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Theory & Practice

Books, Design and Photography by an Art Director

Exploring the relationship between books, design and photography with Libyan Sugar designer and Colors art director, Ramon Pez

Magnum Photographers

Michael Christopher Brown From ‘Paradiso’, a series in-progress on youth and electronica. Havana, Cuba. April 25, 2015. © Michael Christopher Brown | Magnum Photos

Barcelona-based Ramon Pez is an art director and designer. He has served as the Creative Director of Colors Magazine and last year designed Magnum photographer Michael Christopher Brown’s award-winning photobook, Libyan Sugar. Here, we explore his take on book design. He will teach and mentor students at Magnum’s Bookmaking Course in Los Angeles.

This article is illustrated with images curated by Pez from the Magnum archive. Of his edit, he writes: “There is a screenwriters’ game, which I have always liked: I was always attracted to observing strangers and unfamiliar places, making me imagine stories and worlds in which to lose myself. This selection includes images that tickle my imagination.”

Mark Power Krakow. Poland. December, 2006. © Mark Power | Magnum Photos
Alec Soth Helena, from the series 'Sleeping by the Mississippi'. Arkansas, USA. 2002. © Alec Soth | Magnum Photos
Max Pinckers From the series 'Lotus', in collaboration with Quinten De Bruyn. Thailand. 2011. © Max Pinckers | Magnum Photos

What is the relationship between photography, books and design?

It is a mutable relationship, which is a good sign. I consider books (right now) as interactive devices and the design akin to an architectural project, which can help the photography (the content of the story) to build visual narratives through the musical score (editing).

How do the artist, designer and publisher work together to bring a photobook project to life?

It could be a mutual relationship, based on a intense dialogue; a good publisher with a vision is crucial for getting a good result as long as the designer can translate the artist’s project into a book form which can interact with the reader.

Alex Majoli Inside Istikhbarat, the old headquarters of the ex-security service, after it was looted. Tripoli, Libya. 2011. © Alex Majoli | Magnum Photos
Newsha Tavakolian A wedding dress placed outside a bridal shop in a town near Qamishlou. YPG graffiti can be seen on the walls of the adjacent buildings. YPJ and YPG members are not allowed to marry or have sexual r (...)
Bieke Depoorter From the series 'Ou Menya'. Russia. 2009. © Bieke Depoorter | Magnum Photos

Tell us about the process of working with Michael Christopher Brown on Libyan Sugar? 

I loved the Libyan Sugar project from the beginning, when I first saw it in an issue of Foam magazine, a few years ago. When we met, Michael showed me the draft of his book project: he had already made a solid narrative structure, which impressed me with its potential; the texts are a crucial part of the book. The story is meaningful.

 

Martin Parr Luxemburg. 2006. © Martin Parr | Magnum Photos
Bieke Depoorter From the series, 'I am About to Call it a Day'. USA. 2011. © Bieke Depoorter | Magnum Photos

Later we were both excited to collaborate and he asked me to develop the final draft together. The dialogue between us started with the final form and size of the object, then we explored the project deeply: the proportions of the pages necessary to get the perfect dimension for the pictures, the relationship between the texts and the images, the visual language of these texts and the consistency with different text media (notes, diary pages, text messages, emails), the treatment (we used an electric blue color to convey the digital nature of the communications featured in the book). So then we re-emerged on the surface to discuss the cover design and the last crucial details, such as the edit of the caption pages, the title page and endpapers.

One of my greatest pleasures, when I’m involved in a book project, is predicated on the richness of the materials and the stories. In the case of the collaboration with Michael, his vision, storytelling, and photographs were so powerful that it was really easy to work with them through to the final design.

Diana Markosian This is the closet thing I had to an image of my father. A cut out of him in my mother's photo album. An empty hole. A reminder of what wasn't there. Armenia. 2014. © Diana Markosian | Magnum Photos

What would be your advice to a photographer looking to make their first book?

A. First of all, ask yourself if the book is the best expression of your project.

B. If yes: become a passionate lover of books, invest your time in the most remote flea markets, likewise in the most glittering bookstores in your city. The children’s book section offers unexpected discoveries! (Increase your awareness: it will be helpful).

C. Don’t be shy: find your favourite editor/designer/book-maker then share your ideas, it’s crucial for them to hear you so you can create your team.

D. Show the project to the publisher who can be congenial, and include them in the creative team. If that’s not possible, become a publisher yourself: find the budget that you need, for the self-co-x-publishing project. The ways are (almost) infinite.

Peter van Agtmael A dead bear at a taxidermist shop following a state-sanctioned black bear hunt. New Jersey, USA. 2010. © Peter van Agtmael | Magnum Photos
Carolyn Drake The print of a child's body on the shore of the Syr Darya river. Turkestan, Kazakhstan. 2010. © Carolyn Drake | Magnum Photos
Alessandra Sanguinetti A skinned hare. Buenos Aires, Argentina. 1998. © Alessandra Sanguinetti | Magnum Photos

What do you look for in photographic projects, and what is it that draws you to specific images? (Here you can refer anything from the Magnum archive if you so wish).

Stories. I love the many ways to tell a story through pictures, and the hybrid relationship between the words and images almost like musical codes (rhythm, melodies). I find the visual narrative one of the most intriguing ways to communicate.

Thomas Hoepker A gathering on the banks of the East River. 9/11. Brooklyn, New York, USA. September 11, 2001. © Thomas Hoepker | Magnum Photos

The two-day bookmaking masterclass with Michael Christopher Brown and Roman Pez, on the 24-25 February, 2017, in Los Angeles, can be booked here.