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A book I wish I had done: Signs of the times. Rehearsals for a revolution

Julius Wiedemann reviews this book and reflects on the idea of context in content, the detail in pairing one with the other and the essence of a complete message.

by Julius WiedemannPublished on : Jun 27, 2019

The right to protest. An undocumented history of graphics and copy.

For the first column here at STIRworld I feel compelled to write a short disclaimer about it, especially because of my role as a Senior Editor at TASCHEN. It is not going to be focused on the latest book, but rather on my findings, visiting bookstores all over the world. Not only digital, but also print is undergoing a huge revolution. Small publishers have joined professionals and amateurs to produce an overwhelming amount of titles on creative fields in the last few years. It is indeed a movement, which combines smaller and DIY books with direct sales or smaller vendors. It is less about the profit, and more about a cause or an urge. All books will have a space here, but I wanted to raise this flag to point out that there are a lot of great publications out there. As an editor of over 100 books that I am proud of, I also look outside my world to find inspiration, a good read, a new challenging point of view, and once in a while a new approach to publishing.

Having said all that, I came across this book, 'Signs of the times. Rehearsals for a revolution' (2017), while visiting Mecànic, a café and photography bookshop in Barcelona. It is a publication related to an exhibition by the same name, which has done a job I thought was necessary for a long time.

Signs of the times. Rehearsals for a revolution Image Credit: Julius Wiedemann

Vernacular typographic work is everywhere, but taking it somehow from its environment is an ability that few curators would have, and an opportunity that is not easy to accomplish. The purity of the words in a banner, placard, picket sign or flags can be easily misinterpreted if taken out of contest. The art (and craft) of protest, a millenary field of self and collective expression has never been so alive. More recently, the work of Edel Rodriguez for instance, who developed a particular iconography of (Donald) Trump (and has adorned multiple Time Magazine covers) has been hand-copied to be used in protests across the USA. The art of protest is vibrant also because it has seen the effectiveness of politically engaged generations. The 60s belong to a particular breed. The authors at Friends Make Books (FMB) asked themselves, “how would this message function if it were separated from the identity of the people and historical context present in the photograph? Is it possible to access the original ‘text’ by removing the context?” The protests, marches, strikes and rallies that marked the period also mark the urge to change habits.

Signs of the times. Rehearsals for a revolution Image Credit: Julius Wiedemann

It is always great to pick a book with an old material whose subject is so current. I recently came across this quote from Socrates, saying that, “The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers.” Without comparing the quote with the book, this publication serves many generations, from many points of views. It reminds us of universal things such as the need to self-expression, protest, to defend a cause. It also reminds us that things do change. And that the best way to see change is once in a while to look how was it back in the day, and to realise how effort was needed to move established ideas. Books like this serve also for us not to take for granted the enormous effort done by previous generations. A lot of people have sacrificed their lives for us to be able to be here and enjoy our freedom.

Signs of the times. Rehearsals for a revolution Image Credit: Julius Wiedemann

All those protests have a powerful creative component, and a visionary communication approach. The cherry on the cake in this book comes at the very end, with a catalogue of thumbnails of the complete images, with the context, and short explanations. You will be tempted to go back and forth many times, as I was, and will most probably be tempted to make a photo and post something on Instagram. If you do it, credit the people who did this book, and recommend your friends to buy one. They will thank you for that.

Signs of the times. Rehearsals for a revolution (2017)

Edited, designed, printed and bound by Friends Make Books, Torino

Buy the book here.

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