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Photography and Graphic Design

HARRI PECCINOTTI 05


HARRI PECCINOTTI

Cover: Gloss magazine Cover photograph (March 2004)


L'Officiel (May 2009)

DEPTH OF FIELD

HARRI PECCINOTTI

Harri Peccinotti is a photographer and graphic designer. Born in London in 1935, he started his career as a commercial artist designing record covers and working in advertising before gaining international recognition as the founding art director of British women’s magazine Nova in the 1960s. As art director, his distinct graphic design work was also deployed for other magazines such as Flair, Vanity Fair, Rolling Stone and Vogue both before and after Nova. In addition, he designed French newspaper Le Matin de Paris. From the mid 60s he focused more and more on photography and developed a graphic, yet very sensual style, which featured on the pages of fashion magazines as well as in the 1968 and 1969 editions of the renowned Pirelli calendar. From 1972 to 1985 he produced a series of photography books on ethnic communities in countries as diverse as Nigeria, Cameroon, Singapore, Malaysia, Italy and Japan, among others. A book about the full spectrum of his work was put together by Giorgio de Mitri for publisher Damiani in 2008. Its title is simple and graphic, H.P. At the age of 75 Mr Peccinotti now lives in Paris. He continues to shoot fashion and advertisements and is a

photography consultant for French weekly news magazine Le Nouvel Observateur. We talked to Mr Peccinotti about magazines, nudity, feminism and growing older. What makes a good magazine? I am visually attracted by crazy pictures or some nice typography, but just for a moment. There is no longer any magazine that I go out to buy for its content. Maybe I am old and not interested in the things they are talking about. I somehow think the magazines in the 1960s and 70s were much more politically aware. Not that much about the superficial. What always really attracts me is the content. You left your creative mark on one of those politically aware magazines of the 1960s in Britain. How did you become the art director of Nova? I had been working on some established magazines before, doing some redesigning or upgrading, and I also worked for advertising agencies and even for that publisher, when their managing director asked me whether I was interested in doing the Nova project.


At that time graphic designers had started becoming interested in magazines. David Hamilton was art director at Queen, Tom Wolsey was at (Man About) Town, Willy Fleckhaus at Twen. Everyone was getting a bit fed up with advertising and magazines were a chance to do something new.

Queen. He was a much more serious journalist and had good ideas, good cover ideas and good headings. Hackett was crucial for the content of Nova. He was a good editor. He knew about words and made things much easier to work with. When he arrived everything changed and moved forward.

The idea was that Nova would be an intelligent magazine for women. How did you approach that idea? Was there a design concept, a vision for the style of such a new format?

Besides designing the headline font “harry fat face” and laying out the magazine, you also had massive influence on the overall visual style of the photography at Nova.

I don’t think I had a particular vision at the beginning. It was an ongoing process. First of all it was a dummy to find out if there was a readership for that sort of a publication. It was a rare sort of magazine that did not exist until that point, in fact.

We were very much “on the streets of London” at the time, in all ways. Both visually and editorially. Hackett was up with all the best writers and all the women’s liberation people. They were arriving at the magazine. They started getting their message across.

I was interested in the content. There were lots of good writers and other good people in it, which was the main thing for me at the time. Nova was about writing serious pieces. I started going to the editorial meetings to listen and to find out what was happening. The thing was to be much more involved in the content as an art director than normal. It wasn’t just a question of laying it out. It was a question of discovering what was the most important part, and then adding my bit to it. And then it was a question of looking at the content and deciding how to create a layout to draw attention to it, and to do that as graphically as I could.

But what sticks out for me personally is that I bought a set of pictures from an American about the birth of a baby. Which probably were the first ever published. I bought it when the editor wasn’t there and I paid for it. First they didn’t want to put it in, but then they did and in the end the magazine sold out in about two weeks. You could not find a copy, because no one had seen that in a national magazine before. Not the truth. Not the real thing of a baby coming out of a woman. That was a real shock.

The first editor was Harry Fieldhouse, but then a guy called Dennis Hackett became the editor. He came from

On the other hand, we created the fashion thing. The first issues contained no fashion. There was no big color picture story. My argument was that there should be something in the middle – red paper, or anything – that would


Nova (1972) Cover Japanese issue


Nova (October 1972) Nova (October 1971)


draw readers’ attention. So that when you would pick it up and flip through, you would see something. Whether it would be fashion or a different topic every month, it would be 12 pages of solid, double spread feeling. And it turned out to be fashion. But it was not real fashion; it was not controlled by the fashion industry. It was just controlled by an idea. I had a whole collection of sports clothes and we did a story with those names and numbers. Long before that was happening. The story was colorful and worked and had an idea, rather than just showing clothes. Advertising was not that important in the beginning when it was still tested as a magazine. But when it started to be successful, the interest of the big company that owned it grew and they put it under more pressure. Nova became a product in itself. They did not change it that much after Hackett and I left, but it was as if it had the brakes put on it. At the start it was all about trying to have more ideas, better ideas each time. Whereas at the end, when it collapsed, it had become restricted in its format and it was in need of finding advertising. They were prepared for the loss at the start, but then when it began to break even and even to sell a decent amount they began to think: this should make money now. Were you involved with the relaunch in 2000? No. I don’t know anything about that at all. I was not involved, nor was David

Hillmann who was the art director for most of the good issues of Nova. He came from the Sunday Times. I created the start, but he carried on until the end. We even did a book together about it. I saw it online for about 350 euros. That’s not worth it. But it tells the story. From the design perspective, what was the most important element in Nova? Maybe the cover. It was very strong in the beginning. We usually had a one-line heading and an illustration for it. Very simple, very good, strong words, short, to the point and provocative. Was Nova an international success story? I don’t think it went very far. It was often banned in Ireland because of naked girls on the cover, but I don’t think it was very international. You could find it, but only if you were interested. There was a growing interest in magazine design. There was Twen, Town, Queen, maybe also Playboy and McCall’s. At all those magazines the art direction became important in the way of presenting content. I think all those magazines learned from one another design wise. I couldn’t read the content of Twen, but visually I knew it. We did some odd things for Twen. Willy Fleckhaus used to go on holiday and then got somebody to come over and do the month when he was away. I also used to take photographs for Twen.


Nova (August 1966) Sports fashion before the craze for logos were on everything


Do you still have a passion for magazines? Is that something you have always been interested in? I sort of look at magazines, but I don’t really buy that many magazines any more. I used to buy every issue of Show and others. Now I buy things purely by looking at them and then picking one up. I have no feeling that I need to subscribe or buy them every month. I lost that a little bit.

They did not seem to worry about it at that time. It was more in the 80s when women got upset about girls with no clothes on. I had been doing all sorts of pictures, fashion and so on. I always liked women, so I photographed them a lot, even before Nova. I don’t care what they look like in the sense that I don’t need a model or a famous person. Just a girl.

What if you could start a magazine again today. What would it be about?

How did you develop ideas for stories? Did you write scripts, etc.?

I think it would be an intelligent person’s magazine these days. Because I don’t think the intelligent women’s magazine is a problem anymore. When Nova came out it was a problem and that is the only reason it was different from Twen and all the others. It was really aimed at women. And it dealt with the serious problems that women had at that time. But now I think those problems have cleared up. Mostly.

I worked very spontaneously, or semispontaneously at least. The idea was to find the clothes and then the story for the clothes. Sometimes the story even came from the location. Once we went to Morocco and the story was about a girl finding water.

In current media you are often pinned down to your sexy photographs. Whether they are sexy or sensual or about identity and self-expression. I wonder how those images went together with the idea of Nova being for the most progressive women at that time? For some unknown reason, that didn’t cause any problems. It was strange. But I never thought I was making pornographic pictures. We never had any trouble with the women writers who were very left, very aggressive.

And how did the graphic aspect of your style develop? I always fell for the close-up, graphic style. Maybe because I was a graphic designer and could handle it better that way. Or maybe because I have been cropping rubbish out of pictures as an art director for quite a long time. As a photographer I tried to leave the rubbish out while taking the picture. Picture editors don’t do that any more. We cropped everything. So did Twen. If you got a bad picture, make a double page spread from it and crop it… (laughs)


To me cropping is a tool to enhance an image. Today no one is doing that anymore but everyone is using Photoshop and postproduction instead. Does that make sense to you as a concept? Not really. I hardly use it at all. Sometimes I am forced to. I am just not very good at it. I only own a pocket digital camera. When I first started work there was no Letraset or anything. So you had to do hand lettering for your roughs and draw your pictures, rough ideas of pictures. You had to learn to draw. You used paper and cut stuff up with scissors. Today I go into the office of one of the art directors I work with and he doesn’t even have a pencil on his desk! He never touches anything, just looks at the screen all day. He is never in touch with materials. He does not pick up a ruler, cut with a knife, stick with a bit of glue. I miss that a lot. Even now when I do covers in Indesign, it never looks quite the same. It looks ok on the screen, but when you print it you have to reassess it and then do it again and again. There seems to be quite a difference between the screen and the printed page. I feel the same is true about editing. There is a lot of talk about visual storytelling these days, but the ability to tell a story in images was somehow much more elaborate in the 60s, or even before in magazines like VU or Life. How did you learn about editing? I don’t know. I think it was just the natural progression of graphic design at that time. Everything was moving in

that sort of direction. As a photographer I am much more influenced by painters than by anything else. Bauhaus and Schwitters influence you a lot when you are young and when you are thinking about design. Then, when you are actually doing work, the image changes due to the fact that it is not 1920 or 1918. Suddenly you are in the 1960s, things are happening. You are still using the same techniques, but the look is more modern because of the surroundings. To find a nipple in a magazine in the 1960s was quite hard. To avoid one today is almost impossible. But, apart from the technology, the basics have not changed very much. It is still the same problem all the time. It is always a blank page. Except – and I sound like an old man now – the word itself was much more valued. When I go back to the old magazines, they look awful to me. Some of the graphic design pages are ok, but the actual magazines are pretty dreadful. In comparison, the feel is not that good. But people tried to make things readable, whereas now I pick up magazines and I can’t read them. You always seemed to try to celebrate the content and to find the ­appropriate form for getting it across. Where did that start? You said in your book “it comes down to seeing the ­possibilities of the final use while taking the picture… ” When I was working with David Hackett we collaborated a lot. We knew what


Nova (1969) Fashion shoot in India


Pirelli calendar (1969) Photographed in California Art director Derick Birdsall


was being done on the page. So when I shot the picture, I would know which one was going to be a double page spread. I would even know whether it would need a little bit of type to help it. Therefore I got into the habit of thinking a bit “magaziney” when taking pictures. I see an interesting tendency in independent magazines towards more of an object quality, and I am curious to see whether that will also lead to a higher content quality as well. What do you think? I used to work for some of those younger magazines and the thing is: they don’t pay anymore. I don’t mind not being paid, but I don’t like to pay to work. I think that is a little immoral. They seem to have made their whole magazine function like that, and I don’t understand how young photographers manage to get on. They must find that unbelievably difficult. There seem to be hundreds of magazines and nobody is paying anybody. Which is a strange concept. I mean they seem to get good people to take the pictures. But I just wonder what happens to the young ones. Sometimes they are offered a job and it is virtually going to cost them money to do it. How was that in your own career? What was the most difficult aspect of your career? It just fed on itself in a weird way. When I was in my early twenties there was a group of friends and all we talked about was graphic design, painting and photography. It was somehow developing. Magazines paid a page rate; it

wasn’t much, but they paid. Nova paid the same to everybody. It was enough. You could work. I started as a commercial artist when I left school. Then I did music, designed record sleeves, then went into advertising, then into magazines and then into photography and still bits of graphics. It continued. It is just that nothing seemed to get horribly in the way. Maybe I was satisfied, but no I was never really satisfied. So you grew by taking those opportunities. Besides that, were there any personalities or specific projects that shaped your career? I think people did that. Early on I was really lucky when I went to my first job, because the people there were more artists than graphic designers. They were people I could look up to who were very good at what they did. They looked after me and taught me. I had much more education in those three years than I had at school. I was incredibly lucky. And people like Hackett and the writers where highly intelligent. It was a good schooling. And I am still being schooled. How about growing older throughout what is now 60 years of your professional career? What did you gain, what did you loose? I hope I am still going forward. I mean, I sure notice that with the models I could now be their grandfather. Whereas before, when I was in my 20s, I was the same age. So there was much more of a sexual thing going on. I was part of the street at that time, whereas now I am


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Pirelli calendar (1968) Photographed in Tunisia Art director Derick Birdsall


not. I talk to other people now. But apart from that, I don’t notice it. I don’t run that fast, but I still feel it is the same. What are you working on right now? I do some photography and some cover graphics for Nouvel Observateur magazine. You are 75 and still busy. It is interesting to see that photographers seem to manage a lifelong career much easier than graphic designers. Any idea why that is the case? I don’t do cutting edge graphic design at the moment. I do nice graphic jobs, but mostly I take photographs, some posters. I am not up to my ears in it, like I was. The type of aggression that was there when I was younger is not there anymore, although it would be better if it was. But I still enjoy doing it. You did a project for Nike that was on the Showstudio website. Is that a future market for you as well? Are you interested in that? I almost forgot about that. I think I have only seen it once. Actually this was my first proper experience with a digital camera. They were panicking because they also had to print posters from it over night. I am quite interested in the whole digital era. But I am not very much involved. Sometimes I think that the media ­revolution happening right now needs some more experienced people ­working together with young creatives

to develop not just projects but also ­products, markets and businesses. I don’t know. It is a little like the guitar craze. Everyone owned a guitar and learned three cords, but out of that comes Jimi Hendrix and one or two others. Somehow something good will come out of this mess for sure. But the problem is: anybody can do a poster, which is good on the one side, but bad for graphic designers. Doing your own stuff is so simple now. I think some of your work (e.g. the Pirelli California images) suggests it, but did you ever work in film or other media domains? I used to shoot commercials a lot, and I have done some cinema graphics. I worked in all things related to graphic design and typography. In your biography on the Showstudio website it says that you were “a musician, with notable skill as a bass trombonist”. One final question about music: I have this friend who recently started playing clarinet who says it changed his life, because it changed his way of thinking and perceiving the world around him. Did you experience the same? After my education as a commercial artist I played in various groups, and even before, as a kid, I played in a local brass band. I don’t play anymore and I feel I miss an awful lot by not playing. But, yes, I think music is really unbelievably good for anybody. You should try it. It is better than taking Omega 3.

Top: Boulevard magazine (1978) Hats feature photographed at home Left: 19 magazine (April 1975) Right: Twen magazine (mid 70s) Pirelli calendar picture photographed in 1967 used by Twen magazine


Guinness advertisement (1969)


Anti apartheid poster (1969) Next page: Nova (August 1971) Fashion feature using a cycle as a prop


COLOPHON

PUBLICATIONS 01 CHRISTOPH NIEMANN Illustration 02 MICHEL MALLARD Creative Direction 03 FUN FACTORY Product Design 04 ANDREAS UEBELE Signage Design

2009 2009 2009 2010

with Carrérotondes asbl MAPPING AUGUST. An Infographic Challenge 2010

PUBLISHER Design Friends COORDINATION Silvano Vidale LAYOUT Cliff Ross INTERVIEW Sven Ehmann PRINT Faber Imprimerie PRINT RUN 500 (Limited edition) ISBN 978-99959-625-6-2 PRICE 5 € DESIGN FRIENDS Association sans but lucratif (Luxembourg) BOARDMEMBERS Silvano Vidale (President) Arnaud Mouriamé (Vice-president) Nadine Clemens (Secretary) Heike Fries (Treasurer) Mike Koedinger (Boardmember) Thanks to Claude Ernster

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This catalogue is published for Harri Peccinotti’s lecture at Mudam Luxembourg on September 30, 2010 organized by Design Friends.

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Harri Peccinotti  

Depth of Field

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