Design Friday

Design Friday. Irving Penn.

I haven’t been doing the “Design Friday” posts on a regular basis for a few months. They became a little to involved and time-consuming from a research standpoint. Obtaining images, and writing the fairly lengthy posts just sucked up to much of my time at night to keep it up. If you read them on a regular basis, I’m sorry that I have slowed down. The good news is, today I want to talk about photographer Irving Penn.

One of the most influential photographers of the second half of the 20th century, Penn has been an inspiration to me in more ways than I can count.

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Irving Penn studied at what is now the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, graduating in 1938. While at the University of the Arts he studied under Alexey Brodovitch with a focus not on photography but painting. After graduation a number of his drawings were published in Harper’s Bazaar, helping to secure a transition to photography as his dominant career path. Penn became known for post World War II feminine chic and glamor photography that had a signature look to it. A look that influenced many of his contemporaries and helped to define a style that is synonymous with the mid-century modern period ranging from the mid 40’s to mid 60’s.

While his prints are always clean and clear, Penn’s subjects varied widely. Many times his photographs were so ahead of their time that they only came to be appreciated as important works in the modernist movement years after their creation. For example, a series of posed nudes whose physical shapes range from thin to plump were shot in 1949-1950, but were not exhibited until 1980. His still life compositions are skillfully arranged assemblages of food or objects; at once spare and highly organized, the objects articulate the abstract interplay of line and volume. His later works are made on aluminum sheets coated with a platinum emulsion rendering the image with a warmth and maturity that un-toned silver prints lacked

Penn is constantly associated with Vogue magazine. His relationship began with the magazine in the early 1940’s. And while it was disrupted by the second world war, Penn returned immediately to Vogue in 1946, where he photographed continually for the magazine, making fashion pictures, still lifes, portraits, and clever, atmospheric confections that touched more or less directly on the world of theater. During 1947, the second year after his return, the essential Penn – what now might be called the historic Penn – emerged. The calm spareness of vision and manner in his pictures became breathtaking. When you see Penn’s photographs against the background of the various trilling, ornamental styles that had seemed to dominate fashion magazines at the time, Penn’s images seemed to represent a new beginning.

It was perhaps Penn’s portraiture and in still life photographs rather than the fashion images that Penn first found full confidence in his own style and eye. Several of his earliest memorable portraits, including George Jean Nathan and H. L. Mencken and John Marin, were made in 1947, as was his fun and whimsical Still Life with Watermelon, one of his triumphs of color photography. Beginning the next year in 1948 Penn traveled to Europe where made many portraits including many older painters and writers had been largely hidden from American audiences during the war years, as well as  younger artists who were generally known only to specialists. The portraits of artists, especially, were an adventure for the youthful Penn because he personally knew and admired their work. His 1948 photograph Joan Miro and his Daughter Dolores is in part an homage to the painting made ten years earlier by Balthus.

A collection of many of his most important works were acquired jointly by the National Portrait Gallery and the Smithsonian American Art Museum in 1990. In 1996 Mr. Penn donated most of his archives and 130 of his prints to the Chicago Art Institute. The Morgan Library & Museum in New York acquired 67 of Mr. Penn’s portraits in 2007 shortly before his death in 2009 and exhibited them in 2008.

The critic Richard Woodward, writing about Penn in 1990, argued that he would be best remembered for the work he did for museum walls. “The steely unity of Irving Penn’s career, the severity and constructed rigor of his work can best be appreciated when he seems to break away from the dictates of fashion for magazines. Only then is it clear how everything he photographs — or, at least, prints — is the product of a remarkably undivided conscience. There are no breaks; only different subjects.”

Design Friday. Kim Høltermand, Deserted Cities.

There is something about photographs taken at night, and in fog, that can’t be matched. The atmosphere, the contrast or lack there of. Both environments can do so much to enhance the look of a photo, and both can be so difficult to shoot well. Kim Høltermand is a master when it comes to shooting images in fog shrouded environments.

In his new series “Deserted Cities”, Høltermand has created a set of stunning  images that are haunting and completely stunning. Beautiful compositions with images that are softened by the atmosphere, void of people, and surface a feeling of introspection and isolation within the space in which they are shot.

Copenhagen based Høltermand studied design and worked as a professional graphic designer for a number of years before taking up photography as a serious endeavor. He purchased his first professional DSLR just a few years ago, and since then his work, which focuses primarily on architectural photography has really taken off.

These images are a careful balance between positive and negative space, that beautifully capture a moment that will soon be lost as the fog lifts from its surroundings.

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Design Friday. Artrage for the iPad.

About a month ago my friend Tim turned me on to yet another painting application for the iPad, Artrage HD. I checked it out and bought it for the special intro price of $1.99. After installing it, I played with it some, but never gave it a full chance, because I never spent enough time with it.

Last night I sat down and finally gave the app some real hands on time and spent a couple of hours actually painting with it, getting to know the UI, and really checking out what this tool can do. The thing for me that separates this app, from others like “Sketch Up” is the look of the natural media tools it uses to resemble real paint. The mediums in its arsenal have better textures and look more like real paint, crayons, and pastels. It reminds me of the desktop application “Painter” from Corel.

ArtRage provides that satisfying experience of actually painting. It provides oil paints that smear and blend on the canvas, watercolor strokes that merge to create soft, wet blends, and each different tool and medium interacts on your iPad screen the way it would if  you were painting with traditional tools in the art studio.

The iPad user interface is well thought out and allows artists of all levels to unleash their creativity and to spontaneously draw, sketch, and paint on the iPad in a wide range of artistic styles.

Traditionally trained artists will readily adapt to the intuitive user interface of the iPad versions of their tools like watercolors, pencil, chalk, oils, palette knife and airbrush, as well as customizable surfaces for canvas and paper. Because of this everyone can feel comfortable getting started with painting and drawing using   familiar tools that look and feel like they should. Anything you create on your iPad is interchangeable with the desktop version of the Artrage application, and your files can be exported directly to your camera roll or shared on a variety of social networks.

One of the things I really like about this program is, it allows me to paint and draw in a loose fluid style, or really tighten things up if needed.

Design Friday. Swiss Air.

Tomorrow I am traveling to Los Angeles for the Adobe Max conference, and since I’ll be flying I thought an appropriate Design Friday topic would be something that relates to the airline industry. I thought about making a statement focused on the subject of how people dress when they fly these days, or on how the leg room has gotten smaller while humans continue to get larger, but instead I decided to talk about Swiss Air’s fantastic printed material from the golden age of air travel. The 50’s through the 70’s.

I gathered most of these images from the ultimate Swiss Air fan site, so unfortunately there are some huge differences in sizing in the slide show below. I wish I had larger versions of some of the Ticket holders and the Timetables, but I didn’t prep these images and there is only so much scaling you can do.

The number of designers that worked on this material of the years has been huge. They include noted Swiss designers like Hans Neuburg, Robert Roser, Rudolf Lukes, Rolf Harder. No matter who worked on this material though, one thing is clear. There is a very conscious effort to make even the smallest material well designed. Each piece effectively uses grid systems, bold color, modern type, illustration and photography to convey the message in an appealing easy to understand form. When I look at these documents and think about the in-flight magazine I’ll have a chance to browse through tomorrow, it makes me long for the days when flying felt special, not like taking a bus at 30,000 feet.

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