Thursday, 16 April 2009

Magnums

(With thanks to the peerless John Self of Asylum, who drew these books to my attention. UPDATE: See the end of the post for more.)

Another imminent set of Penguin re-releases are the Magnum collection, a partnership between Penguin Books and the Magnum photo agency. Magnum is an unusual artistic co-operative of photographers, whose co-founders included the late and very great Henri Cartier-Bresson and Robert Capa.

These six books, for the most part classics of non-fiction or reportage, each use a dramatic Magnum photo on the cover, and have no text on the front (the title/author circles you can see below are removable stickers). The barcodes on the spines are a little bit ugly, but I guess you can't have everything. (Click for much bigger versions.)








I particularly like the cover for Hersey's (not Hershey, as the cover above has it) Hiroshima, a powerful little book about the nuclear bombing of that city, told by people caught up in the horror. The cover image is of the Peace Dome, a building that was the city's trade centre, and which survived relatively unscathed despite being at the very epicentre of the bomb blast. This photo, by Philip Jones Griffiths, dates from 1995. An earlier edition of Hiroshima from Penguin used a shot from soon after the attack, a scene of horrific devastation captured by Wayne Miller.



I also really, really like the cover to In Cold Blood, though I don't know who did it (UPDATE: See end of post). Interestingly, the cover for A Man on the Moon was not taken on the Moon at all. It's from a collection of photos by Rene Burri called "Space ruins": the remnants of the closed-down bits of the USA's space race installations.

By the way, if you're looking for another heart-breaking Hiroshima image, try this cover. What might at first glance be an ordinary-ish portrait of mother and child is transformed by its context into something horrible.



UPDATE: Mr Self has got his hands on the books, and has kindly filled me in more on the designs.

"The covers are matt (almost untreated?) card stock - which I was surprised by, as for some reason I expected them to be glossy. The writing on the back cover is nicely debossed. The inside covers have photographs overlaid with the usual book blurb (inside front) and a blurb about Magnum (inside back) ... I also got a press release which gives details of all the photos, so the ones you haven't identified are as follows:

In Cold Blood: Photo by Inge Morath (wife of Arthur Miller), taken during the 18 day road trip across the USA made by Morath and Henri Cartier-Bresson en route to the set of the The Misfits. It was Morath's first trip across the US.

The Fight: Photo by Abbas.

Hellfire: Image by Guy le Querrec, taken 8 Sep 1973 (inside images by him and Cartier-Bresson).

Hell's Angels: Photo by Dennis Stock."

14 comments:

John Self said...

They're good aren't they? Hiroshima also works well because it's in colour, contrary to our expectations of WW2 imagery (well, it's not a WW2 image, but you know what I mean).

The In Cold Blood is just perfect - either beautifully composed and framed in the first place, or exceptionally well cropped and placed to fit front, spine and back cover.

I've asked Penguin for review copies of the Thompson and the Tosches (I've read three of the others and don't fancy 600 pages of Apollo missions), so if they arrive I'll let you know what the fabled inside images are like too.

John Self said...

OK so - the books arrived today, so a bit of hands-on description of them.

The covers are matt (almost untreated?) card stock - which I was surprised by, as for some reason I expected them to be glossy. The writing on the back cover is nicely debossed. The inside covers have photographs overlaid with the usual book blurb (inside front) and a blurb about Magnum (inside back).

The spines, I am sorry to report, are a disaster. Those barcodes are not removable and in my view utterly inexcusable. I don't think I would want them on my shelves like that. Why couldn't the barcode be a removable sticker on the back (as Penguin have done with premium clothbound titles, such as the Hans Anderson stories, or with the Bill Amberg leatherbound classics), or printed in the inside covers? Madness, a fatal error in a series whose only USP is their beautiful covers (because there is no additional critical apparatus and the type has not been reset from the existing Penguin editions).

Anyway enough anal retentiveness. I also got a press release which gives details of all the photos, so the ones you haven't identified are as follows:

In Cold Blood: Photo by Inge Morath (wife of Arthur Miller), taken during the 18 day road trip across the USA made by Morath and Henri Cartier-Bresson en route to the set of the The Misfits. It was Morath's first trip across the US.

The Fight: Photo by Abbas.

Hellfire: Image by Guy le Querrec, taken 8 Sep 1973 (inside images by him and Cartier-Bresson).

Hell's Angels: Photo by Dennis Stock.

JRSM said...

All that extra information is extremely helpful: thank you! I'll quote you and add it to the post, if I may. Well, I hope I may, as I've already done it.

Kevin Arthur said...

I really like these, especially the Hersey cover. It's interesting to see so many recent-looking British editions of that book. The US design is a rather ugly mass market paperback that looks very dated.

JRSM said...

Argh, yes, that US 'Hiroshima' cover isn't very appealing at all: it looks like a James Michener book.

Kevin Arthur said...

Oh, and I think the removable front stickers are an odd idea, especially with the non-removable bar codes as John said. The front stickers look really nice to me and don't seem like they detract enough from the photos to be removable.

Also, to make a gross generalization that seems to be supported by John's comments: I often find UK books to be better designed visually than US ones, but they use worse materials.

Ian Shimkoviak said...

not digging the changing font in the circle for these. at all. The bar code on spine seems like a fun idea, but it sounds like it does not come off so well. The uncoated/untreated stock seems like a nice touch that compliments the unsaturated and uncorrected color photos...

I do enjoy that the book makes you turn the cover over to see the rest of the art. That is bold and clever and a fun use of the whole jacket. Glad the back cover is not littered with type.

John Self said...

Re the title stickers: I removed mine from Hellfire and Hell's Angels and I can't tell you how immeasurably it improves the covers. With no text at all on the cover, and (for these two anyway) pretty featureless imagery on the front cover, the reader just has to turn around to see the back, and - bang! - there's Lewis or the bikers, together with a few lines of text which suddenly has the force of scripture. Very well done indeed. Has to be handled to be believed really. Might have to pick up the others in the series when they come out now.

JRSM said...

I need to get my hands on these and have a good look at the physical object. Ian, the changing fonts in the cover circles can at least be peeled off! As John says, the quote on the back standing in for title/author does have a nick kick--especially the gruesome Perry Smith quote on the back of 'In Cold Blood'.

Ian Shimkoviak said...

well, it's grand that the sticker peels off.

Ian Shimkoviak said...

Are the stickers translucent?

JRSM said...

The stickers are translucent (and removable without damaging the cover, which is sadly not always the case!).

John Self said...

There's a draw on the Penguin website to win five sets of the Magnum Collection. Oddly, the illustrations make them look like hardbacks, which they definitely are not.

JRSM said...

For UK residents only, alas. They've just Photoshopped the covers onto a picture of a hardcover, haven't they? Weird that this seemed easier to do than just taking a photo of the actual books.