Designers and photography: Doing shit differently since the 1990s

Ellen Lupton notices that although the Rodchenko’s Kino Glaz poster (1924) represents and celebrates the mechanization of vision, he uses photography in an inventive way combining the knowledge of older and newer technology.1 Analyzing the poster at surface, there is a boy with duplicated images, each projected by two movie cameras that employ an intense projection of perspective inspired by the technicality of cinema. The two movie cameras project an extreme shift in scale of the single eye that the boy looks up at. This leads to Rodchenko’s hand-done lettering which represents the idea of technology more efficiently using tools of older technology – a ruler, compass, and brush to create unique and extreme projection of scale, versus traditional manufactured type. In fact, all the images and letters were hand-drawn. It is interesting that this poster ironically objectifies technology using a lithographic crayon to create deep tones, while retaining the aspect of technology. He went beyond the limits of the current photomechanical reproduction technology, since it lacked the desired depth of tone. He even hints the future of technology by creating what looks like a mechanically flipped image by creatively re-drawing the flipped image, which can be easily done using command gestures today. This engineering trait combined with creativity emphasizes the way modern designers transcend unconventional exposures of technology beyond the limits of the paper, versus traditional uses of letterpress and lithography.

Looking at other Futurist and Dada examples Lupton discusses, photography allows designers to escape the limitations of letterpress and lithography, and pushes design’s visual language. For example, Marinetti’s “CHAIrrrrrrRR” and “Montagnes + vallees + routes + Jouffre” show two different approaches in illustrating the Futurist poetry.1 The first method shows how Marinetti recognizes the limitations of the structured grid of letterpress and lithography through a war with the grid, while maintaining the grid. The second method shows how he escapes the limitations as he literally thinks and designs outside the box and grid. He was hacking cut outs from printed type, pasting and designing a layout of dramatic curves and steep edges of expressive type, while creating motion. When these forms were photocopied, the poem translates as an illustration in which pushes design’s visual language because he was thinking outside of the medium and expression.

Dada artists and poets such as Tristan Tzara and Ilia Zdanevich also used over and under exaggerated forms in the 1923 Dada soiree poster by drawing everything, while at the same time objectifying photomechanical processes and embracing the structure and unstructured form of a grid. Instead of photocopying typical lines of text, modern designers adopted an increased sense of self-consciousness to go beyond the history and medium. What am I doing? How can I combine image and text? How can I exude inspiration? How can I think of new ways to use and do this differently? These questions are what modern designers ask and ponder. They transformed the meaning of Avant-Garde because there is no scientific proof for aesthetics, thus asserting the design and autonomy. They created a competitive advantage in aesthetics, such as shades of greys and half tones. As there was a “bottomless appetite for images,” a culture that was already motivated by the need for image – this ideal relates to the lecture discussion as Lupton concludes that rather than inventing new technologies, modernist designers created new ways to use technologies.1 The new awareness of self-consciousness comments on the purpose of this History of Design course – to explain and assert our work with authentic engagement. As discussed in lecture, graphic design may even be a product of photography, which is what letterpress and lithography cannot do.


1. Rothschild, Deborah Menaker, Ellen Lupton, and Darra Goldstein. 1998. Graphic Design In The Mechanical Age. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press in conjunction with Williams College Museum of Art [and] Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, Smithsonian Institution.