WASTE’, imitates the stencil prints on council bins and rubbish skips adding emphasis to the narrative.

When Typography Speaks Louder Than Words by C. Knight, J. Glaser

Clever graphic designers love to use typography to explore the interaction between the look of type and what type actually says. In communicating a message, a balance has to be achieved between the visual and the verbal aspects of a design.

Sometimes, however, designers explore the visual aspect of type to a much greater extent than the verbal. In these cases, the visual language does all the talking. This article explores when the visual elements of typography speak louder than words.

Cal Swan, author of Language and Typography, makes this point well when he says, “These two distinct areas often come together in practice as there is clearly a very strong relationship between the conception of the words as a message and their transmission in visible form.”

To avoid any misunderstanding, let’s clarify what the terms “visual language” and “verbal language” mean. In professional graphic design, visual language refers to the meanings created by the visual appearance of both text and image. In this article, the term “visual language” refers to the character and significance created by carefully selected typography. Verbal language is the literal meaning of words, phrases and sentences.

In this first of a two-part series, we will look at the powerful effect that typography has in taking control of meaning. We will discuss a range of examples, from verbal language that inspires and shapes visual treatment to visual language that dominates verbal meaning. The implications of typographic choices in meaning and interpretation will also be examined. And we will show how the same message can be presented in a number of ways to convey and encourage a diversity of responses.

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