EG PROGRAMS EG: No other conference gathers such inventive makers and doers —
among the best in the world —
and no other conference assembles such inspired, edgy, joyful programs,
with such richness of interests.
What should an
EG program book look like? It’s an interesting design question.
The booklets need to mirror and intensify
the creative flair of the conference.
The visual language we chose: comic books. Our program books look and feel a bit like the vintage comic books you collected and traded when you were a kid: colorful, perky, creative. Year after year, it has been a delight to design these books with Ana Sanchez, Assi Glikshtein and their creative team at AllPopart.com. And each year, we work with our friends at Acme Bookbinding to print the books, using HP’s state-of-the-art Indigo press to produce gorgeous printed copies.
Over the years, we have transformed presenters into art house movie posters,
vintage circus performers, famous oil paintings, comic book figures,
and heroes of pulp science fiction.
For the 2013
EG7 book, we wanted an aspirational motif —
something that evoked the frontiers of learning —
and we found one:
great explorers and inventors, as seen through energetic vintage photographs.
Okay. Put yourself in the shoes of our designers for a moment. Let’s take two examples.
AN APT IMAGE.
First, consider Michael Apted, the accomplished British movie director.
UP series of documentaries: one of the most extraordinary achievements in cinema, these films chronicle the lives of 14 British children, visiting them every 7 years from the age of 7 to the present. It’s a staggering body of work — a time capsule covering 50 years of personal life.
So. Suppose you need to design a page for Michael in the program booklet. Any ideas come to mind? Perhaps something that captures the adventure and tenacity and drive that a great director needs to bring to a great filmic endeavor?
We came up with the image below. It is Herbert George Ponting: also British, Ponting was an intrepid photographer and pioneering filmmaker who became most famous for his work documenting the ill-fated Terra Nova Expedition to Antarctica in 1911 led by Robert Falcon Scott. Scott and his party of four other explorers perished while struggling to return from the South Pole, but Ponting and his photographs survived to tell the tale. Ponting brought with him a cinematograph — one of the earliest motion picture cameras — to capture movies of Scott and his crew, a landmark achievement more than a century ago.
Ponting’s movie was eventually released nearly twenty years later: there is a trailer and you can also watch the film in its entirety with appearances by Ponting. Not long ago, an archive of "lost photographs" was found, and the Scott Polar Archive was fully digitized in 2011. Memories of an age of wonder.
A MUSICAL PICTURE
Now: how about musician Linda Ronstadt?
What kind of artwork might you envision for Ms. Ronstadt?
Our event designer, Christopher Newell, found a source image that rang bells: this beautiful old color photograph of a Japanese folk singer. It looks like she’s belting out a heart-rending song while accompanying herself on the shamisen. We fell in love with this image, which came from the National Geographic archive, and our friend Keith Bellows at National Geographic graciously provided a high-quality scan of it, although there was no other information about it apart from the name of the photographer. It turned out to be much more special than we could have imagined.
What do we know about the Japanese girl? Well, first of all, she’s blind — the telltale is that bamboo stick leaning against her waist: it’s her guide cane. She’s known as a goze, one of a caste of visually impaired Japanese women who mainly worked as musicians from 1600 until 1900, roughly. They spent a good part of their time on the road, walking from village to village, dependent upon the charity of farmers and villagers. Like the old Appalachian folk music that Alan Lomax and Jerry Wiesner struggled to record, goze music is an art form that died out in the lifetime of our grandparents. Wouldn’t you love to hear what that song sounded like? Unfortunately, there’s little information on the internet about the music of the goze apart from that Wikipedia entry, and most of the repertoire of songs are lost. But some recordings do survive, and a brief video trailer about the music exists.
Eliza Scidmore (1856-1928), and it appeared in the April 1912 edition of National Geographic Magazine, which was propitious timing as you will see.
Ms. Scidmore (pronounced SID-more), who had met Abraham Lincoln as a child, attended Oberlin college as a young woman, pursued an adventurous career in the fledgling industry of photojournalism, and, by her late 20’s, she hit the road for Japan, traveling on the coattails of her older brother who worked in the U.S. diplomatic corps in Tokyo.
Scidmore traveled all over Asia as well as Alaska (where a glacier was named after her), but really was most deeply smitten with Japan, and her brother’s position gave her extraordinary and intimate entrée to otherworldly cultural moments that few westerners could imagine.
By 1890 she joined National Geographic
(which was two years old at the time; she was 34),
where she was very active both as a working photojournalist, editor,
and as the Society’s first female board member.
In 1896, for instance,
this story about the
Meiji-Sanriku earthquake and tsunami in Japan. That quake and tsunami killed nearly 27,000 people
and initiated Japan’s ambitious struggle to defend itself
against these catastrophes
(by contrast, the 2011 tsunami killed over 15,000).
And she didn’t simply bring the news and the photographs:
as a matter of fact, it was she who brought the word tsunami into the English lexicon.
A very private person, Eliza never married, but instead poured her energy into vigorous travels and writing — and into a most unusual venture. In 1885, when she was 29 and returning from Japan with her brother, she hatched the idea of bringing Japanese cherry trees to Washington. Scidmore then spent more than 20 years pestering and lobbying people to pull it off. Helen “Nellie” Taft took an interest in the idea: as it happened, Mrs. Taft had lived briefly in Japan — and in fact, had visited Japan several times with Eliza Scidmore’s mother. Mrs. Taft’s support was no doubt crucial, and by 27 March 1912, Eliza and Mrs. Taft (who was the most widely traveled First Lady the United States had seen when she and President William Howard Taft moved into the White House in 1909) attended the inaugural planting of what would become more than three thousand cherry trees, a gift of the people of Japan. Today, the thought of Washington without the cherry trees is unimaginable. But it all blossomed entirely from Ms. Scidmore’s vision and tenacity.
So it was hardly by chance that a few days later, the April 1912 issue of the National Geographic Magazine featured Ms. Scidmore’s evocative photos of Japan, including that beautiful blind goze singer. Scidmore was affectionately profiled in the Washington Post last year, marking the 100th anniversary of the planting of the cherry trees.
And, incidentally, April of 1912 was a dramatic moment in history: On the same day Ms. Scidmore planted the first cherry trees, Scott’s party was hours away from death, and he left behind a final heartbreaking message published a year later by the New York Times. About two weeks later, on 16 April, Harriet Quimby (whose photograph became Brandy Gale in our program booklet) became the first woman to fly across the English Channel. Sadly, nobody paid any attention: the Titanic sank the day before. Adding to the drama, Ms. Quimby herself perished in a plane crash just a few months later.
All of this hints at the richness of
behind every presenter there is a whole creative world,
and we hope our playful illustrations add to the wonder of sharing those frontiers.