Friday, 18 April 2014

Exercise - Photographic book covers - choosing imagery

Photography as a book cover can be of any genre. For this exercise we are asked to find some examples in the following categories.

  • Out of Focus
  • Inverted
  • Historical archival but not depicting the subject
  • Still life close up
  • Minimalist landscape or scene for large sky

Within each type I will discuss the suitability of the cover after some research into the contents of the book and offer a conclusion why the publishers chose the image.

Out of Focus

"Disguise" is a tale of illegal wartime adoption and the subsequent life story of a man (Gregor) who spends his life with a suspicion that he may not be who he thinks he is. His adoptive parents and his real mother engage in lies and deceit to conceal the reality of who he is. The strain eventually takes it toll and Gregor leaves his wife and family to become a musician and tours Canada and Ireland, "an entire lifetime of departures and comebacks". Described as " a story of double misfortune turned into multiple good luck". 
The publishers will have wanted to convey the uncertainty of the central character and the lack of authenticity in the life of Gregor. The blurred image over written with the title word "DISGUISE" is sufficiently connected to offer a hint of a character who is not known and deliberately hidden.


"NoVA" is set in North Vaginia, an otherwise normal part of the suburbs of Washington DC. It as view of contemporary America that starts with a 17 yo boy hanging himself and the subsequent ramifications that surround his family and friends. A tale of sex and drugs amongst the middle classes who work for the technology companies, federal contractors and government institutions of this area. Sharp social observation and dark humour are amongst the techniques used by Boice in this disturbing tale. The cover is not an obvious choice and the inverted picture can only be a metaphor for the upside down world inhabited by the characters. The white painted fence being typical in a clich├ęd sense for the middle class gardens surrounds of the eastern USA.


"Dominion" is complete fiction with a story that we have all pondered on at some stage. What If we hadn't won the second world war and the Nazis had control of Great Britain. Sansom creates a totally believable place where Jews live in fear, the radio and television are under state control and an underground Resistance movement is led by an ageing Winston Churchill. A Resistance spy is caught up in a plot to free a civil servant who has a secret that could change the world.
The publishers have chosen a cover photograph that is correct for the post war period. The foggy scene is perhaps London (although that's not crucial) and has a touch of menace with isolated characters exchanging a glance while a black cab is close by. 

Still life

De Botton takes the reader through 10 self contained studies of the sorrows and pleasures of the complex "workplace". These range from a biscuit factory in Belgium to the soulless headquarters of a firm of London accountants. It is a work of psychology and ideology rather than a practical guide to survival in the workplace. The book teems with interesting detail and shrewd commentary but there is no linear argument. A book rather more for discussion than a "how to". The cover chosen for the edition above shows an office chair in it component parts. We don't know whether it is new and waiting to be assembled or whether it has been taken apart. It shows us the parts rather than the sum of the parts and that is how the book is arranged. As I mentioned, there is no linear argument, only a series of disconnected studies. The photograph connects on a materialistic level, in as much as we are all familiar with a chair in the office an we recognize it here.

Minimalist landscape

A story emanating from the attacks on the Twin Towers of The World Trade Centre in New York on September 11 2001. Keith the central character is caught up in the periphery of the event and finds himself making his way to his one time family home where he is reunited with his estranged wife. He recounts to her seeing people falling from the windows of the twin towers and then later they watch a performance artist recreate the scene as a stunt. Keith feels his life is falling away and through various minor story variations the theme develops to incorporate all three.

Apart from the text on this cover there is nothing other than clouds and two vertical parallel lines. It is clear why the photograph has been selected. The "Falling" theme is present physically and metaphorically throughout the book and the shot from above the clouds invokes a feeling of vertigo, height and danger. The two parallel lines act as a metaphor for the falling action, or at least a trace of it where it has been.


I am concious that there are two ways of approaching this subject at the conceptualisation stage of the process. The straight forward concept will use an image that is overtly connected with the content of the book. The other option is to use an image that is symbolic or at some secondary level has an allegorical link to the content. The use of metaphor is perhaps the most often used to entice the reader to take a closer look inside. There is a point at which the imagery will become too obscure and that can only be counter productive. The typology has to fit around the image and as such is in a auxiliary role. A cover design using graphic art techniques would start with the text and manipulate a design to suit. 

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