Project 4, Exercise 1: Fashion image

I have chosen an image taken by Irving Penn in 2005.

Balenciaga Yeti Coat (A), By Ghesquiere, New York , 2005 Gelatin silver print mounted to board 10 1/4 x 10 1/4 in., Edition of 7 © The Irving Penn Foundation

Balenciaga Yeti Coat (A), By Ghesquiere, New York, 2005
Gelatin silver print mounted to board
10 1/4 x 10 1/4 in., Edition of 7
© The Irving Penn Foundation

  • The silhouette of this particular piece is very full and indistinct, as it appears to be made from many individual strands of bulky wool. The textiles look to be soft and probably trap warm air close to the body, keeping the wearer warm in colder weather. The Yeti Coat is full length and features a wide collar like a cowl. The bulky fibres that make up much of the coat do not appear appear around the neck or at the ends of the sleeves, probably to allow for freedom of movement and to avoid irritating the wearer. The presentation of the coat exaggerates the wearer's size and makes the body seem large and imposing—it is a striking garment.
  • Because of the bulky materials used for most of the coat, its volume is considerable and the garment looks as though it would be heavy. This could be deceptive, depending on the materials used to make the coat—if this is wool (as it appears to be), it would be a very heavy piece to wear. It would probably not be suitable for a shorter person to wear, because the volume would be unflattering without the necessary height to give it scale. This is a garment for a tall, confident and—ideally—slim person who can carry off the look without appearing to be overwhelmed by it.
  • Again, because of the seeming weight and bulk of the materials used, the drape of the coat is heavy and does not conform easily to the shape of the body, as a filmier fabric might. Instead, the garment conceals much of the shape of the body, although it is much fuller at the bottom and narrower at the waist which helps to ensure that the wearer's form is not completely lost.
  • Because of the weight of the garment, it would likely muffle fine movements by the wearer. Instead, the individual might seem to move as a monolith of wool, perhaps with some subtle shaking of individual strands.
  • It is not possible to tell the coat's colour from the monochrome image, but it seems to be uniform and light in tone, without print or pattern. This means that the form of the coat is not broken up but appears as a single unit, with the only exceptions being the absence of heavy strands at the neck and sleeves. At the same time, the strands appear to vary in thickness and length, so there is still some variation in appearance that give more visual interest to the Yeti Coat.

Looking at the image as a fashion photograph, it is clear that Penn has used sidelighting effectively to emphasize the garment's form and texture, its most important qualities. The monochrome treatment keeps the focus on this features and does not allow colour to distract the viewer—the image was made in 2005, so a black and white image was a deliberate stylistic choice.

I find the image striking and the coat bold. It is as much a statement about its wearer as it is protection against the cold. I'd be happy to see if being worn on the street this winter but, as I mentioned above, it would need to have the right wearer to carry off the look without looking awkward. For this reason, the choice of model (slim, elongated body) is important and the photographer has helped to break up the chunky look by opening the neck and creating a v-shape the lengthens the neck and highlights the model's face. The model's hair is also swept back, which keeps her hair from competing with the texture of the coat or being lost against it.

Project 4, Research point: Print and pattern

Two examples of the use of print and pattern come to mind immediately, one on either side of the Atlantic: Burberry's trademark scarf (below left, UK) and the Hudson Bay Company's signature blanket (below right, Canada).

Both patterns are immediately recognizable and both have been imitated. The two companies have worked hard to use the pattern to identify a unique product line that denotes tradition and high-quality, although sometimes with unintended effects. Burberry had to endure years of its pattern being associated with anti-social behaviour ("Burberry versus The Chavs") and Hudson's Bay has been accused of appropriating Indigenous culture ("HBC’s ‘Colonial Barbie’ comes with some baggage"). Both companies have extended the use of their pattern to other items.

Mary Katrantzou

The article cited on Greek fashion designer in the course materials does not seem to be available anymore. There is, however, a useful review of her 2011 Spring Ready-to-Wear show in the online edition of Vogue (accessed 22 August 2017).

As Katrantzou works on her creations she "designs in 3-D"—that is, she plans the form, volume and drape of the garment at the same time that she develops the pattern / illustration that will be screen-printed onto the fabric.

"I thought I was going to do a collection about the seventies photographs of Guy Bourdin and Helmut Newtonall those women in incredible rooms. But then I started to look at the rooms more, and suddenly, I was putting the rooms on the women instead!"

By this, I think Katrantzou meant that rather than have women serve almost as visual accessories within exotic locations, the locations could serve the women by drawing attention to their own appearance. She achieved this through the design process described above that allowed her to digitally print striking architectural images on to the clothes she created. The clothed woman is the centre of attention, not the backdrop in which she is placed (slideshow of garments in the 2011 collection, accessed 22 August 2017).

Examples from Mary Katrantzou's Spring 2011 collection

Examples from Mary Katrantzou's Spring 2011 collection

Project 4, Research point 1: Fashion images

Irving Penn


Mario Testino


Richard Avedon


Terry Richardson


Sarah Moon


David Lachapelle

Project 4, Exercise 4: Cutting Edge

The third dimension

Many, if not all, of the examples of what is "cutting edge" in visual communications are directly linked to the digital revolution. In one sense, this has been somewhat limiting because it implied that the "edge" was largely limited to those forms of visual communication that could be digitized for two-dimensional printing and/or viewing on a monitor. With the advent of 3D printing, however, more digitized visual communications will have the added benefit of depth as well as shape.

More and more artists are now working in the area of 3D printing of their art, making it possible to transmit exact copies of their work anywhere in the world and to scale the work to a client's desired dimensions. Examples of 3D sculpture and wearables (with the potential to create scripted or spontaneous visual 'communications') can be seen on many sites across the Web. Here are just a few examples:

Intelligent typefaces

One of the more interesting items I found during my search was the self-adjusting typeface called Futuracha. Inspired by art deco design, its intelligent properties can be seen in a video for a fund-raising campaign. Each letter in the typeface automatically adjusts to the preceding and following letters to create beautiful ligatures and typographic designs.

A sample of text in the Futuracha typeface showing self-adjusting ligatures and letter combinations.

A sample of text in the Futuracha typeface showing self-adjusting ligatures and letter combinations.

Could it be that typefaces will self-adjust not only to graphical form within words, but to the content of the words themselves? In other words, intelligent text would not only enhance the appearance of words visually but perhaps help to communicating the meaning of a passage?

Visual representation of data

Now that virtually every phenomenon can be recorded and digitized directly or indirectly, we are swimming in rapidly-expanding seas of data. Many of these datasets are so large that is impossible to find meaning within them quickly or effectively. And the democratization of data—in the sense that data are created by and about  a much wider section of the population and affect our lives—means that more of us need help to understand what all this information means. New techniques of visual representation are being developed to make sense of data and to tease out the "stories" they can tell.

"Data visualization" is becoming a specialized field of trained individuals who can interpret the work of quantitative analysts and make it accessible to a broader audience in a way that is both accurate and aesthetically appealing. "Infographics" tell a static and relatively simple data story in graphic form, while more detailed visualizations are often dynamic and designed to allow the end user to monitor evolving data and make decisions.

An infographic describing social web involvement. www.globalwebindex.net

An infographic describing social web involvement. www.globalwebindex.net

A dynamic visualization providing sales information. www.lintao-dashboards.com

A dynamic visualization providing sales information. www.lintao-dashboards.com

The Histography website is a particularly powerful example of visualization of a huge dataset, showing the span of human history as a timeline drawn from every entry on Wikipedia

The next step beyond data visualization allows viewers not only to view data representations passively, but to actively manipulate data in graphical form. A visual interface makes it possible for non-specialists to conduct complex mathematical and statistical computations while exploring large datasets and creating models with them as images.

Data exploration and modelling example. SAS Visual Analytics.

Data exploration and modelling example. SAS Visual Analytics.

Virtual reality

Virtual reality (VR)—an immersive, computer-generated 3D environment—is not new in itself, having been around since the middle of the 20th century. What is cutting-edge, however, is how the necessary equipment to create and experience VR is now within the reach of people outside of laboratories and production studios. It is possible to buy purpose-built VR headsets for hundreds of dollars, but it is also possible to adapt an iPhone or similar device to experience VR. Most VR content has been designed for gaming, but there is nothing to prevent developers from opening up a broader world of travel and art at relatively low cost and easy distribution.

The Zeiss VR One, a virtual reality headset with a slide-out tray for the iPhone 6 (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com).

The Zeiss VR One, a virtual reality headset with a slide-out tray for the iPhone 6 (Photo: Will Shanklin/Gizmag.com).

Reflection

Looking at this collection of new forms of visual communication, some are admittedly more cutting-edge than others. What makes them of interest to me, however, is the way that they open up new possibilities and often to a broader range of people. Whether it is making it possible for ordinary people to understand and ask questions of enormous amounts of data, allowing us to have the sensation of travelling beyond our own time and place, or helping us to communicate more powerfully, each of these innovations can extend our reach as individuals and as a society. They give us new tools to persuade, to inform, to develop and expand identity, to interact and, where necessary, to call into question facts or narratives.

Project 4, Exercise 3: Visual conventions for time and place

Frame-by-frame storytelling

The best example of this type of storytelling is the classic cartoon strip that has been in use for over 100 years and is still employed in graphic novels. It is understood that time passes from one frame to the next and, in some case, place also changes (as can be seen from changes in the illustrated background in each frame).

Boys Will Be Boys, created in 1909 by Harry Grant Dart.

Unbroken chain of narrative

Before the frame-by-frame approach demonstrated above, some historical narratives were related in an unbroken visual story that was read sequentially. In many cases, the story was told only in images while others included text. The Sainte-Chapelle stained glass windows below show the narrative of the Old and New Testaments without words, while in the Bayeux Tapestry key elements of the narrative are described in Latin text.

Sainte-Chapelle, Paris

Sainte-Chapelle, Paris

A detail from the Bayeux Tapestry showing Latin narrative

Motion or speed lines

Commonly seen in cartoons, "motion lines" or "speed lines" clearly indicate direction and speed of a moving object. The more rapid the implied motion, the longer and more severe the lines which can be reinforced by blurring or elongating the moving figure. The cartoon here reminded me of a well-known photograph by Jacques-Henri Lartigue that distorts movement because of the technical characteristics of the shutter in the camera he used. I suspect that a number of the conventions we use to show motion did not exist before the invention of the camera, because the unaided human eye would simply not seen movement this way. (No doubt someone has already written about this at length...).

Use of speech bubbles

Portrayal of clocks, calendars, hour glasses

Maps

By themselves, maps generally provide a visual representation of a particular place. When coupled with lines or other interpretive overlays they can also indicate movement or other changes over time.

A map showing the journey of the Israelites out of Egypt and into Canaan, facsimile of an image from the Geneva Bible of 1560 (engraving)

A map showing the journey of the Israelites out of Egypt and into Canaan, facsimile of an image from the Geneva Bible of 1560 (engraving)

Map of Toronto subway system. Toronto Transit Commission.

Map of Toronto subway system. Toronto Transit Commission.

Changing light and/or season for passage of time

We are so attuned to the change of seasons—and even the changes of the hours of the day—that we sometimes take for granted how we constantly read the quality of light associated with a particular hour, or the colours connected with a particular month or season. But we read them all the time and they have great interpretive and emotional weight for us.

Illustration  showing the changing of seasons on a single tree from www.planet-science.com

Illustration showing the changing of seasons on a single tree from www.planet-science.com

Subject or background movement

Even without the leading lines described above, we associate blurring of an image with movement. And we instantly make judgements about which planes are moving relative to others based on what appears to be sharp and what appears blurred. For example, when the foreground is sharp and the background is blurred—especially when a frame appears in the image—we generally assume that we are on a moving platform or in a vehicle.

Train Window - Green Pine {车窗-青松]. Zhang Xiaogang 张晓刚2010

Train Window - Green Pine{车窗-青松]. Zhang Xiaogang 张晓刚2010

Stages of life, aging

We take for granted that all living things age, die and decay. When we see a series of images that show people or other living things at different stages of life we are able to set them in chronological order without too much effort. The annual images Nicholas Nixon has made of four sisters since 1975 (two of which appear below) is an example of this: we know which picture was taken first and which later.

The Brown Sisters , 1975. Nicholas Nixon.

The Brown Sisters, 1975. Nicholas Nixon.

The Brown Sisters , 2012. Nicholas Nixon.

The Brown Sisters, 2012. Nicholas Nixon.

Signposts, place names

Although perhaps a bit obvious and maybe overlooked, the simplest way to designate a place is to put a sign on it. Our built environment is so full of signs that we might be overwhelmed by them, or register only those that stand out, as in the street scene in Las Vegas. The image below, taken in Iceland, has only one sign but it is intended to give information and a framework for understanding the geology of the place in front of the viewer.

Fremont East District, Las Vegas. 2016.

Fremont East District, Las Vegas. 2016.

Hvannadalshnjúkur, Iceland. 2015.

Hvannadalshnjúkur, Iceland. 2015.

Reflection

I've found that image-making as a whole has gone through important changes, but I think that some of the most significant changes may be related to the technology we have available to us, Those technological conventions have then been carried over into the visual arts. For example, the cartoon above that shows motion lines reminded me of a well-known photograph by Jacques-Henri Lartigue that distorts the shape of a car wheel because of the technical characteristics of the shutter in the camera he used. I suspect that a number of the conventions we use to show motion did not exist before the invention of the camera, because the unaided human eye would simply not seen movement this way. (No doubt someone has already written about this at length...). In the same way, I wonder if the use of frame-by-frame narration was connected with the invention of animation techniques.

Grand Prix of the Automobile Club of France, Course at Dieppe , 1912. Jacques-Henri Lartigue.

Grand Prix of the Automobile Club of France, Course at Dieppe, 1912. Jacques-Henri Lartigue.

In terms of researching this piece, I have to admit that I found it frustrating at times. It wasn't so much the process itself—starting with initial search terms, reviewing the results, refining and combining search terms to get more useful and illustrative results—it had more to do with copyright limitations on images on particular websites and/or the limitations of search engines on the websites of major galleries and image collections. In general, it is far easier to use a powerful search engine like Google that is much more configurable and fast, although the fact that it pulls up everything can be a downside: whose image is this? Can I use it for study purposes? Is this a good representation? Is the information about the image accurate?

Project 4, Exercise 2: Knitting patterns

An initial mind map on knitting

Examples of knitting and knitwear

Many of the historical images I found online (and this is only a representative sample) followed a fairly stereotypical pattern: while both women and men wore knitwear, it was largely made by women, often in groups or in cozy domestic settings. I did manage to find some historical images of men knitting, but there are far fewer of them and they often go out of their way to show men knitting in ways that underline their masculinity (as in the group of men in uniform, above).

It is easier to find contemporary images of men knitting, but a significant number still show the men in ways that otherwise confirm their masculinity (men in uniform, sports figures or actors with a rough edge). It is sometimes hard to tell if these men really knit, or if the image is meant to be ironic.

Another important difference between historical and contemporary images of knitting is the move from a concentration on utility to artistic pursuits. Earlier images of knitted products show almost exclusive interest in items of clothing. More current images show greater imagination in pattern and use of colour in knitwear, and are also much more likely to feature knit items that are solely decorative or clearly intended to be art. Much of this can probably be attributed to a wider variety of knitting tools and materials available, as well as to greater affluence and/or time for leisure activities. 

Project 4, Exercise 1: The next big thing

For this particular piece of contemporary visual communication, I have chosen the logo that was designed to represent the 150th anniversary of the Confederation of Canada (1867–2017). The logo was created by Ariana Cuvin, who won a design competition held by the Government of Canada.

According to the Department of Canadian Heritage,

The logo is composed of a series of diamonds, or “celebratory gems”, arranged in the shape of the iconic maple leaf. The four diamonds at the base represent the four original provinces that formed Confederation in 1867: Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. Additional diamonds extend out from the base to create nine more points—in total representing the 13 provinces and territories.

The logo has been made available in a number of visual treatments that can be used to complement the particular use to which it is put. For illustrative purposes, here are just four of the available visual treatments:

What characterises it as ‘new’? How does it fit within wider contemporary trends?

The logo appears 'new' in at least two senses. First, graphical representations used by the Government of Canada are relatively limited, closely guarded and are well-known by the Canadian public from communications materials, federal buildings and government correspondence. Best known among these are the 'Canada Wordmark' and the graphic representations of Canada's government departments whose uses are governed by the Federal Identity Program. The 'Canada 150' logo is a clear visual departure from these very familiar symbols and graphical representations.

The Canada Wordmark

The Canada Wordmark

A second reason that the 'Canada 150' appears new is that it has been designed with a contemporary aesthetic. Although government communications are rarely known for their daring, this logo is not out of place with other current corporate logos and images.

Are there any direct lines of influence from other contemporary artefacts – or historical ones?

There is indeed an obvious point of comparison or line of influence from an historical artefact: the official logo of Canada's Centennial year in 1967, as seen below:

Canada's Centennial logo, designed by  Stuart Ash

Canada's Centennial logo, designed by Stuart Ash

Although not identical, the two logos clearly share a heritage in that their respective creators have chosen to represent Canada's provinces in territories through the elements of a stylized maple leaf.

What factors may lead to your example becoming ‘last year’s thing’? What aspect of the design will age first? What do you think will replace it?

The 'Canada 150' design will become 'last year's thing' very quickly, because it has built-in obsolescence. The logo is explicitly tied to the sesquicentennial year—2017—and will be out of date by 2018. It will live on in some of the promotional items that people will buy to commemorate the anniversary and will eventually become a nostalgia piece for those who are young now, just as the Centennial logo stirs up memories for those who were schoolchildren in 1967.

The 'Canada 150' text will age first. Without it, the graphic could probably have had a longer shelf-life even though it is so clearly tied to the sesquicentennial. And because these events by definition only happen every fifty years or on other significant anniversaries, nothing will be created to replace it. The logo is a one-off and will fade as quickly as the t-shirts on which it is printed.

Project 4, Exercise 1: The Road

McCarthy, C. (2006) The Road. London: Picador

  • First person narrator – from the point of view of the man (I pushed the cart...)
“I pushed the cart and both I and the boy carried knapsacks. In the knapsacks were essential things in case we had to abandon the cart and make a run for it. Clamped to the handle of the cart was a chrome motorcycle mirror that I used to watch the road behind us. I shifted the pack higher on my shoulders and looked out over the wasted country. The road was empty. Below in the little valley the still grey serpentine of a river. Motionless and precise. Along the shore a burden of dead reeds. Are you okay? I said. The boy nodded. We set out along the blacktop in the gunmetal light, shuffling through the ash, each the other’s world entire.”

Second person – as if you were the boy (You pushed the cart...) [The instructions in the course guide must be incorrect.]
 

“You pushed the cart and we both carried knapsacks. In the knapsacks were essential things in case we had to abandon the cart and make a run for it. Clamped to the handle of the cart was a chrome motorcycle mirror that you used to watch the road behind us. You shifted the pack higher on his shoulders and looked out over the wasted country. The road was empty. Below in the little valley the still grey serpentine of a river. Motionless and precise. Along the shore a burden of dead reeds. Are you okay? You said. I nodded. We set out along the blacktop in the gunmetal light, shuffling through the ash, each the other’s world entire.”
 
  • If McCarthy had chosen the third person limited point of view, think about the difference between telling this story from the boy’s POV or the man’s.

    The difference between telling this story from the boy's or the man's third-person limited POV would first of all arise from the fact that these are different people. Different people have different perspectives. More importantly, we should expect that the difference in age would play a role in the way that they relate their experiences: the man should be more experienced than the boy and have a more mature set of references with which to view, assess and describe. At the same time, the boy's lack of experience might give him a smaller frame of reference but also cause him to filter less of what he is thinking and feeling. There could also be a power differential between the two characters, based on age, size and resources. Or it could be that the boy has reserves of power that we haven't considered. All told, the story could be made to work from any of these perspectives, but each would be a distinct narrative and experience for the reader.
     
  • What impact does changing the narrative angle have on the story? Why do you think McCarthy decided to use an omniscient narrator?

    A change in narrative angle alters the immediacy of the story. First-person narration makes it easier for the reader to feel that he or she is experiencing the action along with the narrating character. It also means, however, that the reader is somewhat at the mercy of the narrator until it can be determined to what degree the narrator is reliable. Moving away from first-person narration gradually pulls the reader back from the action: second-person tells the story as narrative-in-relationship ("you and I") while third-person gives the impression of an objective accounting of facts from just outside the story.

    An omniscient narrator allows the author to tell the story from multiple perspectives in a way that first- or second-person narrative could never achieve. By using this form of narration, McCarthy is able to transcend time and place in the narrative—something that is rarely possible for human characters.