Friday, 31 December 2010

Where We Know: A Q&A with Josh Powell

You may recall at the beginning of the month I received a mysterious package from Chin Music Press.
This is what was inside:

A beautiful copy of their latest publication Where We Know: New Orleans as Home, only slightly bashed in the top corner after its 5490 mile trip from Seattle to Budapest (I would definitely look a lot more worse for wear if I were to make that journey!). Where We Know is the second book in a planned trilogy edited by David Rutledge featuring essays and stories written by the likes of Rebecca Freeland-Hebert, Jennifer Kuchta and Ray Shea. The trilogy sheds light on the experiences of people living in New Orleans, how they have rebuilt their lives (and the city) post-Hurricane Katrina.

Accompanying the essays are images by award winning artist Sandra Burshell, who manages to capture the beauty within the city's wreckage. Expertly piecing the text and imagery together was the printmaker turned  graphic designer Josh Powell (who previously worked on such Chin Music titles as OH! A Mystery of Mono No Aware). Josh's enthusiasm towards the medium of book design has truly informed the execution of this stunning anthology. From the blind embossed dust cover to the hidden map of the Mississippi on the spine echoing the brush script title, Where We Know is full of subtle typographic details which are a joy to discover.

I caught up with Josh to find out more about the project

Tell us about the ideas behind the design for Where We Know… 

I worked a lot with collage when I was doing printmaking. For that reason, finding imagery to use in a book is a big part of what I enjoy doing. If I can find an image that is visually interesting, but which also relates to the content of the book, then there's nothing more fun and satisfying for me. For instance, one image I used to close the book is a thumbnail map of New Orleans with all of these lines and arrows leading off in different directions, radiating from the core of the city. Each arrow points the way to a different city: San Francisco, New York, Chicago, etc. This image was found in a 19th century US census report, but it so perfectly captures the theme of the book: the idea of embracing New Orleans and staying or giving up and relocating elsewhere. Where We Know is also composed of imagery taken from historical maps and prints I found when I visited New Orleans. I think maps of course lend themselves well to a book that deals with a sense of place; with the decision to stay somewhere or to leave.

Did you work closely with the contributors?
I met with the photographer when I was in New Orleans and we shared a lot of email correspondence, as we commissioned her to shoot photographs for a written essay on Katrina tattoos. I also captured some stills from a 1968 home film belonging to one of the authors, to accompany his essay.  It was with Dave (Rutledge) mainly that I worked during the designing of the book. I had met Dave several times before I began working on this project. Once my work on the project began, Dave and I had a preliminary meeting during one of his visits to Seattle. Later I traveled to New Orleans, stayed with Dave for several days and met with a few of the contributors. When I was in New Orleans Dave also gave me a magical pickled okra, which more or less induced visions of the book's design.

What is your design philosophy?
My design philosophy hinges on the idea of creating something, that if someone with no interest in design or books were to hold it in their hand, they could hopefully appreciate the thought and decisions that went into it. That they would realize there's a long road between edited manuscript and finished book and that someone is responsible for that process. I want people to know that we, the people involved in the book making process, felt strongly enough about the content to produce a significant architecture to house that content. I like the concepts of slow travel or slow life, so in a way I want to carry that over to how we consume media and information.
What projects are you currently working on?
Right now I'm working on two books: one is best described as a graphic novel, using photographs of toys and miniature sets taken with a holga camera. The photos depict artist Jennifer Shaw's experience during and after Hurricane Katrina. It's called "Hurricane Story." The other is a memoir/cookbook based on the life and philosophy of Shiro Kashiba, who moved from Japan to Seattle in the late '60s and is largely considered Seattle's first sushi chef.  I'm particularly excited about this project because it focuses both on Japan and the Pacific Northwest, two places I love. It should be full of a lot of fun visuals, photographs and ephemera belonging to Shiro as well as things I've collected here in Seattle.

Finally, 3 words which describe Chin Music Press:
Beautiful, Engaging, Affordable.
You can view Josh's online portoflio  here  
Learn more about Chin Music Press on their official  website

No comments:

Post a Comment