To extend the pithy “God damn it that’s a good idea” with untold superlatives as to James Théophane’s mode for work – forward thinking, intelligently digital with a stake in the “real world” – would only divert you from his excellent selection for this weeks Bookshelf.
Jarvis Cocker: Mother, Brother, Lover: Selected Lyrics
I discovered Jarvis Cocker’s corrupting brand of dark tales in urban normality the same year Elizabeth II deemed Anus Horribilis, 1992. The anachronistic Sheffield outfit had been around for years destined never to escape the dark corner of our culture known as “End-Of-Mark-Radcliffe-Show Type Amusing Northern Weirdos”.
Voyeuristic tales of class struggle, skilful undertakings of dog turd avoidance, motorway service stations, fidelity and kitsch ‘n’ sink council estate drama coined perfectly against a backdrop inspired by outsider artists such as Henry Darger and Ferdinand Cheval.
I find Cocker endlessly fascinating. Perhaps my experience being the third child of a homeless mother, immigrant father growing up with unnatural obsessions with rocks, breasts and fitting in, I’m in some ways predisposed to enjoying Cocker’s sideways glance.
Istvan Banyai: Zoom
“It’s been done.” Originality is a great taboo in my industry. This from an industry which prides itself on its taboo-breaking qualities. You don’t have to go far to see the taboo in action. To misappropriate Godwin’s law; As any industry forum/blog discussion grows longer, the probability of the subject matter dogmatically described as being “done” approaches 1. Nothing unites the creative industry like a good old fashioned originality circle jerk.
Zoom has had its fair share of Done-Sayers . Whilst you can’t talk about Zoom without first mentioning Charles and Ray Eames’ Powers of Ten, open this wordless book and zoom from a farm to a ship to a city street to a desert island experiencing the familiar format in a vibrant playful and inspiring medium. But if you think you know where you are, guess again. For nothing is ever as it seems.
Various Artists: Japanese Photobooks of the 1960s and ’70s
I discovered the joy of the Japanese photo book one evening collecting the lady-wife from yet another pitch all-nighter.
The studio in which she worked had recently acquired a black pencil (which I believe they won fair and square and had not purchased on eBay) and had since developed a rather peculiar rule banning non-agency folk from their studio – significant other or criminals alike. Rebelliously smuggled in at some ungodly hour I set about waiting for the venerable Mrs Théophane.
Dismissing the opportunity to steal all of her glorius IP I chose to sit in a corner and rifle through an old photography book. This was my first introduction to Japanese photo book.
During the 1960s and 1970s in Japan, the photo book — through a combination of excellence in design, printing, and materials — overtook prints as a popular mode of artistic dissemination. Today they are steeply priced collectors items.
If like me, you do not have the means to acquire large quantities of antique or obscure Japanese photo books and yet find the subject matter fascinating, van Vartanian and Ryuichi Kaneko’s recently published their ode is just for you.
The flocking/swarm treatment featuring in my latest project (Mimeisthai at TEDx) had in part been inspired by a shot taken from a photo book entitled Japan by Shomei Tomatsu.
Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!: Adventures of a Curious Character
It’s not often something or someone makes an indelible impression on you. At the tender age of 11 Mr Feynman left his mark on me. The bastard. Feynman has an uncanny ability to distil the most complex of thoughts into simple, playful and universally appealing discussions. (Tip: if you haven’t seen the 1983 BBC series Fun to Imagine, a cursory search of youtube should unearth this ten-part gem). Feynman’s passion, charisma and fallibility simply blows my wig off.
“I can live with doubt and uncertainty, and not knowing. I think it is much more interesting to live not knowing, than to have answers which might be wrong” – Richard Feynman.
Turns out he was wrong on the whole Cargo Cults things mind you.
Richard Brautigan: Sombrero Fallout: A Japanese Novel
“It’s been done.” [Reprise] An American humorist tries to come to grips with the loss of his Japanese girl friend; A sombrero falls from the sky in a small town in America, eventually leading to riots bloodshed, and absurd mayhem. Both stories seemingly tied together by nothing more than the appearance of the protagonist.
Richard Brautigan is said to have struggled with a burden of self-doubt during the composition of this book. He desperately wanted to write an absurdist book comprising a jigsaw of anecdotes, the separation of perceptions, chapters and ideograms. To execute this his idea was to tie two stories together using the device of the independent text.
When he explained thought to Geoff from the pub, Geoff is reported to have said “the device of the independent text” had “been done”. Brautigan mulled this over. And after a fashion he retorted “Motherf**k this shit, ama be all up in this biatch and do it anyways”. And thus he did. A true story.