Spring 2006

GTF lay out film posters

Living Pictures: Perspectives on the Film Poster in India

Edited by David Blamey and Robert D’Souza. Design: Graphic Thought Facility. Open Editions, £23, €35

The editorial method underpinning Living Pictures derives from the way its source material was originally gathered: through chance encounters on the streets of India and in a series of meetings with poster sellers and distributors in studios and workshops. The editors, David Blamey and Robert D’Souza, allow the grit of Indian city life to pervade through the book by ensuring the gist of this raw experience is worked into the grain of its pages. So rather than being exacting and academic, the editorial method is intuitive and speculative.

The contemporary experience of these posters on the street is held in tension with their original design context through both the book’s editorial and design methods. Additional images snapped by the editors in pursuit of further posters lend greater insight to their ethnographic method, since they track the very process of fieldwork. Some of these images echo a scene depicted in one of the posters, while others are more indirect and require closer scrutiny. Set in juxtaposition to the poster for Yashoda Krishna from 1976 – which heavily features the flute, the instrument associated with Krishna – is a photograph taken by one of the editors revealing a group of street vendors carrying bundles of flutes to market. Elements that have been taken from the streets and souped up into the language of fantasy in the posters are hereby firmly relocated on the experience of the street.

The way the editors adopt an ethnographic method towards design is enhanced through the graphic conceptualisation of the book. A form of what can be termed ‘ethno-graphics’ is the result. Propelled by the editors’ approach, Graphic Thought Facility have derived their layouts from the unusually heavy captions the editors insisted must accompany the posters. Each of these carries details of the poster’s production: its size, method of printing and so forth. In this way a marginal art form such as the poster, which so often loses its sense of identity through its distribution and mass circulation, is re-animated, as something of its primary design and production context is returned to it. These captions run down the left-side column of each page, forming a sort of extra column. Not only are they conceptually tactical they are also visually strategic, as they graphically organise the book in its entirety by being repeated and resized throughout – even on the cover in the titles.

A handful of essays form a good half of the book. They must be read closely to experience how each one carefully chips away at a further facet of our received knowledge of the Indian film poster. The essays provide a further set of perspectives, this time textual ones. More than just an annexe to the way the posters are presented through the editing and design of the book, the essays counterpoint the posters by critically engaging with them.

That they are written by a variety of writers from different disciplines – Sara Dickey from anthropology, Patricia Uberoi from sociology, Emily King from design criticism, to name just a few – helps in this process. Each one assists in further conveying the book’s editorial method, deftly summed up by Blamey in the closing lines of his textual contribution: ‘The assignment was simply to reflect on the meaning of this unique and forceful visual medium, back from the surface of its physicality, through its everyday use, and out into the world.’

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