Collections
Friday
Dec282012

Workshop display boards

How is the word engineers like most. How does it work? How is it made? How can it be improved? How should it be done? How is a command and control word, as the engineer’s primary desire is to understand and solve problems, with 'bettering our lot' being the ultimate goal.

Leaving school at sixteen and 'enlisting' as an apprentice at the local factory, my former engineering training was very much a pseudo military affair. Apprentices, workers and instructors were known by their surnames only in this world of metal bashing, turning and forming. Here I was “Oi.. Powell” and both college and factory strictly monitored attendance through our clocking in and out - four times a day.

So too was its graphical language; with the accurately callibrated rows and columns of the grid being the law of the land. Tidiness and order echoed a strict military-esque ethos of the desire for command and control in the factory and workshop. Tools were always to be returned to their rightful place at the end of a day's shift, with any location ‘silhouettes’ still visible on the display board triggering the order for a tactical 'sweep' of the workshop. The workshop manager ran the place like a sergeant major and no one, without exception, was allowed out until the item in question had been found and returned to its rightfull place, ensuring that the set was again complete.

Perhaps then this early indoctrination is what lies behind my appreciation of these workshop display boards. Laid out with military precision, the everyday and inanimate take on the role of incredible importance in a workshop environment. Without them things just wouldn't work, and to the the engineer if it functions perfectly then it's a beautiful thing (literally). Each component has its own personality, distinction and usefulness, but at the same time a sense of belonging to the whole. So when it comes to the selection from a category, it’s the subtle differences that count, and of course God is in the details.

Dating back to the 50s, 60s and 70s these display boards, from my university's workshops, represent a time long gone now; one that has been replaced by the catalogue or online gallery. This touchy feely world of real things, from a long lineage of British manufacturing (after all these companies literally helped kick-start the industrial revolution), seem almost quaint and nostalgic in a world now dominated by CAD, virtual representation and hands off 3D printing.

Generations before Things Organized Neatly became an internet sensation, engineers were positioning, spacing out and aligning things with an obsessional meticulousness that indicated their own desire to command and control the world... through the successful design and manufacture of objects.

So... “ATTENNNNNTIOOON!!! little screws, nuts, fasteners and fixings. Get into line and know your place!” … “You are needed for a greater cause than merely the fixing of two parts together…. Your fate is to help inform and sustain industrial empires... for the greater good of mankind!”

How is a very important little word.

 

Text and images by Graham Powell

Images © Obsessionistas (a selection of some of BIAD's 3D workshop's display boards)

Saturday
Sep152012

iPhone or MyPhone ?

Matsushita’s National Panasonic MyPhone - all transisitor intercom (1960's).

The iPhone 5 is Apple's latest iteration of their mobile communications ‘design classic'. Apple, of course, is often hailed as one of the most innovative product design companies in the world, perhaps for some, the most innovative. But just how original are Apple when it comes to the actual product design itself and even the naming of their products?

Braun products and particularly the work of Dieter Rams have often been cited (particularly in design circles) as a key inspiration behind Apple’s minimalist aesthetic. Indeed Jonathan Ive and the Apple design team have paid regular homage to Rams and many of the German company’s own classic designs of the 1950s and 60s. The similarity of the original iPod to the Braun T3 radio of 1958 is well documented, something I myself wrote about in Phaidon’s 999 Design classics books… but I was hardly the first to notice even back then.

However it’s about time the influence of Japanese product design was also given due credit. We all know of course that the Sony Walkman was the forerunner to the MP3 player (and the subsequently super-successful iPod); it being the world's first pocket size personal stereo. Before the Walkman even, many early Japanese transistor radios also shared the same aesthetic layout of the Braun T3. As someone who teaches product design, I regularly remind my students that accepted design history can often be too simplistic and biased towards design heroes over other product designers and engineers, or indeed the less glamorous companies they worked for (who also produced similar products at the same time).

Lesser known though is that the ubiquitous iEverything name that has become synonymous with almost every Apple product's descriptor - e.g. iMac, iPod, iPhone, iPad (along with iTunes, iLife etc) can also trace its origins back to the technologically obsessed Japanese nation. Matsushita’s National Panasonic MyPhone (all transistor intercom) was produced around forty-five years ahead of its namesake, the Apple iPhone (first released in 2007). 

I acquired these early 1960's MyPhones for my classic electronica collection about 15yrs ago. It has however, been very difficult to find any information about them, although the Panasonic Konosuke Matsushita Museum does house a 1963 MySonic portable tape recorder from the same era. Perhaps this lack of information online is why (to date) Braun have taken all the historical design credit for influencing Apple – as in today’s digital world if it’s not on the internet then it obviously never happened (sic).

MyPhone packaging

So what’s in a name? The catchy 1960’s "MyPhone" literally communicated Japan's consumerist rush to copy the West’s own self-absorbed technological ‘possession obsession’. In the aftermath of the second world war, American investment policy helped convert a defeated Japanese nation into a booming technologically based democratic industrial economy. Interestingly, this is almost identical to what happened to the German economy over in Europe during the same period.

From a historical perspective then, Apple product design can be seen to have been influenced by both post war German and Japanese industrial design in equal parts, the direct result of a consumerist focused American foreign policy returning back home. Or, put more simply… what goes around comes around!

 

With this in mind then, which is the design classic and which is the collectible…the iPhone or the MyPhone?

 

MyPhone operating instructions

Images  © Obsessionistas

Graham Powell is course director of the MA Product Design programme at the Birmingham Institute of Art & Design (UK). For Apple fans he also wrote the Apple articles in Phaidon's 999 Design Classics (3 x books or iPad app) for the Apple Macintosh, iMac, PowerBook and the iPod.

He is also co founder of Obsessionistas.co.uk

Monday
Jan302012

Thoughts on collecting: the writer

Today's post in our occasional 'Thought on collecting' series is by Deborah of Donoghue of the creative writing website Writersphere.

In January, we all become collectors, at least according to the marketing industry. The adverts start shortly before New Year’s Day, selling us the idea of buying a series of magazines and accoutrements which will, week by week, build up a collection of comic books, ships in bottles, flower fairies or seminal DVDs.

The timing is bizarre to my mind. Do marketeers really believe that New Year, and the associated resolution-making, will engender in us a sudden determination to become the proud owner of a ready-sourced compilation of items-on-demand? I can’t help thinking that the best collections are those which have organic roots in our lives. A collection can start at any point in time, with a small act, a coincidence, or be sparked by a genuine foible, perhaps because you’ve inherited or discovered an unusual item that ignites your curiosity. It is tempting to perceive these less manufactured collections as more fascinating and worthwhile than the one that has been dreamt up, and supplied, for us.

A collection represents a journey, with moments of discovery and triumph and disappointment…

Part of me wants to react against the way that these advertised collections are mapped out on our behalf, but perhaps I am being unfair. So what if the collectible arrives through the post or at our local newsagent at predictable and paid up intervals? I can identify with experiencing a certain pleasure in receiving and opening a package. Those of us familiar with the collector’s album will recall how exciting it was to go the newsagent and part with pocket money in exchange for stickers. Yet, I would argue that an integral part of the pleasure was the very mystery of the sticker pack, the never knowing precisely what (or whom) you would get, or if you would need to perform “swoppsies” to gain something important to your collection. A collection represents a journey, with moments of discovery and triumph and disappointment. Do publishers such as de Agostini and their partwork series rob us of part of the joy of discovery and research involved in collecting? Do their manufactured collections advertised at this time of year rob us of this very personal odyssey?

Perhaps the odyssey-courtesy-de-Agostini is simply of a different nature. Many of these collectible week-by-week sets are about assembling, not just amassing. The personal investment of time and energy involved is more about staying power and careful construction than it is about provenance or sourcing. And of course, unlike many collections, which can grow monstrous or fizzle out, these week by week collections build to a climax – a finished piece or complete range.

Perhaps even more stimulating for us as writers, is the story of each collector…

I’ve been thinking about collections because of these very seasonal ads and because I recently discovered a website called Obsessionistas. A variety of eccentric, esoteric collections is featured on the site, from antique typewriters to air hostess uniforms. The photography is stunning and the objects shared there are fun, thought-provoking and evocative of inner worlds and far-flung places. Perhaps even more stimulating for us as writers, is the way the site foregrounds the story of each collector.

A collection and its collector offer fantastic material for fiction. Firstly, a collection provides the possibility of presenting a great deal about a character, through show not tell. Descriptions of objects of desire allow readers to infer details about the character and his or her attitudes and values, without the writer having to directly impart this information. The objects act as analogies or metaphors.Consider Browning’s poem, My Last Duchess, where the narrator Duke’s possessive and stultifying attitude to his wife is revealed, as he takes us on a first person tour of his art collection and in doing so, tells us about a portrait of his dead bride. His collection is an unwitting demonstration of his impotence, his lack of ability to create anything. Browning conveys this without ever telling us directly.

Another boon, and challenge, for writers is that the process of collecting is a variation on a traditional quest narrative: the odyssey structures the plot, creating suspense, mystery and a slow reveal, as each item is hunted down or added to the collection. The challenge lies in avoiding an overly formulaic approach.

J.K Rowling turns collecting on its head as we join Harry Potter in collecting and then destroying horcruxes in The Deathly Hallows. Here, Harry deliberately destroys the items he seeks.

Many writers however, create delicious dramatic irony through the main character’s lack of awareness of the destructive tendencies behind his or her collecting activity. We have already heard about Browning’s Duke. John Fowles’s The Collector is another classic example of this. Frederick, the protagonist, is a lonely butterfly collector, who eventually and with frightening rationality, decides to add the girl he admires to his collection.

Perhaps we can use the hotbed of a collection then, to germinate some writing. Why not try an exercise such as starting with a description of an object or a room full of objects? Then consider who the person behind this collection is.

Alternatively, tap into the idea of a collection to get to know, and to portray, your existing character better… What would s/he have put aside in a shoebox of treasures? Is the collection a conscious act, or has it developed by accident? Has your character been consumed in some way?

Allow the process of the collection to prompt you to think about the  structure of your writing, and its key moments in a new way. Plot out the episodes of triumph and of disappointment for your characters. Consider the sequencing (or interplay) of seek and find in the story. Have you allowed tension to build sufficiently?

If writers are the ultimate collectors – magpies for impressions and memories; words, accents and dialects; people and places – then don’t let your collection gather dust inside your head! Writersphere is your display cabinet. Put some of your writing on show now.

Monday
Oct102011

My name is Stuart and I am an addict

by Stuart Fuller

I didn’t realise I had a problem until I was confronted with it.  The problem was storage.  I had run out of room for my football socks.  Come on admit it, we all have a few pairs don’t we?  Some people collect shirts, others collect programmes (I have a few of those myself) whereas some individuals I wont mention (Dagenham + Dan is a clue) have to keep their match tickets in pristine condition.  Those things do nothing for me.  To me, I express my love of the game with football socks.

CMF (Mrs Fuller) says this is a “Syndrome”.  It is obsessive compulsive.  Just because I like socks and never throw a pair away does not make me a bad person.  I never complain about her collection of Marc Dorcel DVDs so why should she make me feel bad about my collection?  After all I get enjoyment from wearing my socks (and yes I also don’t mind sharing her “hobby” as well”). Sometimes we even swap items in our collections, but that is another story completely.

It all started out of necessity.  I went to a Wasps rugby game, that is how long ago it was – they didn’t have the London bit in their name, despite the fact they played in London, as opposed to now where they are called London Wasps despite playing in Buckinghamshire. It was raining, my shoes had a hole in and my feet got very wet.  I needed to get some new socks and so I went and bought a pair of rugby socks from the club shop.

That was back in 1998 and I still have that pair of black and gold socks today.  After that I was hooked.  It was the comfort, the almost rebellious sign against the system.  I wore purple Fiorentina socks on business meetings.  When people said things like “nice socks” I would launch into the tale of who they belonged to and where I got them.  I wore a pair of olive and chocolate Kappa Werder Bremen socks to a relative’s wedding, going to great lengths to find a new pair of brown shoes that matched the socks.

My collection has now reached an impressive 61 pairs from 52 different sides. I have four times as many football socks as I do proper work ones. They aren’t any old pairs either.  One rule has to be observed.  You can only buy a pair from the ground or town/city of the club.  So no cheating and buying socks online, or from a discount sports shop.  That would be cheating, and we all hate cheats in football.  Never does a trip go by these days without being on the look our for a sports shop, or a visit to the ground to see if I can get a pair in.  And who wouldn’t.  Some people may try and find a magic door to get into the ground and dare I say it, onto the pitch.  For me it will be a trip to the official kit section of the club shop and a purchase of a pair of 42 Euro size socks.

No two pairs are the same in design.  There are subtle differences in them all.  Take the offerings from Rapid Vienna and FC Köln for instance.  Both made by Adidas but one with green/white stripes whilst the other is plain white.  But both have a lovely little tag sewn into the roll down bits with the club badge on.  Or the clubs that have their badge on the shin part of the sock.  For these it is a crime not to wear them pulled up to the knee.  Then you can give people a quick flash of the badge by rolling up your trouser leg.  A subtle twist on this is the offering from Denmark and Paris Saint Germain where the badge/flag is actually on the calf side.

What about the subtleties? What about a little L or R on the toes so you know on which foot each should go on?  Or how about the Hanover 96 approach of having one sock with a vertical line on, and the other with a horizontal one.  If that was designed by Hockney or Emin it would be deemed a masterpiece and find a home in the Tate.

The collection is almost a European Nations in its own right.  There are pairs from 18 different European countries.  None yet, alas from further abroad but we are working on that.  European Champions, European Championship winners, World Cup winners, Europa League winners and various domestic league winners are all included….and West Ham.

Deep down I am still mad with Danny for buying the last pair of Royal Antwerp socks when we visited them back in March.  He knew I bloody loved them and now he taunts me whenever he wears them.  But I will have the last (no pun intended) laugh one day Danny Boy!

My favourite pair?  Well thank you for asking. It is a pair of Shrewsbury Town socks made by Prostar.  They are blue with yellow and white vertical bars on, with elasticated sections on the foot for support and a big STFC on the shin. Or my FC Kaiserslautern pair? Kappa, light blue with claret writing.  Classy yet understated.

My newest pair? A nice turquoise pair of FC Nordsjælland complete with the manufacturer (H2O) and a club badge on the front that I picked up in March.

Most garish pair?  Has to be the luminous orange FC Barcelona pair.  I haven’t found any item of clothing that looks good with those.

Most sought after pair?  Accrington Stanley, circa 2008 where they had the word Stanley running down the back of the sock.  I would change my name by deed poll for a pair of those.

One day I am going to open the first ever football sock museum.  Each pair will be immortalised in a glass case, with a little label (in multiple languages of course) explaining the significance of each pair.  People will come from lands far and away to donate pairs to the exhibition (new ones, still in the bag please).  Who knows, one day the Guinness Book of World Records may even visit and then I will know my journey to greatness has been complete.  But for now I am happy in my knowledge that I am not alone.  That there are other football sock lovers out there too.  I can’t be alone.  Tell me please I am not alone and that these are the actions of a normal, sane person.  Please?

 

Stuart Fuller is a well known and respected author of Football travel guides. His work has included the only English language guide to the FIFA 2006 World Cup in Germany, simply known as “The Fans Guide” and two guides to European Football. This article was originally published on The Ball is Round website and is reproduced with Stuart's kind permission.

Thursday
Sep292011

Cabinet of Curiosities

An interview with photographer Bill Jackson


Helen: Your ‘museum’ of curios features a wide range of objects that don’t appear to conform to any recognizable selection criteria. The objects can’t easily be identified as ‘belonging together’ in the way that collections usually do, yet each object clearly has a significance or relevance for you. Is that significance perhaps that you see in each object the potential to be transformed into something else through your photography? Or do they have some other quality (or qualities) that consciously or subconsciously attracts you to them?

Bill: All objects have the potential to be transformed and my attraction is based on the qualities that each object inherently has. I am drawn to objects that have a conscious or a subconscious meaning to me either from the past as objects that I desired at some point or have some iconic status for me through cultural or apolitical significance. Another reason for choosing an object is what they are made of and how time may have affected them such as marks or damage made by others. The best way to describe this is to take a book and compare its electronic version. When you go into a second hand book shop and pick up a title that attracts you, time will often have played a part in how you assess it. It maybe that someone has annotated it and it makes you aware of its importance to that reader. A CD or e book cannot give you that experience. Or a dress that has been repaired or has been stained in some way that gives it a social history. Suddenly that object is not just about design or about materials but about a series of actions that relate to a previous existence. It has been left, abandoned or sold to third parties and in that there is a sadness. I do not collect like you would a pack of chewing gum cards as you did as a child; it’s more about the collection of past lives. A good example of this is that I was given a suitcase belonging to one person and in that suitcase was most of that persons life related through letters, documents and photographs and it makes you wonder how it got ‘lost’ and was not in the hands of relatives. It maybe that people do not treasure objects which hold memories but only in its monetary value – and that’s sad. I see in part my role as a preserver of things that prove that that person existed.

 

H: You present your images as ‘objects’, placing them in display boxes for example, so there is the transition from object to image and the image is then in turn is presented as a new object. Is there is an implication that these new images/objects might themselves become collectable items?

B: Yes that is the total essence of this particular work. I have always had a problem with taking the photograph away from its context and sticking into a frame. Photography has a contextual function i.e a documentary photograph is usually seen in publishing environments such as magazines or newspapers. That, in turn, is picked up by artists who then transform its function into an art object by putting it into a frame and displaying it in a gallery. Does that then change the role and meaning of that photograph? One of the reasons I got frustrated with photography was how my work should be seen. In 1986 this resulted in me not working directly with photography but in video, film and multi media. As all things have their limitations, after 20 years I saw the limitations in the electronic image and returned to paper based prints. By now digital print had come of age. But the reasons I left were still there. This work aims to address some of those problems I had, so turning the object into a photograph which in itself is an object and then back into an object was very important. You could say that a frame is also an object but the common usage of frames detracts the viewer from the object quality of the photographic print hence my particular way of ‘framing’ Cabinet Of Curiosities. The Relic series alludes to photographic glass or forensic specimen slides. The objects are photographed in daylight without any so called creative lighting. It has more in common with industrial photography than art photography. Head is a series of prints on paper, which have an intrinsic quality of ‘objectness’, and I wanted them to be seen as such, so putting them into frames was not an option. My dealer suggested box frames but when I discovered  some hand crafted Entomology boxes, made usually for butterflies, it was the perfect solution. The fact that the boxes have been custom made rather than off the shelf also appealed to me. The prints are pinned with entomology pins into the box. Imaginary People was a series which I originally saw as life size and it’s only now that I have been able to realize that . In displaying them, we came up with the idea of using a super size metal coat hanger. The print is hung with bull dog clips which have been distressed in acid and rain water to give a found object quality to them. It’s all about the object being objectified through photography.

 

H: Many of the objects you feature are pretty old. Is there an underlying nostalgia in this stuff? Are you attempting to breathe new life into discarded things? Would you consider using newer objects in this way?

B: I have started with my own collection of objects where the age range is very wide. The life I breathe into them is by forcing the viewer to re-evaluate them through this forensic investigation. There may well be an underlying nostalgia. I am of a particular age born into a post war world where we did not have the money to randomly buy things. What you bought was very often second hand or passed on stuff from others, ‘New’ was often not an option because of finance. There was no credit. There was the ‘never never’ but you tended to save and pay. Once bought you looked after it because you could not afford another one. Things were repaired not trashed. As the western world got more affluent our relationship with ‘things’ changed so we did throw away and we stopped recycling. Our attitudes changed dramatically. Poverty makes us natural recyclers – affluence makes us space junkies. We live in a world where that has been turned up side down. I recycle by creating new objects which offer new interpretations. As for looking at new? Of course but I have to evaluate what I get from new products which would be different to how I respond to ‘nostalgic’ artifacts.

 

H: Is there any continuity between your early work and this more recent work?

B: Most definitely and it’s a question often asked. If you look at my early photographic work which was either working as a street or documentary portrait photographer, and you look at them as photographic objects you see that my street ( sometimes the beach scenes) were really postcards and my portraits were really a collection of people that fitted into a set of gum cards. My portrait project of 1984 which was seen in various guises at The Photographers Gallery, The Impressions Gallery and The Barbican were essentially a collection of people shot in a particular style more to do with forensic or anthropological documentation than a personal response to humanity.

 

H: Do you consider photography i.e. the act of documentation, a form of collecting?

B: Yes for me it is. It may not be the reason why others take photographs but for me it is. It’s a collection of other peoples lives whether through the objects they own, or as in my Biographica series, the spaces they live in and the objects they collect around them. The Biographica series is a collection of narratives which are retold through object space and time and are framed as large scale panoramic prints which was again a conscious decision to us a format that had meaning to the photograph. When seen, these large scale prints give the illusion that you are peeking through a letterbox of someones front door and you are taking the role of a peeper. It may be a cliché but they say that you judge or are judged by the things one collects through your life. Through that we are somehow defined. It is a concept I subscribe to.

 

H: Do you feel that these objects reveal something new when removed from any sense of context and viewed under photographic studio conditions?

B: In a way they must do. They have been selected, they have been ‘hung’ ( all the objects have been suspended on invisible fishing line) in broad daylight to expose as much about them as I can. We look at objects in other contexts so they are surrounded by other things. The light could be artificial or at different times of the day. That in itself changes how you see the object. I did not want to make any false presumptions about the objects. In that way you maybe seeing them for the first time. I certainly thing I am.

 

H: Does the lack of context in a studio situation differ at all from that in a gallery environment?

B: Yes my studio is not a gallery and removing them into such will have an effect more like a museum which in part is what the work is a comment on. We take artifacts out of context and put them into galleries and museums which changes how we feel about them and makes them more important because they have been selected. They will also change if put back into a home environment. In the Relic series I want people to own more than one. I want them to create their own Cabinet Of Curiosities. I want them to change them around as they have been designed to move about at will. Each object works individually but also changes when put next to another.

 

H: What do you do with the objects after you’ve photographed them?

B: Works which are created for the camera such as Head and Imaginary do not exist anymore in that they are broken down and reused elsewhere or they are simply ‘lost’ again. As for the objects in Relics. Some will just be recycled or even taken to the recycle centre. I have yet to decide. One of the problems I have is that I cannot throw things away. I keep the most ridiculous things in case I need them again. I know I could be a psychologist’s dream but its an area I must address. How to let go of my ‘crap’ collection. I thought photographing them would be a way of being able to let go but it hasn’t happened yet.

 

H: Would you ever consider displaying the objects themselves alongside the images you’ve created of them?

B: It has been discussed but its pointless in a way because I am making new objects. You do not need to see where they come from. People have expressed a desire, especially for my creations or sculptures, to see the real artifact but my work is not about those particular artifacts but the photographic artifact that comes out of it. I was once asked by a curator in San Francisco for several of my Imaginary People pieces. They thought they were paper hangings and not photographs of paper hangings. At first they were a little disappointed but were happy when they realized they were large scale wall hangings. That’s the danger of the web when people see only virtual representations. I make, I photograph, I destroy.

 

H: From a commercial perspective it would seem that the image has more value than the original object. What do you think about this? Are you imbuing the objects with more meaning by photographing them?

B: You are most definitely. Take for example the medical torso that Hirst re invented, the cost of the original was only a few pounds but he sold for a million. The material that Picasso painted with, cost only a few shilling but the result is worth multi millions. It’s always going to be the case. The artist selects and interprets the world around them. That is where the real value lies not in the actuality but in the interpretation. Objects them selves may well have intrinsic value such as precious metals or rare materials – the art object may have none of these but we build into them intrinsic values because we want them to have meaning. That meaning somehow makes us feel that we as humans have the intelligence and superiority to transcend the ordinary into the extraordinary. That is what an artist does or should be able to do.

 

H: You recently moved from London to Suffolk. Has this altered your ‘eye’ or made you reflect on things in a different way?

B: One of the reasons for moving here as a photographer is that I have more space and more light. My home in London housed my studio in a back room and it was restrictive in many ways. While we were preparing to move to Suffolk I had no studio at all, so I began to look at objects in themselves rather than construct from many objects. I wanted a daylight studio. I am not comfortable with using artifical light as it is not what I am about. I always shoot with natural light and this is quintessential to my work. My ‘eye’ is not altered but I now have the space to collect and store in ways I could not have done before and this in turn allows my ‘eye’ to wander much further and this in turn effects how you reflect on the things you see.

 

 

Bill Jackson is an accompished and respected photographer who has won many international awards for his work in recent years. He is the first photographer to receive three RPS International Print Awards. His work has been hung in many exhibitions world wide including The National Portrait Gallery, The Photographers Gallery, London, The Brno Museum, Prague and the Museum Of Contemporary Arts in Argentina. His work is also featured in many private and public collections.

Visit Bill Jackson’s website here