The independent publishing imprint that brought you the reissue of New York City Transit Authority: Graphics Standard Manual are back again with their latest addition to the series – New York City Transit Authority: Objects (NYCTA: Objects). The catalogue of objects, sourced and documented by photographer Brian Kelley, is the first of its kind and presents a previously uncollated archive of 400 unique artefacts all relating to the New York City Subway.
Standards Manual was founded by Hamish Smyth and Jesse Reed who became “accidental publishers,” in 2014 with the release of the Graphics Standards Manual. Both were working full-time at Pentagram’s New York office and were taken aback by the success of their first release. They then went on to publish National Aeronautics and Space Administration Graphics Standards Manual which was even more successful. Smyth decided to leave Pentagram in 2016 and Reed followed earlier this year. The duo now split their time between Standards Manual and their design agency, Order. As publishers, Smyth told us how they’re still developing their philosophy but they essentially endeavour to document design history and create archives and collections of objects.
Photographer Brian Kelley, who started collecting subway memorabilia in 2011 quickly became obsessed and his collection now ranges from limited edition promotional cards to different fare types, all in varying conditions: new, bent, damaged, ripped or event burned. Having exhausted New York’s 472 subway stations, Kelley turned to the internet where he found himself in a “weird eBay community,” for six years or so. The project came about when Smyth, Reed and Kelley (who are all good friends) were discussing the future of Standards Manual. When Smyth and Reed expressed an interest in wanting to move away from the world of graphic design and start creating archives and collections, Kelley offered up his existing collection as their first one.
NYCTA: Objects reflects Standards Manual’s love of traditional publishing – teaming up with someone to publish their work whilst having control of how the publication is presented. The book features Standards Manual’s pared back and sophisticated distinctive style with a silkscreened hard cover containing its 356 pages. In terms of layout, the trio originally ordered the objects chronologically. Although this provided an interesting comparison from start to finish, they ended up with sections of visually similar objects. They instead opted to order the objects more sporadically, finding interesting juxtapositions. For example, one spread sees an old ticket paired with a limited edition Supreme card from last year. The result feels more natural as if you have “found a box of objects and are rifling through them,” Reed describes.
The fascinating element about this book is its apparent mundanity – why should we care about these objects and does anyone actually care? We spoke to Hamish Smyth about this idea: “I think Brian realised people were interested in these objects when he started posting them on Instagram where the images received a lot of attention.” The objects highlight often overlooked designs of the New York City Transit system and bring them to the forefront. “To designers, they’re pretty rubbish designs but as a collection they mean something,” says Smyth. On top of this, the archive provides a sense of ownership and nostalgia to New Yorkers as many of the objects are pre-1990s. “New Yorkers have a love/hate relationship with the subway,” says Smyth, “everyone hates NYCT but it’s ours.” We’re sure our fellow Londoners can relate!
The book is due to be released on 16 October and you can preorder it here
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