Monday, 13 January 2014

Assignment 2 - 1984 - A photographic book cover - Research

The Author

Eric Arthur Blair (1903 - 1950) known by his pen name George Orwell is considered by many to be one of the most influential writers of the 20th century. His novels "Nineteen Eighty Four" (1949) and "Animal Farm" (1945) are perhaps the better known works of a man who was born in India and educated at Eton although reports suggest he neglected his academic studies. Rather than a place at university he joined the Indian Police Service in Burma. While on leave back in England in 1927 he decided against a return to Burma (not being happy with his role in the work of the Empire) to become a writer. He drew on experiences in Burma for the novel "Burmese Days" (1934) and the essays "A Hanging" (1931) and "Shooting an Elephant" (1936). He moved to Paris in 1928, living in a working class district and relied upon an aunt for financial support while working as a journalist. He soon became ill, had all of his money stolen and undertook menial work in hotels. After 2 years he returned to England and lived a comfortable life, occasionally writing and researching the world of the poor and under privileged. It was 1933 when he adopted the name George Orwell, inspired by the River Orwell near the family home in Southwold.
In 1937 he published "The Road to Wigan Pier", a social investigation into the working classes of Lancashire and Yorkshire and his own upbringing with references to his political conscience and an argument for Socialism. During the period of the research for the book Orwell was under surveillance by Special Branch for 12 years, ending only one year before the publication of "Nineteen Eighty Four" in 1949.

The Book

I outline the plot and in doing so highlight words that have come to the fore for the cover photograph. I use the word photograph in its widest form as I am unlikely to use a single image, preferring to work with a construct using imagery metaphorically.

Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell

Winston Smith is a worker in the ruling Party and lives in London. Winston (and everyone else) is constantly under surveillance by The Party through a device called a telescreen and through this device propaganda is delivered 24 hrs a day; often by the Party leader, Big Brother. Their slogan is "Big Brother is watching You". The Party controls the entire way of life in Oceania and to be at odds with this is illegal or to challenge it by thought is a crime and retribution is delivered by the Thought Police.

Smith dislikes the Party and is angered by the domination of his mind by others. Free speech and free thought are not possible, only hard work and poverty pervade in his life and he desperately wants to break free. He has the belief that there is an alternative way with the Brotherhood, a fabled organisation led by Emanuel Goldstein and sets about a journey to find a like minded person with who he can conspire.

Smith works in the Ministry of Truth, a curiously named organisation where the truth is in fact altered into lies to suit the political and social agenda of the Party. It is in there while at work he becomes interested in two people who he believes may have connections with the Brotherhood. O'Brien, an inner Party member has caught his eye and a dark haired girl who stared at him; an act that could be of suspicion from a member of the Thought Police, or from a like minded soul.

Smith writes his thoughts (illegally) in a journal bought (illegally) from a second hand shop in an area of town inhabited by the Proles. The Proles are a lower class, not controlled as closely as Party members. They live squalid lives and to engage in their company is dangerous and an act against Big Brother.

The dark haired girl (Julia) hands Smith a note saying "I love you", thus starting a covert affair with them meeting in a wooded glade and regularly in a rented room above the second hand shop, owned by a Mr. Charrington. The couple spends many hours discussing a future without Big Brother, albeit knowing that one day they will be caught and killed.

O'Brien contacts Smith and invites him and Julia to his home and there tells Smith that he hates the Party; is a traitor and wants them to work with him in the Brotherhood to overthrow Big Brother. Smith is however the subject of a conspiracy. Mr. Charrington is a member of the Thought Police and Smith has been under surveillance during his time in the rented room. The meeting with O'Brien a sham designed to lead Smith further into further acts of rebellion.

Smith is arrested and taken to the Ministry of Love where he is tortured and brainwashed (eventually agreeing that 2+2=5) by O'Brien. Smith loses track of time and is taken to the final stage of his torture in room 101. Smith’s greatest fear is of rats and a cage full of them is placed over his face with the prospect of them eating him alive. Smith cracks and pleads with O'Brien to torture Julia, not him. The torture is over, O'Brien has broken him, he is released back into society, accepts the Party and now loves Big Brother.

The Film (Directed by Michael Radford)

Released in 1984 with John Hurt in the tile role is the second film version, the first being a rather unexceptional attempt in 1956 directed by Michael Anderson with Edmund O'Brien as Winston Smith.

The Radford version is very true to the book and in many scenes the dialogue is exactly the same as the text. Radford's London is much dirtier than I had envisaged and the decay in living standards much lower than my perception. Photographically the film is superb; with a sympathetically reduced colour gamut and lighting that invokes menace and danger.   


"Nineteen Eighty Four" is not a piece of work made in isolation. There is evidence of the "1984" society in a 1946 essay by Orwell "James Burnham and the Managerial Revolution" Here he talks about James Burnham's theory of a planned centralised society, devoid of democracy. A world dominated by people who control production, technicians, bureaucrats and soldiers, all lumped together as "Managers". This theme closely resembles the workings of the Inner Party in 1984 who crush the working classes and establish large super states who fight with no prospect of winning a war.   

Throughout the book there is an overwhelming feeling of fear. Everyone is watching everyone to spot the slightest anti Big Brother gesture. Children watch their parents and have them arrested for minor infringements. Smith has to lead his life in a covert style, dodging the telescreen, hidden microphones and the gaze of officialdom with a constant fear of death by a single bullet in the back of the head. There is only right and wrong, there are no grey areas where discussion occurs in this society. Truth and Lies are the same when it suits the Party, and although the individual can be seen to be conforming they will eventually give themselves away and be removed from society. No record will exist of you ever having been born, no record of your work and no record of your death.

My analogy to this is the binary system and the 1/0 representation in computer code. In this code there are no grey areas, there is On and Off, Black and White; in Oceania there are no grey areas. The Party only recognises the good and the bad, the 1 and the 0.

There have been very few book covers produced for past reprints that use photography. Most it seem use typology in a graphic representation to portray a Communist / Stalinist regime with the use of an eye, to represent the "Big Brother is Watching You" theme. The colours of early versions include a lot of red, again a communist theme.

Cover Design

The first question I need to answer: Will it be contemporary or suitable for first edition? This is interesting because since it was first being published in 1947 our attitudes towards communism have changed and the "Reds under The Beds", associated with the Cold War during the 1950's has softened. This gave the original cover designers plenty of opportunity to use red and black with rather austere typology, and that may still be a way forward. The current Penguin Modern Classics edition is light and bright, with a hint of menace in the poorly written graffiti. The small photographic element of a couple in a semi naked embrace (one assumes its Winston and Julia) does nothing to attract attention and only becomes identifiable after one has read the book. The first impression and the one that the publisher is relying upon to get our attention is the authors name "George Orwell" written large and in white on a dark blue background.

Current Penguin Cover
The next journal entry will deal with my conceptualisation and the various photographic ideas and how they develop. 
Orwell, G The Road to Wigan Pier 1937
Orwell, G Fifty Essays. 1946.
Orwell, G Nineteen Eighty Four, 1947, Penguin Modern Classics
Radford, M Nineteen Eighty Four (Film), 1984, Twentieth Century Fox, Itunes

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