30 Covers, 30 Days 2014: Day 17 with Designer Seth Johnson
30 Covers, 30 Days is back! What is 30C30D? We match up 30 professional designers with 30 NaNoWriMo participants, and challenge the designers to create a book cover in 48 hours or less, based solely on that participants’ 2014 NaNo-novel synopsis.
The Designer: Seth Johnson is a designer, strategist, writer, organizational leader, and educator. In his current role at IBM Design, he creates and delivers active learning experiences to IBMers during a new era of design-led innovation within the world’s largest technology company. A past president of AIGA Minnesota, Seth also served as its co-director of education and founded its mentor program. Through his volunteer work, he strives to help emerging designers bridge the gaps between education and professional practice.
The minute I switched from film to photography, I began thinking about a senior project, since most responsible people who do senior shows start thinking about it long before I even picked up a camera. I decided that I’d want to do something dealing with our portrayal and perception of the elderly, possibly showing them doing activities that even young adults have forgotten to do but had once loved, uniting humanity despite the age gaps, and then I went back to school and saw Seth’s incredible show “Yet to Be.” He had achieved what I was thinking of doing probably better than I ever would. I was immensely inspired by the fact that other people in my immediate community and time were thinking about similar themes, and his work made me think deeper about these ideas than I ever could have on my own. But I was set back on the idea and needed a new one.
I won’t go into most of the details of the new project I settled on right now, but I will say that the ideas behind photographer Pieter Hugo’s Nollywood series are very similar. Hugo’s work impacted me immediately when I encountered his arresting The Hyena & Other Men series, depicting Nigerian men posing with hyenas and wild monkeys which they have domesticated.
The images alone were relentlessly haunting. I could not explain what kept these images at the forefront of my imagination. Further shattered expectations were to come later when I read his personal artist statement regarding the series. It was nothing that I expected, and far wider and deeper and humble than I could have ever predicted. The trilogy of the aesthetic of the work, the concept of the work, and the artist’s consistent willingness to portray his own philosophy cemented Hugo as a kind of hero of mine.
I didn’t see much of his other work until later, but his Looking Aside series is remarkable, and includes many of the themes I was hoping to explore in my early idea of the elderly portraits. Hugo’s method is far more visceral, depicting point blank headshots of albino black south africans, blind people, and the visibly old. The final image in this arresting series of people who the ‘normal population’ would look away from, is of his own face.
Nollywood is best explained by Hugo himself in his always excellent artist statements, so I won’t dilute it by summarizing it myself here, but his idea of attempting to create a verisimilar reality based in a to-be-fully-realized mythology of a culture in order to impact how the people within that culture view the world is nearly my philosophy in a nutshell, for my own project. The series is raw, fantastical, dark, and violent, however it is a stunning look into a non-existent world that is as real as our own, whose stories could potentially have as much impact on life as our own historical narratives. I wouldn’t do something as dark, but to convey his philosophy with as much grace and potency is a feat I would love to accomplish at even half the success that Hugo has.
Jordan Smith is tired of the poop jokes.
His band Diarrhea Planet plays a raging style of garage and punk. And their live show, which features four guitarists, has become synonymous with one helluva rock and roll shindig - no shitty jokes needed.
Check out Seth Johnson’s review on Diarrhea Planet and see what the band has to say about playing in Indy here.