Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘art’

21 JULY, 2011

How Alex Steinweiss Invented the Album Cover

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A brief history of music for the eyes, or how to go from brown paper to design revolution in 7 pounds.

Alex Steinweiss, father of the album cover, lived to be ninety-four, but his legacy will endure for centuries to come. The record sleeves and album artwork we know and love, and have come to take for granted, owe their existence to the iconic designer, who in 1940 created the first illustrated 78 rpm album package as a young art director at Columbia Records. The company took a chance on his idea — to replace the standard plain brown wrapper with an eye-catching poster-like illustration — and increased its record sales eightfold in mere months. His covers, blending bold typography with elegant, graphically ambitious artwork, forever changed not only the way albums were sold, but also the way audiences related to recorded music. He made, as critics now frequently say, “music for the eyes.”

I love music so much and I had such ambition that I was willing to go way beyond what the hell they paid me for. I wanted people to look at the artwork and hear the music.” ~ Alex Steinweiss

Steinweiss’ extraordinary work and legacy live on in Alex Steinweiss: The Inventor of the Modern Album Cover — a lavish Taschen volume by triple Grammy Award-winning art director Kevin Reagan and prolific design writer Steven Heller (yes, him again), cataloguing three decades’ worth of Steinweiss’s magnificent classical, jazz and popular records, as well as logos, labels, advertising ephemera and even his very own typeface, contextualized with essays that illuminate their historical importance, visual innovation and cultural legacy.

And because it’s Taschen, the 420-page tome weighs in at 7 pounds and is also available as a lust-worthy ultra-limited-edition of 1,500 copies, each signed by the artist and including a serigraph print, for $700. (Cue in donation prompt…)

Promotional card sent to Steinweiss' clients, ca. 1952.

Image courtesy of Taschen

Equal parts visual poetry, music and design history, and blueprint for creative entrepreneurship, Alex Steinweiss: The Inventor of the Modern Album Cover is an absolute treat from cover to glorious cover. For more on Steinweiss, you can explore the remarkable range of his work in Columbia Records’ Birka Jazz Archive.

Hat tip to studiomate Rob Weychert; images courtesy of Taschen

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20 JULY, 2011

Urban Atrophy: Haunting Photos of Architectural Ghosts

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What Classic Coke has to do with abandoned dolls and the afterlife of buildings.

The Japanese find beauty in decay, accepting the natural cycle of growth and collapse. This philosophy might be foreign to our Western clinging to the corporeal, but since 2005, Dan Haga and Dan Ayers have been looking for beauty and poeticism in abandoned schools, psychiatric hospitals, missile silos, amusement parks, cathedrals, jails, churches, and other remnants of modern civilization.

This year, they immortalized their finds in Urban Atrophy — a spellbinding collection of 560 striking, haunting images, alongside text that contextualizes these architectural ghosts and exposes the afterlife of ordinary buildings.

Pennhurst Hospital

Charles H. Hickey, Jr. School

Pennhurst Hospital

The Queen Theater

United Cross

Fort Washington

Hebrew Orphan Asylum

The Queen Theater

Mayfair Theatre

via Web Urbanist; images from Urban Atrophy

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19 JULY, 2011

Andrew Bush’s Drive-By Portraits: A Meditation on Character

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What a vintage Beetle has to do with speeding grannies and the challenges of family travel.

Many years ago — okay, maybe three — I came across Andrew Bush’s fantastic photos of everyday people cruising the freeways of Los Angeles, thanks to Very Short List, one of my 5 favorite newsletters for a better, more interesting life. This week, Public School reminded me of the Vector Portraits series, immortalized in the excellent coffeetable book Drive — a selection of Bush’s best photographs, exploring the often uncomfortable intersection of the public and the private through his peculiar drive-by portraits.

Man heading south at 73 mph on Interstate 5 near Buttonwillow Drive outside of Bakersfield, California, at 5:36 p.m. on a Tuesday in March 1992

Woman pausing at a Beverly Hills intersection at 2:22 p.m. on September 12, 1990

Man drifting northwest at approximately 68 mph on U.S. Route 101 somewhere near Camarillo, California, one evening in 1989

Each image of car and driver captures the personality of the person behind the wheel with surprising simplicity, candid yet unabashedly creative, resulting in what Cathleen Medwick eloquently calls “a meditation on character, class, [and] the human condition, precarious at any speed.”

Man drifting near the shoulder at 61 mph on Interstate 405 around the Getty Drive exit at 4:01 p.m. on a Tuesday in September 1992

Someone's son traveling northbound at 60 mph on U.S. Route 101 near Santa Barbara at 1:55 p.m. in August 1993

Family traveling northwest at 63 mph on Interstate 244 near Yale Avenue in Tulsa, Oklahoma, at approximately 4:15 p.m. on the last day of 1991

Bush takes his portraits by driving alongside his subjects, often at 60mph, with a camera attached to his passenger window. The captions on each photograph, frequently imbued with subtle humor, include notes on the speed and direction he was going. An essay by cultural critic Patt Morrison contextualizes the series and an interview with Bush offers a peek inside the mind and creative process of one of today’s most remarkable photographic artists.

Women racing southwest at 41 mph along 26th Street near the Riviera Country Club, Pacific Palisades, California, at 1:14 p.m. on a Tuesday in February 1997

Woman waiting to proceed south at Sunset and Highland boulevards, Los Angeles, at approximately 11:59 a.m. one day in February 1997

High school students facing north at 0 mph on Sepulveda Boulevard in Westwood, California, at 3:01 p.m. on a Saturday in February 1997

With images spanning nearly 15 years, Drive is as much a time-capsule of techno-anthropology, with its evolving car models and hairstyles, as it is a rich and peculiar collective portrait of car culture and the myriad vehicles of human character that fuel it.

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