Cover Stories: Thoughtfulness in design (27 Oct 2017)
by Shane de Lange (@shanenilfunct) Let’s delve into great media design from South Africa and around the world:
- Foam calls for the revival of notions that challenge the status quo, experiment with media and embrace otherness — international/print/online
- GQ South Africa‘s portrait of the contemporary, cosmopolitan African man — local/print
- The Lake showcases millennial concerns and alternative culture today — local/print
- The New Yorker portrays Trump as a scary and dangerous clown — international/print
- Topic undresses various social costumes, both literal and figurative, online and IRL — online
- VU pioneered the notions of challenging the status quo, experimental media and the embrace of otherness — iconic
GQ (South Africa), November 2017
In a time when male role models, especially those in leadership roles, are in short supply, even the smallest gesture makes a big difference. The November 2017 issue of GQ South Africa makes such a gesture, featuring Springbok rugby player, Siya Kolisi, known for his ability play in any position, back or or front row, but mostly featuring as a prominent flank in the front guard. Mirroring his abilities on the field, Kolisi establishes the important distinction between style and substance, particularly as a responsible man — accountable — taking ownership of his life. It’s all about the balance between surface and depth, both on the field and off.
The New Yorker (US), 30 October 2017
In the context of US politics, it seems apt to appropriate from the plot of “IT” (a popular horror film based on a classic Steven King novel), in which a bloodthirsty and enigmatic clown, known as Pennywise, assumes the appearance of what his victims fear most, ultimately leading to their demise. The cover for the 30 October 2017 issue of The New Yorker shows Donald Trump assuming the guise of Pennywise, within a dark, imposing forest that acquaints the surrealism of Rene Magritte with the childhood innocence of Maurice Sendak (author and illustrator of Where the Wild Things Are). Illustrator Carter Goodrich, an established New Yorker alumnus, riffs off “IT” in presenting the president of the United States as a “dangerous clown”.
Simply put, this is a nightmarish situation, horrific to many people. It is a situation where Trump has irrevocably disrupted lives, not only in America but across the world. To quote the artist, “He’s already a cartoon villain, infantile and strange.” People like Trump eat culture for breakfast, and then proceed to spit it out. We need more culture creators and influencers to fight against the politically diseased and polluted will of those in power.
The Lake (South Africa), Issue 17
It’s easy to assume that the current generation is at a loss, given the common misconceptions that the youth are entitled, apathetic, slothsome, void of a consciousness or movement, and addicted to media and the internet — among a plethora of other gripes about Millennials. Issue #17 challenges this perspective, featuring Kalo Canterbury (aka K-$) who is a picture of Simulacra (following the philosophical writings of Jean Baudrillard): a representation of a representation of a representation. The clever guise that this Cape-Town based DJ imbues is a performance artwork of the highest degree, recalling the work of Cindy Sherman, Joseph Beuys, Tracey Rose and Steven Cohen, to name a few. Androgynous, on first glance schizophrenic in appearance, K-$ owns his identity, represented here as a pastiche of cultural signifiers, a mashup of mediated sources, from subtle references to Cape Coloured community culture and the Sopranos and Tony Bennet, to nostalgic musical memories of Cape Town’s lower class suburbia, the LGBTQ community, and Gucci fashion. Intertextuality meets transgender politics in this colorful and discursively layered cover, showing that there is far more depth to the current generation than meets the eye and announcing that nothing is original anymore. Deal with it.
Foam (Netherlands), Talent Issue, Issue 48, 2017
Issue 48 of Foam Magazine focuses on the current period of global uncertainty, based upon the theme of “talent”. What will become of talent, given the manner in which the governments and corporations of the world are thinking presently? As an international platform for photography, from documentary to fashion, present and past, known and unknown, Foam is in a special position to express these important cultural and sociopolitical concerns.
This is the 11th edition of the Talent Issue featuring the work of 20 emerging artists, showcasing a number of long-term projects that stress the vital roles that creativity, critical thinking, and other cultural necessities have to play in society. The cover is a detail of a work from a series titled “Traces” by Polish artist, Weronika Gęsicka, one of the featured talents in this issue. This well-curated collection of next-generation artists provides an uplifting forecast for the state of culture today, despite ardent attempts to degrade such efforts from many people in positions of power.
Serving as a curated space, a gallery in a book so to speak, Foam presents eight portfolios. Each is supported by a critical essay explaining the project concept and the meaning behind each body of work. Aside from these, as one of the regular features, a selection from South African artist Zanele Muholi’s ongoing “Somnyama Ngonyama” series has also been included. Although the printed magazine is known for its world-class graphic design, careful choice of paper stocks, choice layout, experimental format and quality printing methods, the website is pretty darn cool in its own right, and stands in perfect synergy with its printed sibling.
Topic (US), issue 4, October 2017
Topic is an unconventional storytelling studio, founded by First Look Media, which supports culture creators and critical thinkers who are actively making things on the edge, from filmmakers and musicians to designers and artists. Emphasis is placed on stories that show how the work of various artists have meaningful effects in society. Explored through a variety of fiction and nonfiction, Topic discovers fresh and independent voices, supported by the hardened experience of established, older voices.
The current issue, #4, is all about the manner in which we present ourselves, in public and in private, online and in real life (IRL). Starting with a digital series titled “aka Wyatt Cenac”, a 21st-century superhero story, this issue fixates on the subject of costumes. Be it as a metaphor for the various social masks that we wear in order to prevent from being exposed for who we are, or a literal costume, this theme investigates the notion of an ‘authentic’ self in society today.
The digital cover is the creation of London-based design collective, La Boca, known for its colorful work for humdrum forgettable clients such as Studio Ghibli, Wired magazine, and Warner Bros.
VU (France), 5 March 1934, and 13 May 1931
With a publishing canon comprising 600 issues, French pictorial magazine, VU, was in print from 1928 to 1940, and was one of the earliest large format weeklies. It paved the way for the media revolution of the 1920s onwards. With pages filled with images, informed by avant-garde tendencies and all placed within the then-fledgling format of the photographic essay, VU was pioneering in its literary approach and visual language: a clear precursor to the modern photojournalism epitomised by magazines such as Life. Inspired by Russian constructivist perspectives on layout, design and aesthetics — reminiscent of the work of artists such as Alexandre Rodchenko, El Lizzitsky and the Soviet publication USSR in Construction — VU featured dynamic layouts and expressive double-page spreads, with contributions from history’s most-influential photographers, including Cartier-Bresson, Lotar, and Man Ray.
VU’s focus on photography documented an interesting vision of the world, given the time in which it was produced: one that was eclectic and pluralist, embracing diversity and difference, and using images to deliver punchy socio-political criticism. This is evidenced by the cover to the March 1934 issue, featuring a photomontage of an African man (assumedly a colonial slave) supporting, like a mighty Grecian column, various archetypal symbols of the west, such as industry, agriculture and urbanisation. A similar sentiment in support of perceived ‘otherness’ may be seen in the cover to the May 1931 issue, which features a French headline stating: “the inauguration of the colonial exhibition”. Even by contemporary standards, subversive and experimental.
Shane de Lange (@shanenilfunct) is a designer, writer, and educator currently based in Cape Town, South Africa, working in the fields of communication design and digital media. He works from Gilgamesh, a small design studio, and is a senior lecturer in graphic design at Vega School in Cape Town. Connect on Pinterest and Instagram.
Cover Stories, formerly MagLove, is a regular slot deconstructing media cover design, both past and present.