Graphic commons: Government sanctioned dérives

Making the most of the ‘sanctioned’ time I am allowed out to exercise during the UK government’s coronavirus pandemic ‘lockdown’, I have been drifting through my neighbourhood on a daily basis for the last week. Despite the awkwardness of swapping sides of the road every time I see someone coming in my direction, this has allowed me to visually re-engage with the Graphic Commons of this area of east Ipswich.

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I know these streets well from the many dog walks my wife and I have done around our locale. Or so I thought. However, with our dog a year gone, and in more recent years him being so lethargic with age we tended to take him for less lengthy walks, it appears I have either become unfamiliar with some aspects of my surroundings, or simply never spotted them in the first place. So now, under circumstances I would not choose, I have been conducting observational research on the visual culture of my immediacy.

As would be expected, the start of my walks tend to have some degree of planning; at least in respects to me deciding what direction I am going to head in before I close the front door behind me. From then though, I make my decisions on a whim—that whim is often influenced by whether there appears to be too many people for my liking walking in one particular direction—and I drift the streets based on instinct and the random thoughts that themselves drift through my mind.

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Graphic commons: Oxford streets

For many, traipsing historic academic cobbles and starring at spires, let alone dreaming of them, would define any visit to Oxford. For me, on a family weekend there recently, it was an opportunity to study its graphic commons.

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Looking for its vernacular, I mostly steered clear of high-street parades, and came away finding the city’s contradictions being easy bedfellows; hi and lo culture mix comfortably, on the streets at least. Testament to this are the highbrow events flyposted on chipboard, acting as a temporary hoardings for college concerts where no sacred wall can be damaged.

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These sat just around the corner from the usual tattered pastings I more typically photograph. Technically the same in purpose and application, each arguably despoiling/enhancing the streets, depending on your point of view. The only difference being that those on chipboard could be moved out of sight quickly. While on display though, from a visual perspective, they are exactly the same.

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Pockets of resistance were also visible. Some philanthropically recognised, others unofficially bubbling up from the underground.

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McJunk, accentuated

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Although my McJunk project has been on hiatus for a while, I do occasionally post the odd example to Instagram. Believing that one person’s litter in the gutter is another person’s advert glaring from a billboard—because regardless of context, any representation of the McDonald’s logo reinforces brand recognition—I never thought that the company would sanction a marketing campaign that made a focus of its own litter. But in this post-irony world how wrong I appear to have been, as a new campaign for the restaurant chain proves.

Alongside others commenting online, I can draw clear parallels between TWBA\Paris’s poster campaign for the fast food chain and the discarded litter I often see strewn about my neighbourhood. The adverts use a simple colour palette and beautifully shot photography of McDonald’s food packaging with no food visible, bar a few crumbs. These tiny morsels, in such a minimal setting, only accentuate the sense that the packaging has been discarded after the product has been consumed.

See the new campaign over on Creative Review’s blog.

Graphic commons: more banner frenzy and other temporalities

After my last walk in Chelmsford, I’ve been noticing more and more temporary banners tied to railings. So today I took a short walk around my local area to capture those I had seen whilst in the car.

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Unlike many that I saw in Essex, the ones I saw today were mostly ‘official’, in that what was being advertised/promoted related to the property owner of the railings they were attached to. For example, Ipswich NHS Trust banners outside the hospital and the local St Elizabeth’s Hospice railings were covered in banners for fundraising events.

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With apologies, (there’s nothing new)

“There’s nothing new in this world…” is a phrase attributed to Harry S Truman on the Brainyquote.com website. In this post-truth world, who knows whether this was actually said by him or not. I do, however, know the content of the phrase itself to be true, post-truth or not.

In June last year I made a book for a project I was working on for my Masters degree. It was called Graphic Interruptions, and it collected together photographs I had taken of items of graphic design that had been visually interrupted in some way, thus affecting their communication potential. I also wrote an essay about it, and the whole thing looked like this:

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Graphic interruptions

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Graphic Interruptions is a photographic project that investigates graphic design in shared environments that has been interrupted in some way. These interruptions can come in many forms and be the result of a variety of sources. What interests me in these observations is how meaning may be changed from that intended by the hand of the originator. This essay, first published in May 2016 as an introduction to a limited edition book of research photographs, sets out to explore the contexts behind the project.

Graphic Interruptions is an ongoing project; follow the hashtag #graphicinterruptions on Instagram or Twitter.

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Graphic Interruptions: the essay

As a graphic design educator, practitioner and academic it is difficult for me not to notice items of visual communication that I am surrounded by on a daily basis, especially given the ubiquity of graphic design in our society. Such a broad statement could demand a list of examples to qualify it, but to provide one would make this an endless essay. If proof is needed, a quick glance around your current location should provide many examples of informational or persuasive messages trying to communicate something through the use of type and / or image. Whether these are produced by a creative design studio or by an untutored hand on a home computer, numerous graphic communications insert themselves in to our lives in a pervasive manner.

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Graphic obscura

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
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