Born in Sardinia, Antonio spent his childhood in his hometown Cagliari and his grandparents home in Barumini, a small town in the Sardinian countryside.
After completing his studies at Istituto Europeo di Design in 1987, where he specialized in advertising photography, Antonio began working professionally, mostly for italian clients until 1996. In that year he moved to Los Angeles for a year to complete his experience in dealing with such a challenging market. From 1997 to 2012 he set up his own studios in Milan and Cagliari shooting primarily for international clients and magazines.
In 2013 Antonio began working in Dubai where he is now based full-time, shooting more and more for the Middle East and the Far East markets.
Antonio’s projects nowadays span Costa Rica, the USA, Italy, France, Dubai, China and Japan. In addition to these he works as a personal photography consultant for one of the most important Royal Families in the United Arab Emirates.
An Antology of Antonio’s most recent work is featured in his Coffee Table book, Chasing Beauty.
“Oneirism, Dreamscapes in Exhibition”: Bangkok, November 2018. “Tokyo Landscape”, official event at “Festival del Film di Roma 2010” exhibited at The Museum of Modern Art “ Carlo Bilotti” in Rome. “Visionarya Industrya” exhibited in Cagliari, at the Ghetto degli Ebrei in 2003, and in Vilnius, Lituania in 2004. Antonio Saba’s Vision of Lithuanian Food Factories” exhibited in 2006 in Vilnius, Klaipeda, Kaunas, Rokiskio in Lituania. “La Bellezza della Fisica” exhibited in Cagliari, at the Cittadella dei Musei in 2005.
Represented by Image Source, Antonio Saba’s stock photoshoots is featured in Getty Images, Corbis collection and in all major stock libraries in the world.
You currently reside in In Dubai, where else have you lived and worked and how does it differ?
I grew up in Sardinia, Italy, and lived in Cagliari, Milan, Los Angeles and now Dubai. Italy has a variegated market in terms of photography clientele, mostly local firms with small access to big assignments with international firms. In the USA you can deal with huge assignments that most of the times watch to international diffusion of your work, involving big amounts of money but at the same time you have very valuable competitors. In the last five years I have been based in Dubai, which is undoubtedly the economic capital of the Middle East and North Africa in terms of editorial and advertising photography. So living in Dubai puts you in the spotlight for all the most interesting assignments of these regions and also is a very comfortable position to look at the far east markets like China, Hong Kong and Thailand f.i..
What style of work do you have exhibited at the Civic Museums of Calgari in Italy?
Actually this spring I had the honour of having three of my dreamscapes photographs being acquired in Civic Museums of Cagliari’s permanent collection. The dreamscapes are my most recent fine art photographs, I have featured some of them in my last coffee table book “Chasing Beauty” published this early 2018. I also just signed for a personal exhibition in Bangkok during the Art Biennale 2018, “Antonio Saba. Oneirism, Dreamscapes in Exhibition” from November 2018 to January 2019
What defines your style as a photographer?
I always say that I speak two languages in photography, the steady very well prepared staged photography, and the “candid” handheld lifestyle.
How do you engage audiences with your imagery, is there a narrative to how you shoot?
I try to capture my audiences with beauty, nothing else, I am not interested in provoking or using other means. My conceptual photography, where I feel free the most have always some ironic, surreal mood, and look like a moment frozen in time, but the consistent mantra needs to be Absolute Beauty, that I chase always in my work following the path of the Renaissance masters.
If you could jet-off to anywhere in the world right now with no limits, where would you go and what would you shoot?
I will be flying soon to Bangkok to shoot three new pics for my exhibit, then maybe Manila and next year Cuba. No need to dream, I am actually doing this…!
I was born in Bulgaria, went to middle-school in the UK, became an angsty teen in Saskatchewan, Canada (where I found a mate for life), had three children in Toronto, and lived with them car-free for two years in the Netherlands.
Since 2014, we have been living near the village of Bath, Canada, on a small plot of land, with our sheep, goats, chickens, dogs, cats, and donkey.
I became a photographer late, after leaving a career as a parenting scientist.
Some days I miss the community and mentorship I’d found in academia, but most days I love my new life and hope to one day achieve the same sense of community in it.
I photograph families and all sorts of events in their lives – from the birth of a child, to a stroll in the park. I’m inspired by documentary photography to reveal the truth of our everyday lives, but I’m also a sucker for the iconic and surreal. My photography is a blend of both.
A PhD in parenting, studying behavioural genetics & psychology eventually led you to photography, how and why?
The story is quite unromantic. Upon our return to Canada from the Netherlands (where I’d done my postdoc), we had a few choices as a family.
My husband and I decided to pursue our dreams of owning a hobby farm, and giving our kids an opportunity to experience a bit of rural living, knowing full well that job opportunities would be limited for both of us in our new small town, especially in a niche field like parenting science (my field).
At around the same time, I started having inquiries from clients about photography, at the beginning mostly from friends. I’d been posting my personal work – photographs of my own family – for a few years, and I guess people were drawn to my style. It was the first time I really thought, ‘I could maybe do this to pay the bills.’
I am a rather stubborn person, so once I dove into it, I held on and quickly completely transitioned out of academia and into a full-time occupation as a family & wedding photographer.
How do you connect with the people you photograph?
I fall right in the middle between introvert and extravert. That means with a bit of training and effort, I can jump right out of myself and into a very chatty and vulnerable, silly persona. It is no less me, but it is a far more outgoing version of me. I’ve become good at identifying things about people that they like to talk about, things they are proud of, interesting tidbits. I ask them lots of questions about these things. I laugh a lot. I then take brief steps back and flip on my photographer’s hat.
Do you see science as an art form? Is there beauty in the data that you studied? Have you created works of art with the data itself?
For the most part, I do not see science as art. Perhaps this is why I eventually left.
The initial stage – dreaming up a research project, imagining the possibilities, shaping the kind of questions you’d like to ask of the world through the collection of data – that can be a very creative and inspiring process.
The follow-through is less so. I’ve written about it in several blog posts: here, here, and most recently here .
To sum it up, I wrote,
“What used to be endless hours of rating mothers and fathers on scales of “appropriateness”, “sensitivity”, and “warmth” (and always feeling like a failed parent myself as a consequence) was replaced with something much more visceral and uplifting: a documenting of parents’ struggles and joys, moment-to-moment interactions that no one remembers and that regardless somehow make up our lives.”
Throughout my time as an academic, I had a constant need to return to my creative side. I wrote a lot. Science fiction, magical realism, poetry. I published a couple of sci-fi stories, too.
What do you think of the way Sally Mann captures family relationships?
I like the stark and emotive ambiance of her images, the impact of her isolated portraits of children. I do find it bleak at times. When I first got into photography, I was drawn to the work of Alain Laboile, who also works mostly in black and white but captures family interactions – particularly between his children – with a magical whimsy.
Years ago, I also fell in love with Matt Black’s stark and gritty black and white work on migrant workers in California. I was drawn to the black and white aesthetic for a long time. Over the recent years, I’ve transitioned away from editing in black and white. I realize that I see the world much more in colour. I crave optimism and joy, and happy surrealism. I think there are so many hardships and stresses in this world, that to present a more uplifting side – even a magical side – is important.
Storm Thorgerson is one of my all-time favourite photographers and graphic designers. His 1980 cover photograph for 10CC’s ‘LOOK HEAR?’ depicting a sheep on a psychiatrist couch on a Hawaiian beach is superb, perhaps even more so now that I own sheep and know how intensely complicated the composition would be.
Elinor Carucci is a photographer who works in beautiful colour to capture intimate, realistic, and gripping portrayals of family relationships. I admire her work and approach, and she’s a wonderful human being as well.
How do you engage audiences with your imagery, is there a narrative to how you shoot?
When I photograph, I get lost in the moment. On a particularly successful shoot, I might not know how we got from one place to another, but I do know I was there, present in the action the whole time. My photographs have taken on an increasingly snapshot-like aesthetic. I want to create a visceral feeling of what it is like to have been in that moment. I constantly push to explore new angles, new perspectives, and give clients a photo-gallery of their lives unlike any previous gallery of mine.
To live in a different country every two years, and publish a science fiction short story anthology.
I’m Alex, originally from a small town in Belgium you probably never heard of (that’s where I’ve spent most of my life!)
The first part of my time there was focused on getting a degree in Electro-Mechanical Engineering, but after graduating I actually wasn’t too keen on jumping into the overwhelming professional opportunities of such a career path – even though at the time I thought I would be missing out on something, I’m glad, really glad I didn’t.
I left for Chile, shipped my motorbike over, and started riding it up North. I eventually found out that rock climbing was kinda fun. So, I kept doing that; driving and climbing, for 11 months, until I got to Canada. I worked for a year in BC – rope access in the city and snowmobile photography in Whistler – and took to the road again, on this indestructible red bike that carried me for so long in the first place.
Two more years dirt-bagging around the US, Canada, Patagonia, Europe and Asia. I started guiding climbing in Vietnam and kayaking in Greenland. I was working freelance during the rest of the time. Building websites, translating, trading pictures for cams and portaledges.
Meanwhile, I shoot the things I see. And I mean, I think I like that.
I’m now guiding in Iceland a few months a year, and the rest of time, I spend it trying to balance stock photography and exciting media projects.
￼ What websites/blogs/people do you draw inspiration from? Who do you follow on Instagram?
To be honest I’ve never followed many photographers and never used Instagram as a source of inspiration. I’ve always been exploring on my own and have very few influences (that I’m aware of). I probably should haha. I think I’m just being lazy about getting into that social media world and like to keep a step back — lots of people get trapped into it I feel.
I obviously know and admire some classic photographer in the outdoor world such as Jimmy Chin or Drew Smith, but there aren’t many names that come to my mind. I admire people who can go further than just the shot, the ones where you realise the position they’re in when they’re shooting for example. In climbing photography you can quickly tell if the photographer put a lot of effort in or not. Usually, it’s quite a bit of work and pictures are very rewarding.
I also like people who are able to attach captivating stories to their pictures, which I can’t really do. Or people able to take their camera out in situation I would never even think about it. Or people having multiple talents and mixing them with photography. I admire everything one does and that I can’t actually do, which is … plenty !
Please can you take a photograph of your kitbag, highlighting your favourite item, why you like it and a time when it has saved you! #everydaycarry
I only carry part of my gear here in Iceland as I’m guiding for the month and therefore not focusing on photography. My gear has always been quite basic though. There is so much good photography out there, I decided I wouldn’t spend thousands on lenses and cameras. Instead, I try to stay simple and use pretty basic gear – in comparison to most professional photographers – and force my creativity with what I have. I use a Nikon D600 and 3 lenses:
Nikon 50 mm 1.8
Tokina 16-28 mm 2.8
Nikon 70-300 mm 4-5.6
See, nothing fancy in there. My favourite one ? The ultra classic 50 mm. It always forces me to take a different point of view, move, frame it differently. I love it (who doesn’t?) It’s the Tokina I use the most though in climbing photography.
How do you engage audiences with your imagery, is there a narrative to how you shoot?
I still have a lot to learn in term of audience and social medias. I just started. So far I’m just sharing varied content, on a daily basis. I try to attach stories when I can, but I’m not too good at it. Definitely learning still all this audience-engaging thing.
So many! I want to get more involved in the Belgian outdoor community, shoot some of the climbers and people I admire for years. I don’t have strong nationalistic feelings but I do feel there is a great humble vibe around these people. I’d love to take my stock photography to a higher level so that I can afford taking part in exciting but not lucrative expeditions that I really want to invest time in. I’d like to find a good balance between shooting what I’m really excited about and something sustainable. Eventually balancing photography with music as well and taking more time to play. Find a way to mix all these various forms of art.
Do you have a visual diary of your adventures and/or a favourite shot? I haven’t kept an up to date visual diary of my adventures. I used to, when I travelled on my bike from Chile to Canada, but it lost my interest after a year – the memories are still there though and I’ve been trying to share a picture each day on social media.
I’m slightly reluctant to keep objects that remind me of the past but understand it’s purpose of interest. I know it can definitely be useful and good for some, but I’d prefer to look forward and not get lost in the past. How many times I’ve been told “It will be nice to remember later, when you get older” “it will be nice to have”. Honestly, I’d rather not have too much to hold onto and force myself to keep moving on.
I don’t think I could talk about one favourite shot. I for sure have some which tell much more stories than others in my mind, some important moments. I suppose my favourite shots are the ones I consider the most rewarding, knowing the backstage of the shooting. Or the ones I feel are unique. That no one could do because it captures a moment that won’t happen again. That’s probably why I’ve never been into landscape photography. No matter how great is the picture, I feel that so many talented people around the world could do the same, or better.
Here are some examples of what I could consider as my favourite shots: ￼
Self taught photographer and filmmaker Alex Prager, inspired by the drama and allure of Americana paints a playful cinematic world that masks the unease in everyday life.
Silver Lake Drive; a curation of photographs and footage at the Photographers Gallery, London.
I also snuck out to see Alex Prager in discussion at the Regent Street Cinema and to see her screening of Le Grand Sortie, which follows the female protagonist, a ballet dancer and her anxiety from the pressure of public performance.
Walking through a curtain into a small space with a bench and three walls dimly lit by projectors, I was unaware of what to expect. Alex Prager’s short film has managed to simulate social anxiety. The film starts with snippets of interviews with people, talking about their life, love, and fears. Each wall displays an overwhelmingly scaled portrait of a single person.
The film is shown by multiple projectors forcing you to turn and look at another wall. Seemingly, this feels like an introduction to the individuals until I noticed this turning of the head is like being in a state of panic and the film hasn’t even truly started yet.
Once the sequence begins, we see the female protagonist (Elizabeth Banks) curiously staring out of the window at an increasing crowd with plenty of background noise and chatter. She eventually ventures out walking against the crowd with a look of amazement. The crowd soon envelops her, turning that amazement into fear. It’s too much. Suddenly, as if time froze, the crowd is at a standstill and the noise disappears. With a sigh of relief, the shot combined along the three walls, she walks out of shot and the crowd return to normal. What made this short film impactful to me is that it was far too easy to relate and empathise with the protagonist by having that anxiety of the public myself.
As a viewer it struck me that in spite of the embodiment of chaos that you’re also in a sense of ‘Sonder’ *– the realisation that each passerby has a life as vivid and complex as your own.
*Koenig’s dictionary of obscure sorrows
Women; jaw-dropping, pristine glamour pusses to be precise. I spied the odd red-head too or at least the odd red-head wig. Not to say that the men are left behind but they play a secondary role in most scenes.
Melodrama, comedy and desire also weave their way through her work.
WHICH IMAGE, WHICH ROOM?
Pacific Ocean, 2012
The immaculately fallen caught in staged terror.
People just drifting, through life, in themoment, continuous – some struggling , some defeated, some indifferent.
QUESTION FOR THE IMAGE MAKER:
Any director, past or present that you could create a fantasy world with, who would you choose and where would you take us?
A brand new MACK edition of Sleeping by The Mississippi launched Alec Soth’s first exhibition in London dedicated to the series at the Beetles+Huxley gallery in Piccadilly last week. The new edition of the book includes two new photographs that were not included in the previous versions. I went along to see the images – and the photographer, up close and in the flesh.
Soth took a series of road trips along The Mississippi River, shooting landscapes, interiors and folk he met along the way, building up a kind of loose narrative, like pieces of a jigsaw that the viewer can put together. He is a great ‘book’ photographer in this respect, I think, as the whole story can reveal itself when the images are looked at as a unified whole; as you do in a book.
Soth himself has said “Anyone can take a great picture. But very few people can put together a great collection of pictures. It is incredibly difficult to put these fragments together in a meaningful way. And this is my goal”.
So like a jigsaw, all the pieces are essential in playing their part to give the complete overview – or as complete an overview as possible. Because, like Robert Frank before him with his pioneering book The Americans, you can get meaningful insights into America and its people here – but it’s not prescriptive in its message.
There’s a sadness that permeates this whole documentary series – of lives unfulfilled, of disappointment and of resignedness. But this is where, through Soth’s eyes, documentary meets poetry; and the result is a trip along a river that acts as a metaphor for life, encompassing childhood, hopes, dreams, art, religion, politics, sex and ultimately of course, death.
I visited Gregory Crewdson’s Cathedral of the Pines exhibition at The Photographer’s Gallery here in London. It is impressively staged over three whole floors of the gallery and doesn’t disappoint in its unsettling, painterly beauty.
The word that keeps coming to mind when viewing this series of images is ‘Trapped’. Either physically in a room or a house or a relationship. Or psychologically, where the impact of the unknown in these photographs weighs so heavily on the people in them.
They are trapped in their own heads by their demons, worries, dark secrets, a shady past, things they have done or things they are about to do. We all know this feeling in some shape or form – and this is why the pictures resonate so strongly with us.
David Lynch unearthed a vision of America in the influential Twin Peaks and his movie Blue Velvet. You can sense the same uneasy, queasiness in these pictures. Crewdson has often conveyed this darker view of America in his photographs but in this series he has added layers to it with softer lighting and a painterly palette of muted tones.
Ostensibly, we see the dark underbelly of the US. But perhaps in these unpredictable days in the United States it is a more accurate reflection of the mainstream reality; not the populist, upbeat vision of what outsiders consider to be America.
Hopper-esque in the impact of their psychological weight on both the people portrayed, as well as us, the viewer, we find ourselves projecting our own experiences, thoughts and preconceptions onto what has, or is unfolding in each image.
There is no clean cut conclusion in each image, however; just an open narrative for us to dwell on individually as we stand in front of the pictures, marvelling at the expertise with which each photograph has been assembled.
The Image Source creative team and I went to the The Media Space’s talk by Alec Soth at The Science Museum last night, to get insights into his working practices, influences and the push and pull of Documentary, Art and Commerce in his imagery.
The talk launched his retrospective called Gathered Leaves, which curates chronologically his four major books: Sleeping By the Mississippi (2004), Niagara (2006), Broken Manual (2010) and Songbook (2015).
Taught for a time by Joel Sternfeld, you can see his influence on some of Soth’s work. He also referenced William Egglestone and Robert Frank as photographers he admired – but saved his highest praise for Paul Graham.
Alec Soth calls himself “a photojournalist, blogger, self-publisher, Instagrammer and Educator” and last night he drew parallels between the avalanche of photographs taken today and the volume of music available on iTunes. He understands that today the sharing of the image can be as powerful as the image itself.
He also runs a publishing company called Little Brown Mushroom and self-finances ‘Zines and books as well as seeking funding through the likes of Kickstarter for publications and educational programmes. Interestingly, all the publications on the site are Sold Out!
His imagery is impactful but subtle. With soft colours, poignancy and considered compositions, you can see echoes of the photographers mentioned above but also a very particular vision where the images in his bodies of work connect with each other as much as you the viewer want them to. His influence in turn can be seen in advertising, on social media and in fashion editorials, where contemporary but nostalgic photography is the visual currency. There’s a timelessness though to Soth’s pictures, making him one of the great photographers working today.
1. Point of View
A distinctive point of view draws the viewer in – the caught moment and emotions feel recognisable and human. We connect with these experiences and instinctively react to them. Partly due to Instagram, Flickr, Snapchat and so on, there is a consumer hunger for point-of-view photography and customers relate to this approach because it makes them feel part of what’s going on.
2. Visceral, Tangible, Real.
To be honest, viewing imagery is like having a second hand experience. You weren’t there – but if the image can give you a feel of what it was like when it was taken; if the photograph can convey something tangible – the smell of nature, the noise of the city, the sun on your face – then we as human beings will respond positively. We need visceral, real, tactile, smelly, flavoursome imagery more than ever to counteract our digital fatigue.
3. Handmade Feel
Integrating technology into pictures where it’s a means to an end, not the end itself is really showing us the way we actually live. We’re not just using technology functionally, to communicate, we’re using it to support age old ways of earning a crust or expressing ourselves in our everyday lives – through cooking, making music, art, crafts, artisanal produce or working the land.
A retro feel has been introduced into the imagery everyone’s creating – thanks to contre-jour shooting, various filters and plug-ins you can buy and the sharing of imagery on social media. Many people won’t know they are aping Polaroid’s aesthetics or old Kodak and Fuji film stock from yesteryear. People are documenting their lives, their very existence and dialling it up visually to add individuality, character and personality. Imperfections in the imagery (again nostalgic) are part of the fun of it and make the pictures – and us, human, engagingly flawed and accessible.
5. Human Truth
How do people really behave? How do they exercise, stand, carry stuff and react to jokes? For consumers, emotion has a very powerful pull. Pictures rely on emotions, recognition and visual cues that people identify with. These small visual cues mean a lot – couple that with intimate camera angles that involve the viewer and the result is real life shot truthfully.
We’ve entered a dramatically different relationship with technology, an age where machines talk to each other, where we’re developing new rituals and routines and where advertisers and brands tell stories about the soft benefits of hard technology. And it will change our relationship to images. Welcome to the Age of Hard and Soft
The conversation around technology is already changing, slowly, discreetly, the network has become ‘pervasive’, ’embedded’,’wearable’ – it’s in the ‘cloud’. You get a sense of the prevailing winds when in the UK the BBC’s The Apprentice features a task to design wearable technology, amid anxieties over privacy, and despite one of the products looking like a jacket with added gaffer tape one retailer ordered 250 because they “like to be early adopters of technology”. Welcome to the age of Hard and Soft, the age of the internet of things where machines start chatting to each other, an age where we human beings fold ourselves into the network, and where objects communicate, inform, talk to each other. “Hello” says the milk bottle to the fridge, ‘I am empty”. The Fridge (the star of all Internet of Things conversations) adds milk to a shopping list which uploads to the supermarket site who tells the staff to deliver an extra carton to Bill at 42 Acacia Way. “Oh” says the fridge, “and print a cake and a candle on the packaging, it’s Bill’s Birthday.” Business inventory and logistics will become even more time-sensitive reducing waste of all kinds. But most of all the age of Hard and Soft will subtly shift our relationship to things, to places, to ourselves. The difference between the digital and the physical world will get more complicated, and as technology gets more customized, targetted and functional, advertising and marketing will seek to tell softer emotional stories. Likewise the institutional and corporate power of hard quantifiable data will only serve a purpose when delivered through softer storytelling (read psychotherapist Peter Kramer in the New York Times on the necessity of storytelling in an age of medical big data). And in other words, the age of Hard and Soft is about a changing relationship between Art and Science, in sectors such as technology, healthcare and education.
Image of the Physical
The material and immaterial worlds are connecting and combining in unexpected ways. Not least in the recent free download of U2s Songs of Innocence, whose booklet (whatever about the marketing) wasn’t at all innocent. In the absence of anything physical, the digital booklet displays an image of the vinyl version: the sleeve indented by the record, ‘U2’ stamped and faded, and the letters ‘LP’ written and circled in felt tip. The representation of this old physical technology now has serious soft power though it has little ‘hard’ commercial power in terms of actual vinyl sales, The Telegraph suggests vinyl records are largely bought as collectors items, as desirable non-functional objects. Nevertheless the cultural power of U2s black and white vinyl, its ‘authenticity’ is magnified and mirrored by the black and white photo of the band opposite.
‘Like’ is Hard
But perhaps this strangest blend of the worlds of hard and soft, where the signs of the digital and material ghost into each other’s universes came from a recent ad for C&A by Brazilian agency DM9éDDB in Contigo magazine. The virtual sign, the icon of the digital age, the Facebook ‘like’ icon is transformed into a material button. The magazine contains a chip so when the reader presses the icon the ‘like’ is immediately registered on their Facebook page. The fashion model is her own subject in the selfie, the catwalk has expanded colonizing any space there is a smartphone camera.
The coming technologies around the internet of things and health apps where information becomes both tangible, and synchronized with the human, are the big drivers. So when Apple (a brand which consumers have accepted as a conduit for the future into the present via lifestyle products) launch their new iWatch, this new new relationship between hard and soft, between information and flesh feels like it has made a leap into mainstream consciousness. The human arm transformed into an interface in a world where we are never offline, software as a kind of active Tattoo, where the borders between the physical and the intangible have become transparent.
It’s a familiar image in the culture as the conflict between the Hard and the Soft, technology and culture, is periodically played out, most resonantly in Ray Bradbury’s The Illustrated Man (a set of stories around a tattooed man), where his remarkably prescient short story The Veldt is a must read for planners seeking frameworks for how the internet of things will also shift our relationship to images (see also Project Underskin by New Deal Design).
Interestingly, The Tattoo, is fast becoming a staple of stock photography where once it was airbrushed out regarded by mainstream society as a kind of cultural deviance. This acceptance by the wider culture, was arguably driven by the sharing of stories and feelings in the digital world, and made it ok for this form of coded storytelling on the body, defining significant relationships, people and events.
The visibility of the Tattoo, has become an expression of soft power, the signifier of a transparent emotional honesty. Which brings us back to Apple’s shift in communications from the hard sell of hardware and technology to the soft sell of sentiments. These soft benefits are quantified as experiential, emotional and very much shared. (Image Source photographers can read Creative Director Ashley Jouhar’s in-depth visual analysis in the recent briefing)
Sustainability, Backstory and the Cute
This warm feeling around our emergent relationship to technology, objects and space will also be powered by bigger issues such as sustainability. Take our example of milk in the fridge earlier, instead of being an afterthought, sustainability will be dynamic, as products feedback to us and talk with each other. There will be less waste, as the sensors on the carton of milk tells the fridge that I need more milk, which updates my online shopping list, which means I won’t buy more than I need. Eventually these machines which talk to each other about us, our behaviours will enable us to have a different, more acute relationship with time, with the future. By telling me about their production, tabulating their environmental costs, they will enable me to make informed choices or make me feel guilty about making bad ones. These objects and the information they immerse us in will place us in the future, helping to make us think about the future impact of the choices we make, for this reason we will have an increasingly complicated relationship with objects and things. And with time. In terms of products the internet of things, and the imagery surrounding is likely to be driven by the hyper-soft emotion of ‘Cute’. We might be a little wary of new technology that will become part of us, and will create different kinds of objects that are animated by information and knowledge about us, but the best way of getting the foot in the door is through puppies. Take for example Lowe’s DIY stores in the US introducing smart objects into its range of customer offerings. Business magazine INC.com uses a classic image of a puppy to illustrate the feature- smart. “The PetSafe pet door from Lowe’s is among a series of new devices that the company introduced this week, all of which can be controlled on one single platform, Iris. With the Iris app installed on your smartphone, you can keep track of your puppy’s movement when you are out shopping or working. Together with a collar sensor, the door also allows you to identify your own pet so that a neighbor’s cat won’t sneak in to steal food.”
Rituals, Gestures, Etiquette
Just as the dawning of the internet age generated a wave of character art shared online (like friends guiding us through this strange technology) expect a further growth in the imagery of ‘cute’ (see our feature on The Double Take an early version of some of the themes we address here, and our briefing exploring visual definitions of cute – Cute 22). Objects and things are already changing us physically, shaping how we exist in space. Dan Hill, former Interactive Designer for the BBC and Monocle, writes on a visual research project for conducted at Art Center College of Design, that “The Network is still spoken about as if it were somehow something separate to Us, as if it is an ethereal plane hovering above us, or perhaps one we might be increasingly immersed in but separate to our bodies, to our selves, nonetheless. This doesn’t feel accurate now. There is no separate world, and this list indicates how we are even changing what our bodies do in entirely emergent, or at least unplanned, everyday fashion, in response to The Network’s demands.” Curious Rituals, Gestural Interaction in the Digital Everyday is a project that is astonishingly sharp about new behaviours, and whose credibility and emotional resonance is shaped by the diagrammatic aesthetic.
The authors write that these images of behaviour are the kinds of ‘B-Side’ of the images put out by tech companies which are generally futuristic. “The curious habits described in this book can be seen as ingredients with which technological objects are domesticated by people, integrated into their own daily routines. Fixing strategies, nervous tics, device juggling or courtesy postures, to name just a few, are not only peculiar interaction habits, they reveal how people normalize so-called ‘futuristic technologies’ or what seemed magical and complex at first.” We think that this new wave of ‘Hard’ machinery will be accompanied by images that aren’t constructed around traditional codes of utopia, that envision a space with a minute different to the present, but in that gap the age of Hard and Soft begins to talk – in Colour, in Small Moments, and Rituals. Paola Antonelli, Senior Curator, Department of Architecture and Design at MOMA in New York wrote in the 2011 introduction to Talk to Me: Design and the Communication between People and Objects, “Talk to Me explores this new terrain, featuring a variety of designs that enhance communicative possibilities and embody a new balance between technology and people, bringing technological breakthroughs up or down to a comfortable, understandable human scale. Designers are using the whole world to communicate, transforming it into a live stage for an information parkour and enriching our lives with emotion, motion, direction, depth, and freedom.” While objects have always talked to us (or maybe it was just my special relationship with Teddy) we are entering a new age where we devolve responsibilities to objects. In the next few months we will be exploring in more depth the increasing importance of Colour in shaping the image of this new space where people and things talk and check in with each other. We will be exploring visually our changing relationship to ‘things’, to Home, to public space, and in the visual trend of ‘Raw Nerve’ a world where hardware increasingly relies on the soft power of imagery as a way to translate how this new world might work. In the meantime, we can say with a degree of certainty that there is a new visual icon for this age. Just as the light bulb was the metaphor for the idea in the electric age, the domestic refrigerator is the sign of the new age of talking objects. “Hello Things!”
The surge in popularity in illustration began in the mid 1990s, taking people to magical places. We explore some of the benchmark moments and look at the most popular ways illustration is used for effective communication
It’s the month that Lawrence Zeegen and Caroline Roberts’ epic Fifty Years of Illustration gets published by Lawrence King, a book filled with illustration classics such as Klaus Voormann’s Revolver cover to Shepard Fairey’s Hope poster. But if we telescoped down to 15 years and some thumbnail sketches of drivers and moments here are five ideas as to why illustration has got so popular since the late 90s.
1. How Toys Became Pioneers For Emotions
It’s easy to forget that there was a moment when by the mid 90s, illustration had such low visibility compared to the pervasiveness of the new, hyperreal digital photography and photo-shopping. And then towards the end of the decade people/art directors/clients felt they had had their eyes filled with enough futureslick, highly-produced photography that the new technology seemed to demand. In truth, those who remember, a lot of this imagery paralleling the dotcom boom had headed off into the world of bad illustration. There was a slice of commercial photography in the mid-to late 90s that was trying to adjust to its new body in a world of technological possibilities, stretching and elasticating itself like Jim Carrey in The Mask (1994)
Strangely enough the move away from photographic hyperrealism, heavily manipulated imagery that wasn’t quite illustration, came from within illustration and was best captured in 1999 by illustrator Kate Gibb’s playing with photography in her sleeve art for the Chemical Brothers album Surrender.
But one hugely underestimated driver of a new sensibility among adults was Pixar’s Toy Story in the middle of the decade. So while the kids were still wigging out on Ren and Stimpy, and Beavis and Butthead,
Toy Story gave adults permission to enjoy animation (illustration’s close moving cousin).
The heady nostalgia of childhood, narrated through Buzz, Woody, Andy, Mr and Mrs Potato Head and the rest of the gang enabled mainstream adults to appreciate again visual forms they had long left behind, and freely submit to a vast well of sophisticated sentimentality. The whole Toy Story concept is still being squeezed for its bottomless emotional appeal in this ad for the 3 mobile network in the UK by Smith and Foulkes for Nexus Productions.
Toys and character art have become a whole business and design sector, explored by groups such as Pictoplasma and designers such as Kidrobot. And in the liquid forms of an illustrator like Alex Trochut, Toys really do take on a life on their own, even new life-forms with a candy-fuelled charm that also captures Bling’s cartoonish exaggeration.
2. How Illustration Soothes The Anxiety of New Technology
Nat Hunter formerly of the now defunct Airside, now Co-Director of Design at RSA once told me that Technology clients love commissioning illustration and animation because it makes potential customers less fearful and threatened by new technology. It’s why when she was at Airside they wrote a feature article How To Do How To Movies, images by Malika Favre.
And a simple ‘How-To’ film by Wonky animation, shows how to use a SmartWatch aimed at people suffering with diabetes.
Illustration, as a primary tool of our socialization as toddlers, has been the medium of addressing fears, of visualizing socially acceptable behaviours and role models and of course a safety valve for picturing funny, socially taboo-breaking chaos.
So energy companies in the UK such as British Gas, ease in the customer who might not be so keen on using a new app (just because its different) for bills and monitoring energy usage.
Or Transport for London who are bringing a new kind of contactless payment, so commissioned Job, Joris and Marieke at Jelly London.
Or even UK bank TSB, which like most companies in the financial sector post-2008 credit have a negative halo simply because the perceived behaviour of large banks. These beautifully drawn animations from Studio AKA, with character design by Steve Small are both charming and funny. Two core features of illustration. I’m charmed, I laugh, job done.
Like the image below from Shotopop, the world of the virtual and the physical has become blurred, a scary thought for many, and for tech clients illustration seems to be the soft-landing for consumers in a fast-changing world.
3. How Drawing Became The Signifier of Creativity
What’s quite remarkable over the last decade, perhaps even a shorter timespan, is how illustration as a kind of image-making, became the default visual signifier of creativity, especially for showcasing new technology, where the ‘street’ (the sensibility of skater culture and street art) is the living spark, the force that animates the code and steel of new technology. As in this piece commissioned by Intel and Vice magazine for their Creators Project – augmented drawing.
4. How Illustration turns Bling into Luxury
The flow of Illustration into different sectors has been astonishing, but this is partly because these sectors have been transformed by technology – by how products are being marketed differently and where the marketing needs to appear. So as well as having the “down-to-earth” flavours of the ‘how to’ communication, whether collage or the brands showing the performance of drawing has become a key tool for signalling luxury and craft. As in this piece for Swarovski showcasing the drawing of illustration duo Good Wives and Warriors.
Like the surface of this gorgeous image by Andy Bridge, scratched as he paints onto wood or metal. The handmade has always been a feature of a certain kind of luxury products, shift is in how the distressed and marked becomes a sign of taste.
Then of course was Cognitive Media‘s hand drawn accompaniment to the Royal Society of the Arts events, in particular Sir Ken Robinson’s speech on Education.
It’s viral popularity almost single-handedly put mapping conversations, meetings and live events on the map – so-to-speak.
But the strength of illustrators, whether through conceptual work or mapping, is the the fact that they dance to their own tune. An imagination that fuses the possible and the impossible, the material and immaterial, the conceptual and the narrative, beauty and beast.