Anna and Roger aka uber talented illustrators Crispin Finn, with their true love of all thing red, white and blue, invited us and photographer Backyard Bill on a tour of their Dalston studio recently. They introduced us to their lovely dog Finn and we chatted over a beer about ideas that start in Roger’s parents kitchen, compulsively stealing drinks coasters, the amazing Crispin Fizz cocktail (which is lethal), labours of love, working in pairs, screen printing on glass, keeping things analogue, creating curatorial homages to films, making the disposable permanent, why art is work, taking pleasure seriously, listening to Ween and how, over a pint in the pub, they got off their arses and made things happen. All of this while the brilliant photographer Bill Gentle, aka, Backyard Bill snapped his way gloriously round their colourful studio. Enjoy.
Our backgrounds of design (Anna) and art (Roger) allow us to bring different approaches to a project, and although the crossover is much less defined now, Anna mainly worked in the computer and Roger out of the computer. That led to a way of working that still sticks, and almost everything we make begins as lists, then discussions, then drawings, then digital, and then into whatever process realises the final work.
We both love to work with physical processes which is why we still screen print our own personal work, or will hand paint a mural for example. Alongside the digital work, keeping a close relationship with making things by hand (mixing inks, choosing and working with paper stock, pulling prints, creating packaging, figuring out problems on a practical level, etc, etc), really does help to inform everything else we do. And it makes life fun.
The old school (and new school) ephemera that we collect is an extension of our reference library. It's a compulsion (for example it's often hard for us to leave a restaurant without taking a drinks coaster, a napkin and a menu if they're nice), and it feeds our brains and inspires us in all sorts of ways, but we're also very clear about wanting to make work that is contemporary - not a pastiche of the past. So we'll try to understand the rules of a piece of design or ephemera that excites us, rather than recreate the effects or textures that make that thing vintage or whatever.
So with the films, we pick a movie we love, watch it a couple of times, freeze framing and photographing all the objects as they appear, then we'll go though and select a group of around twenty five. These will then be type referenced and researched - we try and be as accurate as possible, so even if something appears partially obscured, we'll go to great lengths to recreate it. When all the objects are drawn we build the composition so it operates rather like a fictional prop cupboard of artefacts - everything at relative scale, collected together. This takes time, especially working within our restricted colour way, to make everything visible and clearly defined. The process creates an interesting neutrality around the items, freeing them of their narrative associations - only observers familiar with the film will be able to recall the pivotal or trivial scenes with which they are associated.
The series is a labour of love, but we hope anyone that is as crazy about the movies we depict as us might really enjoy seeing an accurately described, alternative way of referencing film.
Once the basic factors had been overcome - figuring out how to pull a print on a glass sheet without splitting the silkscreen, sourcing air-cured glass printing inks, using the correct mesh size, registration of each printed layer and just handling an edition that exists as fifty sheets of glass before framing, it was really nice to print. After several months of research, design based on a quote we felt would be really appropriate on a mirror from The Truman Show movie and finding appropriate packaging, we finally launched the mirror at London Design Festival and it's now available online.
Jean Jullien’s illustrations are instantly recognisable, well observed and often very funny. His simple black line drawings remark on this modern life, whether it is to poke fun at his and our relationship with the digital world, our relationships with each other or in the case of his ‘Peace For Paris’ illustration, serve to remind us, in the simplest of ways, of our humanity and togetherness.
In 2011 a group of Magnum photographers set out from Austin, Texas in an RV and took to the open roads headed for California. Together, in a photographic experiment to share ideas, experiences and imagery, they photographed the American landscapes and people, capturing a nuanced portrait of America, while challenging the notion of photography as a solitary pursuit.
Out of this first journey, Postcards From America was born. This great Magnum photographic road trip has seen eighteen photographers contribute over the last five years, and is one of the largest and most inclusive projects Magnum have ever produced. Throughout the project the photographers worked in small groups, and in doing so celebrated the past that Magnum was built on, from its simple beginnings as a small group of friends photographing subjects that interested them.
They also fully embraced Magnum’s future, posting the images in real time on their Postcards Tumblr site, making the work immediate and accessible. An acknowledgment of the world this historic photo agency now lives in. Collectively theses images demonstrate the energy still behind Magnum, seventy years on.
They Made This spoke to Magnum photographer Mark Power recently about the Postcards From America series. We chatted about his approach to the Postcards trips, playing with the supposed truth of the documentary image, embracing new ways of working, capturing the state of the US economy, his new found love of panoramas, the spirit of the Postcard series and how he is not yet finished photographing America.
There’s a tendency now for documentary photographers to speculatively make work, pay for it themselves, and hope to get something back in some form or other when finished. But this isn’t a very good business model. ‘Postcards’ is one way of addressing this.
The first trip consisted of five photographers, a group of friends and colleagues from Magnum who shared common interests. They drove an RV through the south west of America before reaching Oakland, California, where they produced a pop-up show of work made along the way and sold prints (cheaply) made (cheaply) by a local chemist. This helped, at least partially, to fund the trip. It was very energised and immediate, and not at all precious, which is part of the idea. Also, that first group were keen to see if social media could be used to build momentum behind the project.
Photography is usually a solitary activity but on Postcards we are all encouraged to share our ideas and experiences while working together towards a common goal. Occasionally we’d experiment by literally working together. Actually, that’s the key word; the whole thing is an experiment.
By the time Postcards is over, which will be very soon, about eighteen photographers from Magnum would have been involved, making it (I believe) the largest and most inclusive project the co-operative has ever produced. Some members have had a greater role than others but the range of photographers who’ve been involved is notable. I believe this is important for Magnum too.
In 2017 Magnum will celebrate its 70th birthday. With such a rich history, and an archive of photographs of major world events that is second-to-none, it’s perhaps even more important that we’re seen to be embracing new working methods and moving forward, rather than simply sitting on our laurels and living in the past. Because, make no mistake, Magnum is alive and kicking. We want to remain relevant for a young audience, and the (almost) 2 million followers Magnum has across Facebook, twitter and Instagram is, I think, testament to this. The last thing we want to be is elitist.
We’re lucky because there’ll be an exhibition and a book at the end of the Postcards journey, but there’ll also be community events happening outside the gallery. This is important to us because we don’t want to only appeal to a cultural elite. The work needs to reach as many of the people in our pictures as possible, which has been the spirit of the project right the way through.
The camera is quite laborious and difficult to use, so I don’t take many pictures. Much of the editing is done in front of the subject rather than later, on a screen. It’s really very similar to using, and being spare with, film.
Our third trip, the first I was directly involved with, was to Florida. At the end of that we produced a magazine we called ‘Swapshop’, which sold very well. A further chapter was the result of a commission from the Milwaukee Art Museum for a group to photograph Wisconsin. The curator, Lisa Sutcliffe, completely understood the spirit of Postcards and gave us complete freedom to do whatever we wanted. Before we’d even arrived they’d committed to purchase a number of prints from us and to create a proper museum show within eight weeks of the project ending. It was one of the most popular and critically acclaimed exhibitions the Museum have ever had; the energy of the whole experience was clear for all to see on the gallery walls.
There’ve been other increasingly innovative schemes to fund our expenses ever since.
Some critics have asked where, for instance, are the pictures of the Ferguson riots. But that’s really not what the project is about; there are plenty of other photographers covering those kind of stories, after all. We are individually looking at aspects of America largely overlooked by the media, but these collectively fit together like a jigsaw puzzle to create a much bigger picture. Therefore I would say that the events in Ferguson are, indirectly, in our pictures. You can see racial and social tension bubbling away under the surface of a lot of the work the photographers have made. You don’t need to have a picture of a man running through the streets with an incendiary device in order to talk about current racial tensions in America.
It’s been wonderful to be part of a group of friends, who all have respect for each other, collectively working towards a common goal. So much of what I normally do is made by myself, which can often feel rather lonely, so it’s been a really positive experience for me.
Many of us involved in Postcards have begun American projects we’d like to pursue beyond the Pier 24 show, including myself. Right now I’m investigating ways to finance going back to America and continuing with much the same ideas.
Postcards from America, published by Aperture, is out in Autumn 2016. The final exhibition will open in early 2017 at Pier 24 in San Francisco, California.
Sometimes things can be too perfect. They can be pushed to a point where they are devoid of any real character, energy or charm. It's all about finding that sweet spot, striking the balance between the craft and precision whilst still allowing personality to shine through. Nicolai Sclater (The Ornamental Conifer to you and me) has this in abundance.
I'd been a fan of his work longer than I'd realised that I'd been a fan of his work. Somehow by using the traditional technique of sign writing his work crept up on me very slowly from behind and then, when I was least expecting it, slapped me in the face with a wet paintbrush and nicked my phone, wallet and keys.
If you don't know his work, the Ornamental Conifer is an artist using a traditional technique to communicate his irreverent word play. His impressive output can be seen painted over walls, motorcycles, cars, leather jackets, surfboards and crockery. Beautiful typography, wit and a colour palette that makes my colour blind brain freak out... what's not to like.
After being a secret mega fan I was lucky enough to work with him when I was heading up the design team at Liberty. I jumped at the opportunity to commission him for a project; we had impossibly tight deadline and an even tighter budget and he still nailed it. Even with the added challenge of painting onto wellington boots.
I am recommending the Ornamental Conifer not for the fact that he has long hair, tattoos and rides around on his motorbike in the sunshine but for his passion for word play and language, the craft of his work, the precision, his belief in his ability and his commitment to a good punch line.