Alexandra Waespi and Alexa Viscius use cyanotype and long exposure to create a melting poster
For Chicago-based graphic designer Alexa Viscius, London-based photographer Alexandra Waespi, and pretty much everyone else in the world, the month of July has been an absolute scorcher. It’s been weeks of glorious weather but it’s also been a stickily hot one, a feeling both Alexandra and Alexa experienced in their respective cities across the globe.
When the pair met on Dropbox Paper this month to co-create a poster representing July, they decided to tackle the heat. The duo’s final poster, a melting pot of photography and typography, will be given out for free at Nicer Tuesdays on 31 July.
To kickstart ideas on their collaborative Dropbox Paper thread, Alexandra and Alexa began by listing words that they instantly associate with July. Alexandra opted for descriptive ones, “sun-drenched”, “thirst quench” and “warm nights” for instance, while Alexa opted for “sticky”, “hazy” and “fuzzy”. Alexandra then merged the words into combinations “that could be translated visually,” settling on the concepts of “sweaty melty flowers”, “daydreaming blowing bubbles”, “overexposed beach scene” and a “dripping sunset”.
Writing out ideas in this way over the Dropbox Paper thread was particularly helpful with Alexandra pointing out how “it made it easy to collaborate across the world in an informal way,” she tells It’s Nice That. “It felt intuitive, like a shared journal we kept adding to when we felt inspired.” While Alexa adds: “Working on Paper was super easy, there was no learning curve. It felt really intuitive to have a nice back and forth of ideas, both text and visuals.” This process of writing down ideas felt like a turning point for Alexandra during the project, as they worked on “narrowing down the theme then exploring ways to portray it.”
References then came into play as Alexandra introduced the concept of potentially adding image manipulation techniques, to create a melting, photographic effect. For Alexa’s typographic element, the designer wanted the graphics to also reflect this hazy, sunny feeling, suggesting it may “be nice to combine this bleached Polaroid effect with sun prints,” she writes. Sun-prints, a system where the paper is overlaid and then left out in the sun until it exposes, leaving a bleaching effect, was an apt way to create typography that happened naturally, by utilising the very thing that inspired the project to start with – the sun!
First, however, Alexandra had to create her image. Pulling a bunch of references of warped flowers that appear as if they’re melting due to long exposure photography, the idea of a flower sweltering in the heat was set. “I have never experienced a summer like this in London,” Alexandra writes, explaining her inspiration. “The grass is so dry it looks like a desert and the flowers seem like they are melting!” For Alexa in Chicago, the heat has also been a bit of a surprise considering how “the summer is so brief in Chicago and the winters are so long,” she explains. “Something about the seasonality of the flower speaks that for me.”
Photography tests began a few days later as Alexandra started by photographing “flowers in a garden against the summer sky,” which although “a nice image,” didn’t particularly visually translate the pair’s melting idea. One experiment the photographer did try however was shooting a singular flower against a darker background, a preferred aesthetic choice. From her experiments, Alexandra then began trying a series during the evening with a variety of flowers, peonies, lilies and sunflowers, and some picked from the park near her flat.
Alexandra also shared with Alexa her methodical notes in creating the images, describing a darker background with long exposure by dragging the shutter down, adding vaseline to the lens, creating negative space and using a warm light. This approach was one of the reasons Alexa wanted to work with the photographer initially, noting her love for Alexandra’s use of “analogue mediums,” the designer tells It’s Nice That. “Her experiments with polaroids and other photographic techniques is similar to how I like to experiment with design, letting chance play a roll in the final outcome.”
Experiments for Alexandra continued, posting options and options of different flowers and levels of exposure for the pair to discuss on the thread. While Alexandra was photographing, Alexa was reading Maggie Nelson’s mix of poetry and prose, Bluets. Coincidentally, the photographer’s experiments reminded her of the writer’s use of words, but also the duo’s initial lengthy list. First, Alexa decided to experiment with typography digitally before using cyanotype to create the sun-prints as “the texture of those should play really well with these polaroids,” Alexa explains on the thread.
Digitally, Alexa produced numerous examples of how type could interact with Alexandra’s photographs. However rather than poetic sentences, the designer remained drawn to the bolder typography, particularly the word ‘melt’ to describe the project. Being able to watch Alexa work in this way was a treat for the photographer explaining that she “loved seeing Alexa use an analogue technique to put the text down, experimenting with the sun printing”. “To see those chemical stains felt like a real harmony between the ‘stains and dust’ on my images and to have that down in her work as well.” It was also during this period that Alexa felt the poster came together, particular once the pair had decided to “choose a one colour palette for the two elements,” allowing the poster “to come into itself”.
As a result, the final poster in Alexandra’s words is a mix of styles and creative disciplines in “a bold blended harmony,” she says. For Alexa she sees more of a message that the poster conveys, believing it “has a bit of mystery to it,” she explains. “Alexandra’s raw images of the flowers on black are striking and a little haunting, that feeling is present in this final outcome.”
Dropbox Paper is a collaborative workspace that eliminates distractions that get in the way of creativity. Because you can work with all types of content – from video, to sound to code – in Paper, you and your collaborators can easily edit and discuss all aspects of your project in one centralised place.