Russia in Color

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I found that Kiev by The Sochi Project (text and photographs by Rob Hornstra) and La Prose Du Transsiberien by Blaise Cendrars and Sonia Delaunay-Terk had more in common with one another than their country of origin.  It is true, both books are from and about Russia, but I was drawn to the similarities between the treatment of color, text, and untraditional binding methods of each book.


The Sochi Project is an ongoing endeavor by a small group to document the transformation of Sochi, Russia into the site of the 2014 Olympic Games. Kiev is one of several volumes of The Sochi Project, and it features photographs by Rob Hornstra.  On working with an old Russian camera, Hornstra commented, “I photographed things that I had never seen through the lens of my Mamiya.” Kiev, with its brilliantly vibrant color photographs (printed from color negatives, instead of digital files) serves as an ode analog photography and the past and tradition the medium represents. The book, printed on cardstock folded origami style, is actually one large sheet of paper that can be unfolded and viewed from both sides. For Hornstra, this project was about seeing the world through a new lens (pun kind of intended) and communicating this experience in a simple yet effective structure.the-sochi-project-kievprose-siberien

La Prose Du Transsiberien is poem that tells the story of a train trip taken by the 16 year old poet on a journey from Moscow to Mongolia during the Russian Revolution of 1905.  While only 60 of the 150 planned copies were printed, the intention was to have the total length of all 150 books equal the height of the Eiffel Tower.  This was to turn the book into a symbol of modernity, which  was reflected in both the text and prints featured in the book.  Different fonts were used to suggest movement and mood, while the artist played with color and shape to create visual rhythm that would stand on equal footing with the text.  La Prose Du Transsiberien is made of four large sheets of paper that have been glued together and folded accordion style.  Like Kiev, La Prose Du Transsiberien’s pages can be viewed individually, or as a cohesive work. While Kiev features far less text than La Prose Du Transsiberien, both books use color to evoke feeling, understanding, and excitement for the viewer. Both books are printed on decent, but not extravagant paper, and can be folded into a manageable size. I was drawn to these books as they both utilize the juxtaposition of color to communicate the experience of a specific place and time in Russia. In essence, process and material are what makes both of these books effective and compelling.



Book sets 5 and 6

IMG_6379 IMG_6371 IMG_6375Barbara Hodgson and &Claudia Cohen The Wundercabinet book/artifact collection made for an intricately tactile reading experience.  Inspired by the 16th century Wunderkammen of European collectors, Hodgson and Cohen set out to create a project that would act as an extension of a room where such a collection of “exotic curiosities” would have been housed.  The authors successfully managed to simulate the actual experience of sensory-overload upon entering a Wundrkammen.  In an actual Wunderkammen, the collection’s owner would have been able to explain objects and provide anecdotes as needed.  Hodgson and Cohen created their book as a stand in, allowing readers a guide to their experience with the objects inside the box. While their introduction even states: “Drawn as well to a universe compressed into the side of a box, we delight in the microcosm that encourages playful juxtaposition and multi-sensory contemplation,” this is obvious withoutany explanation. The personal nature of the collection would not be as strong if the small objects were absent from the final product – even though it could be argued that the objects are not book-like. In essence, the book becomes the Wunderkammen, organizing the chaotic nature of an actual room of wonder – condensing it into a manageable form that is still complex and consuming.


Wordswordswords by Edwin Schlossberg is a book that is very dependent on its materiality for meaning. While each page is a uniform size, Schlossberg (or maybe the publisher/others involved) expanded the possibilities of experience with the use of paper, plastic and aluminum (or something like aluminum).  Each page reacts differently to its surroundings, making for a reading experience that is in constant flux. This book is aesthetically beautiful but the material choices were made to enhance the meaning of the words onthe pages. In some, the reader’s face is mirrored back at them, while in others a constant shift of light occurs as the page is turned. Using clear plastic instead of paper for some of the pages was an interesting choice that added a new dimension to Wordswordswords.  The plastic pages allowed me to see through them to the pages before/after and in other instances a stack of plastic pages worked together to form complete words and sentences – with parts of each being printed on different layers. This book would not have been as successful had it been printed with normal materials and all harmony between text and page would have been lost.IMG_6401IMG_6397IMG_6390

Book set 4

Cortege is bold, both in text and image.  With Andre Lanskoy’s collages being so visually loud, there was a large margin of error in creating a balance between word and image. I think that the way Pierre Lecuire chose to approach this potential relationship between text and image was successful.  This success, in many ways, was due to Lecuire’s creative direction.  Lecuire pushed Lanskoy to use collage instead of his traditional method painting, and thus Lecuire could better anticipate the visual relationship between his poetry and Lanskoy’s work.

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I found Cortege to be overwhelming, but not necessarily in a bad way. The text is so large, but it had to be to stand against the strong geometric color of Lanskoy’s collages.  The text almost acts as another visual collage of sorts becauseof the way it takes up the entire page.  On some pages, the shapes of the large capital letters are mimicked in the forms that comprise the accompanying collage. This subtle harmony may or may not have been intentional, but due to Lecuire’s involvement in every aspect of his books’ production, I would assume he was hyperaware of the nuances of connections between text and image.

While Cortege is a collaborative work, Lecuire definitely had a clear creative vision.  From what I gathered from the Giroud reading, Lecuire’s books were less collaborative than other Livre D’Artistes.  Lecuire wrote, designed and published his books and I got the feeling that he employed, rather than collaborated with, the artists he chose.  This style ultimately produced very cohesive works, but there was less diverse conversation between text and image.

As I don’t speak French, I can only comment on the visual relationship between text and image in Le Chef-d’oevre Inconnu (though I did do a little research on this book, and will include it in this post, I acquired this knowledge after my initial experience with the book).  The layout of Le Chef-d’oevre Inconnu was a good balance between the heavily integrated text/image of A Toute Epreuve and the physical separation of text/image of Cortege.  Each folio presented a different juxtaposition of text and image; some pages were mainly text interspersed with smaller images, while others were dedicated to Picasso’s drawings entirely. A second relationship, that between image and image, was also present in Le Chef-d’oevre Inconnu, which gave the book a multidimensional feeling.  Often there was the coupling of stylistically different images on one page spread.  This encouraged the reader to find parallels and relationships between content on a deeper level.


I discovered through my research that Picasso’s illustrations do not serve as a literal depiction of Balzac’s text but rather are inspired by Picasso’s identification with the main character from Le Chef-d’oevre Inconnu.  As was traditional of Vollard’s publishing style, Picasso had free range to interpret the text as he saw fit.  The collaborative aspect was most prevalent between publisher and artist, as Vollard acted as a stand-in or representative for Balzac who died in 1850.

Book sets 2 and 3

“Well, I lay it down, first, that a book quite un-ornamental can look actually and positively beautiful, and not merely un-ugly…” William Morris, The Ideal Book, 67

The books that sprung from Fine Printing movement were beautiful because of the time and thought that went into their design. Each element of a book was carefully crafted; each decision made during its creation was made consciously and deliberately. For William Morris, and like-minded printers, Fine Printing was about paying homage to the art of the book and the return to traditional pre-industrial printing techniques.  Littlejourneys to the homes of eminent artists: Raphael by Elbert Hubbard (Book Set 2) exemplifies many of the hallmarks of the Fine Printing esthetic. I will start with the typographic layout of Raphael because, as Morris said, it “is a most important point.”IMG_5646IMG_5655

Morris held that modern printers had disregarded the importance the page layout and the integral role it played in a reader’s experience of a book.  Pages are rarely viewed alone – more often than not, we view page spreads.  This means that we are always looking at two pages at once. Morris believed that pages should be printed with margins that suit the way in which we view them. Raphael’s pages are printed on the page following traditional margin proportions of a Fine Print book – the left margin being the smallest with the top and right margins progressing in size, ending with the largest margin on the bottom. When looked at as a spread, the type flows out from the center fold, creating a unified feeling that is lost when a printer “dumps down his page” in the middle of the paper.

Raphael opens with a dense decorative woodcut, but besides that is modestly “ornamented” which puts the focus on the typography and what it does for the text. The type is a true black which lends itself to being easily read. The only problem with the text was the lack of leading separating paragraph changes.. As a modern reader, I had a hard time with the paragraph symbol notations, but had I been reading it at the time of its printing, 1902, maybe this would not have bothered me. Printed on course handmade paper, Raphael fits easily in the hand, which leads me to believe its printer intended it to be a book that could be enjoyed anywhere the owner chose to bring it. Between the letter press type, handmade paper, and thoughtful decoration, it is clear that a great deal of care went into making this book beautiful – something Morris surly would have appreciated.


Emily McVarish’s Was Here does not technically fall into the Fine Printing family, but I think that it is still quite relevant to our discussion.  Was Here is composed of about 65 pages, with four different fonts printed in six colors at varying sizes.  At first glance, this book would make both Morris and Russem ill, but McVarish’s creative use of typography actually serves the text (arguably) better than any of the more traditional books we have looked at (in my opinion). I am going to attempt to recreate my experience with this book in order to support my claim:


I approached Was Here like I would any book; I sat down, opened it up, and began to read its pages chronologically. I felt like I was reading a poem, but I wasn’t sure how all of the words were stringing together. Each page had one to four different typefaces, and at times it was confusing to read, but I trudged on.  Littered throughout the book were photographs, or rather two photographs that were cut up, or magnified, and then repeated.  As I read through the book, I started to think about what we had learned about typeface and the important role it has played in the history of communicating a text. Then it hit me: the typefaces are not random; they are different for a reason. I flung (gently, of course) the pages back and started from the beginning – but this time through, I only read one typeface (the all-caps, san serif, red/green/blue typeface). This is what I read (from here on, anything in [] is a note from me, but anything in () is actually that way in the text. Also, please excuse the spacing – I copied and pasted this from a word document – I tried to change it here but the blog won’t let me):

Every moment of our lives

Has a hole punched in it.

This picture shows one such perforation

Cut through the middle of a clear day’s sleep.

No picture can give us the face of first-persons.

Faces in pictures just say, “unclaimed.”

Signals shoot past a gap in their eyes,

As we go on stirring the cinders.

A surface veracity

Flits along presently,

A tapping

We have only to follow:

“Here we see …”

“These buildings stand …”

We Leave the station.




When we speak into a picture, our words strike the dead and departed.

These words move a pointer over a life, to its stead.

Yet where we speak, whole worlds are deposited,

Accounts kept on a grain of shade.

Each picture tends a portable past,

And a filed of actuality,

Scaled by desire for mastery

And trimmed at the edges:

(In)complete in every detail.

Here is a particularity

Enough to fill a hundred histories.

(We do not know who that man was.)




When we respire on a recorded detail,

We upset the weight of an interval,


Here lying in layer above it

“That was the end of that,” we say

“Then came only this.”


Extended, descended

From that glistening trait,

Some small line of credit

Is looking at us.

Unseen then, uncanny now,

Its promise (of plenty)

Outlives the telling.




Here and there

If we look at a sleeping compartment

And see the turn of a finder’s key,

We overlook the latest graves,

Our sweeping lupe has plotted them:

Coming, coming, gone.

The picture before us

does not foretell us

From it we lift a longing’s invention

on rounds of indeterminacy.


[red small]


We see the skip

Along the tapping strip

that always mourns

its moment holes

And blindly circles

Their transparency

Of a starting place

The disk action

Of the dreamed.

that coiled


which lines

a pictured


The movement

of an origin

Those ledgers of a latency,

the tallies

of expectancy.



I then went back to the beginning and only read the medium-sized black serif un-italic typeface and read this:


Great crowds pass through these quantities, the carriers of an instant.

Now a single phrase, “in such a place

at such a time”

holds them restless to the floor,

prevents their forward motion.


Countless lives have passed this way.

Their places have been taken.

Visitors to the great hall see

every type of home improvement..

Next comes the arc of a household name,

its letters outline and outstanding

on the face of an upright display.

A thoughsand dashes extend its status.

(The sawdust slows our crowding steps.)

Inside the gallery, the traffic has gathered.

This little travelling will not dissolve.

The man in this picture has been saved up

He holds a distance as he walked toward the doors.

The man looked up

Another man enters the fast falling frame

The man who looked up was passing. He is still.

The figure in the foreground is waiting for a ticket to be admitted.

As if mentioned, he turned his head and was taken, grey-clad, to be stored and kept, to be come true.

The white packet on the left is trembling.

Here we see a bit of a person.

I am dead:

in perfect condition.

And we are lost:


Who is dead?

This unfeeling stranger


Now, perhaps, a street runs through him.

All these watchers are deserted

A few people stopped to look.

The noise of street traffic

is stamped on them.

A woman sights a statue

in her quick vicinity.

She is dependent for her position

on the instance of per patenting.

Every casting is the same.

(Release me.)

(Release me.) [backwards]

I would touch you, am worth remembering

Often years pass by before you and I begin to meet.

I suffered, yes, I see that now.

I had lost the grace of uncertainty.

And it is I who must do the work

of producing this instant,

cutting down year to be

always arriving

at the same



“I will


I was,”



to say.

Here, in this view,

the date

is fixed,

and I am left

to run,

to run,

to run,


Shall I


the frame,

so you

can see


What shows will last,

you know.

But such remains

cannot become.

Now you have seen.

“Here is a man elapsed,”

you say.

“If he had been content to stand,

he might have been distilled.”

But you have seen

the soft edge

and the faded generality.

File me under “stricken.”



Next the very small black serif typeface:


As the city grew, lines slowly widened.

Streets assembled along a wire

And turned into the row you see here.

Hyphens of lives projected this district

from parting point to avenue,

casting little shadows.

A magazine vendor lived here.

In large cities, the time of daily

is scored in concrete seconds,

laid out in strips,

and lined with still doorways to pass.

Buildings repeat buildings

to keep their punctual places.

Further on, a window will

leave room to let an instant.

Here we see the schedule of streets

filled with shifts and glass appointments.

Shop windows and shelves perfect a readiness,

standing keen, side by side.

Sometimes the pull of the pavement

and the particles of the hour

will create a shaft or surface tension,

and we may wish to ask the wire:

How long can this corner

afford to keep time?




Then the black italic serif typeface:


The finished product rotates slowly.

It is the last word revolved and reflected.

A long line of short distances,

A thin sheet of novelty

assure its turning constancy.

And still the packages fall from

the stack,

breaking their way through resting eyes

to alight on a moment’s vacancy.

Every article in this room

is labeled with an offer.

Each clerks countenance

meets a lasting standard.

Here we see a clever model

designed to be fulfilled and emptied,

separate in its own clear wrapper,

blind and complete in itself.

These extra attachments

have been places to complete,

pressed together with distinction.

There are many to be delivered


Then the large (it actually varied in size quite a bit, but I made the decision that since it was all the same font and color, that it was one unit) silver typeface:


This is a long, narrow current of air playing on folds in a monument.

Notice the tags exceeding their wares with the first craft of decay.

Labels seal the ruins of the ready.

The passer-by has an untouched history.

Passengers are the fragment’s attendants.

No documents follow in their tracks.


I was incredibly dizzy and felt sick while reading Was Here due to the speed required to flip through the book when reading only one typeface.  Rapidly flipping through 65 pages more than four times was really hard but it was exhilarating.  That moment of discovery was incredible because I had come to it without instruction.  Knowing the history of the role typography has played in book making and Fine Printing enabled me to make this discovery.  Russem quoted architect Charles Eames definition of design as “a plan for arranging elements in such a way as to best accomplish a particular purpose.” Had McVarish simply printed her poems on separate pages, I don’t think they would have been as successful.  She utilized typeface and page layout to generate a physical and emotional experience for her reader. McVarish’s choices do accomplish a particular purpose and while her book may also be aesthetically hectic, it is done so with deliberation. By using several fonts, McVarish was able to give the reader two options; to read each typeface separately or to read them all as one.  Each choice would create a different poem, but neither way is ‘wrong’ (I say this because if reading the book in a traditional manner was not what McVarish wanted, then she wouldn’t have printed it in a way that made a reading of that nature possible).  While Was Here was not printed on handmade paper or printed with a letter press, the interactive nature of my reading experience made me appreciate the book more than any of the older texts from book set three.  The Fine Printers had their readers in mind when they chose to use high quality paper and a traditional, legible page layout but Emily McVarish also had her readers in mind when she made the decision to use a complex layout and varying fonts to present her poetry.


Blog Post 1: William Blake’s Night Thoughts Illustrations

Illustration; Page 23

Illustration; Page 23

I was instantly drawn to The complaint and the consolation, or Night Thoughts by Edward Young.  While Night Thoughts was not the only book from the set to have accompanying imagery, or even color, there was something bizarre about William Blake’s illustrations that I found off-putting and hypnotizing.  The combination of the heavy subject matter of Young’s poem (Night Thoughts is about death and the fragility of human life) and the soft, almost translucent, color palette of Blake’s prints was unexpected but quite powerful.  I suppose that I would expect a text about death to be illustrated with rich, imposing colors.  Yet, Blake’s use of traditionally soothing tones for illustrations that are peculiar and disturbing resulted in a viewing experience that I found to be unsettling – far more so than if the illustrations had been rendered in dark, dramatic colors.  I have always loved art that can make me feel uncomfortable –an artist must have an understanding of human tolerance for unpleasant experiences; they need to intuitively sense how much is almost too much. Blake most definitely understood, whether cognitively or innately, this balance.


Blake rendered his figures in such a way that, while I knew I was looking at visual representations of ‘other’ humans, I felt that they were somehow different, almost alien.  After spending time with the book, I have decided that this foreignness comes from Night Thought’s characters being incredibly expressive and emotive while also looking almost dead.  The figures seem languid with their fleshy pallor – they heighten the fragile state of human existence that concerns Young’s poem.  Being relatively unfamiliar with William Blake illustrations, I had thought that maybe these sickly figures could just be inline with Blake’s esthetic but upon doing a bit of research on his artistic style I found his Night Thoughts prints to be slightly less epic in their drama than was typical of his other drawings. Blake took time to tailor his illustrations to the needs of the poem – something I appreciated as a viewer.


In my research, I came across this interesting fact: “while Blake based his designs closely on the text, many of the images are based on personifications or metaphors in the poem.  This approach tends to literalize what is only a figure of speech in the text, thereby confounding conventional distinctions between the literal and the metaphoric.”[1] I had noticed this while reading the poem, but I am not sure if I fully grasped the exact relationship between word and image until coming across the above quote.  Out of Blake’s literal interpretation of Young’s poetic metaphors comes the fanciful, otherworldly quality of Night Thoughts that makes the book so intriguing.  I think it is what makes me feel like I am looking into some type of parallel world that is familiar but, in some indescribable way (and I mean this beyond the obvious of floating people, human-like creatures, imaginary landscape etc), different from anything I know.

Illustration; Page 7

Illustration; Page 7

[1] The William Blake Archive.