Part of the reason for a lack of new posts here lately is because I’ve been busy with several book designs. It’s enjoyable work but very time consuming. A recent job is for a book which details the untold story of Walking Pictures. Before the photographic selfies which we’re now so familiar with (whether we want to be or not!), walkies were a world-wide photo craze which peaked during the inter-war years but were still popular right into the early Seventies.
Simply put, if you were on holiday at just about any resort in the UK between 1920 and 1970, chances are you would be snapped as you walked down the main street by a commercial ‘walkie’ photographer. He (they were almost but not always men) would then hand you a numbered ticket, and you could pop along to view and buy your photo at a kiosk later that day.
Millions were purchased and are now a fabulous resource for social historians, family tree researchers, fashion students and anyone interested in portrait photography.
This book sets out to tell the story of walkies, with hundreds of examples and text detailing the trade, the photographers and the firms involved.
The design problem was how to encompass all this on a book cover. Many of the walking picture images were taken on old movie cameras, so would have three or four frames of the person walking toward the camera. Visually these are very atmospheric and seemed the obvious cover choice, so I worked with a couple of frames for the first design. After scanning, the images were additionally given slight motion blurring to add to the sense of movement, and the title was taken from a piece Walking Picture paper, supplied and printed as such on the back by manufacturers like Kodak. It did the job but failed to convey the sheer variety of the material in the book, so I next tried a grid design.
A background walkie was used across the cover area. The idea was to fill in a number of the grid squares with smaller walking pictures to build up a mosaic, while leaving enough of the background image to make it readable. The second version here shows this process.
Once I felt the balance of background to small images was right, I emphasised the grid structure using white rules. The last element was the title. Rather than rely on vintage lettering again, I opted to use a very basic sans serif typeface – Helvetica Neue – instead. A few of the squares were given a sepia tint to give a little more variety to the grid.
And yet… going back to the cover after a couple of years, there was the nagging feeling that this cover was for the book as it was first envisaged, more orfan arty photo collection. Instead the book has grown in scope and as such needed to stand out more on the shelf. Testing this with a few friends confirmed my suspicions, it was too laid back. In a regular book shop you only have a few seconds to catch someone’s attention, this wasn’t really doing that. I still liked the grid holding it all together, but now with a lot more material scanned, went back and started again, checking through dozens of images looking for slightly more upbeat shots and trying to cover a wider spectrum of people and eras. I chose ten, and had some span two squares of the grid so they could be seen more easily. One was then used much larger to stand out, the shot I chose is full of life and summed up the genre really well. It wasn’t quite tall enough for the space so I tweaked the very top of the photo to add another 10mm or so. It was my brother who then suggested I try to include an actual full frame walkie for extra impact and to act as a contrast with the rest of the grid. Text wise the cover also includes more information to get over points people felt were important, (though I notice I have forgotten to add the author’s name, which needs including!) and in a less designery serif font. I also added a shot of three of the famous Wrates walkie girls to represent the other side of the camera and colour washed the images to lift the design.
All the images are featured inside the book, so buyers will be able to find out more. The book itself is scheduled for publication in early 2018 and you can read more about it on the publisher’s site, or learn more about walking pictures (and perhaps be inspired to check your own family photo albums for examples) on a sister site Go Home On A Postcard.