The May ‘68 Paris uprising has been well documented for its stirring, emotional graphic residue, or so we thought before Beauty is in the Street blew everything before it out of the water. A comprehensive romp through the period punctuated with over 200 posters, a wealth of photographs (many published for the first time) and translations of first-hand accounts of the clashes between the students and strikers and the police. I haven’t been as excited about a book release for a very long time, and so grabbing publisher Richard Embray from Four Corners Books was a must.
Hi Richard, Beauty is in the Street looks like something very special indeed, how did the book come about?
We’d been aware of the posters for some time and an exhibition at the Van Abbemuseum in 2007-8 (Forms of Resistance) of political art since 1871 reminded us just how great they were. As with Corita Kent, we initially just wanted to buy a book of the posters but there was almost nothing available, and nothing in English. So we decided to publish something ourselves. We contacted Johan Kugelberg, who had curated an exhibition of visuals from May 68 at the Hayward Gallery in 2008, and worked from there. By the time we started on the book, the economic crash had begun, so we were aware that the issues in the book would most likely be relevant again by the time we came to publish it, but we couldn’t anticipate all of the parallels that have occurred over the past year or so.
I can imagine the material for the book was quite hard to come by – how did you find it all?
Mostly it comes from the collections of the book’s editors, Philippe Vermes (a member of the Atelier Populaire – a large number of the fantastic photos in the book were taken by him) and Johan Kugelberg, who has been fascinated by this material for years, and collected not just the posters, but a lot of the newsletters and accounts of the protests that we present in the book too.
What’s the process of choosing what goes into the book, with so may beautiful visuals I guess it could have been twice as thick?!
It could have been! In fact, we ended up doing a slightly larger book than we’d initially planned, because it became very hard to leave anything out. But we’d also felt that as this was going to be the first exposure of this material to a lot of people, we wanted the book to be relatively accessible and affordable, and a 500 or 600 page tome might be too unwieldy for a general reader. But the book contains a representative selection of images (over 200 posters) and there’s a thumbnail gallery at the back of the book for the posters we didn’t otherwise include – inevitably given the very short space of time in which this work was produced, there was some repetition thematically and visually there, so this seemed a good compromise without letting the main section of the book feel too overwhelming.
How does the book fit into the Four Corners ethos? How do you decide what to publish?
A lot of what we do comes from a desire to spread the word about worthwhile material – which includes publishing books about artists or subjects who we felt have been overlooked (like Sister Corita) or producing our Familiars series which might tempt people who might want a fine edition of a favourite novel into seeing the work of contemporary artists. The ambition is to draw in people who might be suspicious of modern art, to be accessible without compromising the art itself. It’s something of a balancing act.
Can you tell us what the next Four Corners release is going to be?
Our next book (which should appear in September) is part of our Four Corners Familiars series where we ask contemporary artists to make an illustrated version of a classic novel. The book is The Prisoner Of Zenda, written by Anthony Hope, and the artist is Mireille Fauchon, whose proposal for the book came out of an Open Submission programme we ran some time back. We’re also finishing up a book that looks at men’s magazines of the 1950s and early 60s, through the eyes of a particularly eccentric collector of those magazines – someone who took their boyishly bizarre attitudes to sex and violence and made them stranger still by dismantling and reorganising the content.