“We want the book to feel like a daydream,” says Nikolos Killian, one half of design studio Forth and Back, on the topic of its new publication, aptly titled Dreams of New York. Alongside co-founder Tanner Woodbury, the duo has sourced and produced an enticing new project that allows its viewers to drift away entirely.
Devised from an ongoing love affair with the East Coast, they began to observe the streets of New York through the lens of Google Earth – eventually landing on some profound imagery, documented as if they’d been stopped in the hands of Bernard’s Watch (a niche reference for those who remember it). It all began, specifically, after stumbling across a group of skateboarders on the streets of Tribeca, “while perusing Google Earth for some forgotten reason,” says Tanner. “The carefree and rebellious nature of this large posse of kids simultaneously sparked a memory of both my youth, as well as my love for New York.” Describing the moment as a “haphazard flash”, this ignited an interest in pursuing and documenting the other moments that must be “trapped in time” like this one, akin to Jon Rafman’s seminal project Nine Eyes but honing in on one city, not the entire world.
With this quest as their ammunition, the duo began their journey through the frozen – and forgotten – landscapes of Google Earth. Tanner describes the three-year-long process as one that felt like they were walking down the street with a camera, “snapping away at moments that catch your eye”. The difference being that it’s all collated through Google Earth which, in a positive way, allowed them both to experience the curation at a more leisurely pace compared to actually going out on the field. “It felt like being in the middle of a buzzing city, and then hitting pause, to simply look around and breath in the details of a singular moment,” explains Tanner.
Admittedly, there were some challenges faced throughout the compilation of this 200-page hardback book. Of course, it was a mostly enjoyable experience, but there were a couple of tiresome nights thrown in there too – the type where they found themselves “wandering for hours” through the streets of random locations, “only to come up empty-handed”. It’s almost as if they’d been on an idle midnight stroll, only to realise they were sleepwalking. It’s the type of problem that occurs quite regularly when browsing the internet, with its endless holes and possibilities, continuous information and never-ending catalogue of imagery. Thankfully, the duo works together rather well; both hailing from either end of California – Nikolos from San Francisco and Tanna from San Diego – they had gone to school together, worked on various projects throughout their younger years, before going on and found their own studio immediately after graduation. “We got along, both inside and outside the studio, and found that our working styles and the things we gravitated towards sort of complimented each other and improved the work we produced,” says Nikolas.
For Dreams of New York, the studio’s collective voice and view on the world has come together to form a seamless integration of found imagery, curation and design. Recognisably New York in an instant, the book also feels as if you’re navigating a dream. Some subjects have remained exactly as they are, while others have been decontextualised, “removed from their environments completely and dropped into a hazy otherworldly atmosphere where the focus becomes completely about them,” says Nikolas. This was a conscious decision within the design to allow space for the images to breathe, where the readers can fully take a moment to pause and “‘meditate’ on each spread”. This, alongside Displaay’s typeface Reckless gives the pages an allusive yet familiar book-like feel.
With plans to move onto further cities around the world, to “see what gems await”, Forth and Back are certainly onto something. It’s like they’ve struck a goldmine, where an entire archive of fantastic imagery waits to be discovered. “The coincidental nature of these images seem to be one of the most fascinating aspects of this project,” says Nikolos. He concludes: “We hope readers start to attribute personal narratives to the anonymous faces and places they find here, and ideally begin to spark scenarios of their own – I know we have.”