Tuesday, 29 November 2016

The Selfie Book!

The Selfie Book!
The Selfie Book! (subtitled Taking & Making The Best Selfies, Belfies, Photobombs, & More...), by Carrie Barclay and Malcolm Croft, is a brief guide to selfie culture. Full of lists, celebrities, and exclamation marks, it feels like a cross between BuzzFeed and Heat magazine. It has novelty value as the first compilation of famous selfies (posted on Instagram by Kim Kardashian et al.), though the photos are mostly undated and overall it's nothing more than a stocking-filler book.

"Types of Selfie", the book's taxonomy chapter, shows how pervasive selfies and smartphones have become: there are 'celfies' (celebrity selfies), 'belfies' (bum selfies), 'welfies' (workout selfies), 'telfies' (toilet selfies), 'felfies' (farm animal selfies), 'sheepies' (sheep selfies), 'pelfies' (pet selfies), 'drelfies' (drunk selfies), and 'fullies' (full-body selfies). Examples of all of these are included, along with headline-grabbing selfies such as Bradley Cooper's group portrait ("The world's most popular selfie... retweeted more than two million times") from 2014.

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Out Of Print

Out Of Print
Out Of Print, by George Brock, examines the past, present, and future(s) of journalism. Despite its subtitle (Journalism, & The Business Of News In The Digital Age), the book begins with a history of print journalism since the 1600s. This historical primer provides useful context, though at eighty pages it feels too long in a book ostensibly about digital news, and too short to outline 400 years of news media. (For more background, see Anthony Smith's Newspapers: An International History.)

In his introduction ("from ink to link"), Brock emphasises that "I have tried to ensure that my analysis and argument here is not too Anglocentric", though he does focus extensively on UK media. This contradicts his stated intention, though it makes the book all the more interesting, as Britain has particularly vibrant national newspapers and online news outlets (for example, BBC News, the Financial Times, The Guardian, and MailOnline). This also makes Out Of Print a useful companion to David Folkenflik's Page One, which examines digital journalism from a largely American perspective.

Brock summarises the sometimes unethical practices of tabloid journalism, and the conclusions of the Leveson Inquiry (both of which are also covered by Nick Davies in Hack Attack). Most importantly, he provides an excellent overview of developments in contemporary journalism, including the decline of display advertising, news aggregators (such as Google News), monetisation via paywalls, and the rise of digital-native media companies (including BuzzFeed and Gawker).

As he recognises, these trends are "at risk of being overtaken by events, for we are looking at a fast-moving picture." The book was written in 2013, and since then Gawker has filed for bankruptcy (following Hulk Hogan's privacy lawsuit), The Sun has cancelled its paywall, and Facebook has launched Instant Articles (further blurring the distinction between the technology and media industries).

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

A Designer's Art

A Designer's Art
A Designer's Art, by Paul Rand, was first published in 1985, and has been reprinted this month. It features essays written by Rand throughout his life (including material from Thoughts On Design, which was also reprinted recently), and reproductions of his most acclaimed graphic designs (such as his Eye-Bee-M poster from 1981).

The new edition includes an afterword in which Steven Heller argues that it "reopened a genre of graphic design manifesto-monographs that had not existed since the 1930s". Heller (who has also written a comprehensive book on Rand) notes that A Designer's Art not only served as the portfolio of a legendary career, but also paved the way for later designers such as Stefan Sagmeister (Made You Look) to produce their own monographs.

Monday, 21 November 2016

Henri Cartier-Bresson

Henri Cartier-Bresson
Derriere La Gare St Lazare
Aperture's slim monograph on Henri Cartier-Bresson, first published in 1976, has been reprinted in a second edition. As before, the book features forty-two black-and-white photographs (selected by Cartier-Bresson himself), including Derriere La Gare St Lazare, which "perfectly illustrates the notion of the "decisive moment" in Henri Cartier-Bresson's oeuvre". Each full-page image is accompanied by a single paragraph of analysis.

There are far more extensive Cartier-Bresson books available (of which The Man, The Image, & The World is the most comprehensive), though this is an effective introduction to the master photographer. The text was written by Clement Cheroux, author of Here & Now and a booklet accompanying the reprint of The Decisive Moment. (Cheroux also edited Paparazzi!)

Thoughts On Design

Thoughts On Design
Paul Rand, one of the greatest designers of the last century, was almost single-handedly responsible for the development of corporate branding as a branch of graphic design. His book Thoughts On Design was as influential as Le Corbusier's Towards A New Architecture and Jan Tschichold's The New Typography.

The first and second editions of Thoughts On Design (hardbacks published in 1947 and 1951 respectively) were printed in three languages (English, French, and Spanish), and their black-and-white illustrations were supplemented by eight colour plates. The third edition (a paperback published in 1970) was printed only in English, and its illustrations were all in black-and-white.

The paperback version has been reprinted as a fourth edition, with a new foreword describing Thoughts on Design as "a manifesto, a call to arms and a ringing definition of what makes good design good." Unfortunately, the colour plates from the first two editions have not been reinstated, though Rand's later book A Designer's Art (also recently reprinted) includes plenty of colour images.

Sunday, 20 November 2016

All Out War

All Out War
There are other books on the Brexit campaign, from the perspectives of either the leavers or remainers, though Tim Shipman's All Out War is the only account of both the campaign and its aftermath, and the only attempt to tell the story from both sides. As the Financial Times wrote in its review last weekend, Shipman "has spoken to every key individual to produce the definitive first draft of history, a comprehensive yet impartial study of how Brexit won."

The book (subtitled The Full Story Of How Brexit Sank Britain's Political Class) begins with David Cameron's prophecy that a referendum on the UK's EU membership "could unleash demons of which ye know not." As Shipman explains, plenty of demons were unleashed: "The demons were the forces of Euroscepticism that had been growing in the Conservative Party for three decades... Cameron also believed in the demons of economic disaster in the event of a Leave vote, the upsurge in nativist sentiment during the campaign, even the willingness of campaigners on both sides to stretch the truth to make their point during the campaign."

Cameron's decision to hold a once-and-for-all referendum to appease his own backbenchers (labelled "Palaeosceptics" by Shipman, "a term I hope describes their longevity without implying that they were old-fashioned") ultimately resulted in Brexit, the resignation of a socially liberal leader (Cameron), and the appointment of his more conservative successor (Theresa May). Shipman's account of these events is supported by his exclusive access to emails, text messages, and other private documents (notably, Boris Johnson's unpublished pro-EU editorial and Cameron's undelivered victory speech.)

The pre-referendum negotiations with other EU members were destined to produce insubstantial results: "media coverage had focused on what rabbit Cameron might pull from his hat to boost the deal. In the event, it emerged sick with myxomatosis." This led to Boris Johnson joining the leave campaign, an announcement that Johnson calls "an imperial goatfuck". Shipman notes Johnson's history of Euroscepticism ("Johnson invented the 'straight bananas' school of reporting from Brussels"), and describes Michael Gove's extraordinary betrayal of Johnson, who had been almost certain to assume the Tory leadership, as "the most remarkable moment in British politics since May 1940".

The Stronger In campaign was undone partly by its pessimistic forecasts, such as Barack Obama's counter-productive intervention. Shipman doesn't conclusively determine whose idea Obama's comment was - "There are conflicting accounts of how the words 'back of the queue' found their way into Obama's mouth" - though he attributes it largely to George Osbourne. The spurious prediction that Brexit would cost £4,300 per household per year was another example of negativity backfiring: "voters did not believe anything they were told by the Treasury, including the £4,300 per household figure."

In contrast, the anti-EU campaigners had a simple and effective slogan ("Let's take back control"), and a misleading though equally effective statistic. Their campaign bus was plastered with the message "We send the EU £350 million a week", and even when it was exposed as a grossly exaggerated figure, it still worked in their favour: "Every time there was a row about the size of the cost to taxpayers of EU membership, it simply reinforced in voters' minds that there was a high cost."

Shipman cites immigration as the determining factor in the 'out' vote: "If we have to pinpoint a day when Vote Leave gained the upper hand it is undoubtedly... the day the latest immigration figures were published." In this 'post-truth' era, the overwhelming benefit that EU migrants provide for the UK economy (£2.5 billion per year in net tax contributions) was overlooked in favour of an emotional appeal to nationalism, stoked by xenophobic tabloids. It was clear from the final debate that the leavers had a strong chance of success: "The last word... went to Boris Johnson. The final line of his peroration took the roof off: 'I believe this Thursday can be our country's Independence Day.'"

Cameron At 10 (by Anthony Seldon and Peter Snowdon) and In It Together (by Matthew d'Ancona) cover Cameron's first term as Prime Minister, before the Brexit campaign. (Shipman suggests that d'Ancona's book - particularly comments from one of its sources, George Osbourne - was one of the reasons why Iain Duncan Smith resigned from the government.) All Out War is as thorough and well-sourced as those earlier accounts, though it has no index. Its author is the political editor of The Sunday Times.