Autumn 2002

The joy of specks

Speck: a curious collection of uncommon things

Peter Buchanan-Smith
Princeton Architectural Press, £24.95


Every once in a while, a book comes along that you love so much you want to buy a copy for everyone you know. Speck, the brain-child of Peter Buchanan-Smith, an Art Director at the New York Times, is one such gem. Exploring the hidden mysteries of the everyday in much the same way as author Paul Auster, Speck sets out to give meaning to the things in life that we usually deem ordinary, or ignore.

Opening in obtuse fashion with the index from the ‘Egg and Egg Dishes’ section of Julia Child’s cookbook The Joy of Cooking and closing with a crisp photograph of a dozen eggs, Buchanan-Smith makes it clear from word go that he wants us to view everyday ephemera like the egg in a new way and he has a point: how often do we see an egg as anything other than an egg?

The visual essays that make up the book read and look like a series of faux scientific documents, classifying and categorising each contributor / author’s unique view. Mark Ulricksen collects mis-spellings of his name (on envelopes, cards, address labels) and re-appropriates these common errors as ‘typographic inventions’. Also presenting a collection, Ron Barrett offers a hundred or so garment / clothing inspection tags. ‘My hand found its way into a rear right pocket,’ he explains. ‘A slip of paper met my fingertips. I withdrew it. It read “INSPECTED BY no. 3.” “Nice typography,” I thought. ‘Two centred lines, some kind of crude gothic.’ I checked another pair of trousers and found “INSPECTED BY no. 12”. Another pair, and another pair. More slips of paper.’ Like all of the Speck contributors, he infuses insignificant objects with beauty and meaning.

In celebrating the transformation of the egg, the matchbox, the address label, the lost dog poster, the contents of peoples’ pocketbooks, different women’s lipsticks and other such specks of dust on the face of the universe into things of great wonder, Speck redirects our gaze to see the extraordinary and the poetic in the ordinary.