by Rob O'Connor
I'm one of those people who stay glued to my seat at the end of a movie when the credits roll. I'm not sure why
- there's hardly any chance I'm going to recognise the name of the best boy or the location caterers, although I do like to check out the more obscure tracks that get thrown into the aural jumble sale that constitutes the modern soundtrack.
What transfixes me is the sheer quantity of names - all those people doing what they do best for a common aim - make up artists, set builders, costume designers... credits where they're due. A feature film may or may not encapsulate the vision of one man or woman, but each contributing talent will inevitably help create its look and feel, from the starring actors through to the electricians. It is this embodiment of the team ethic that I find so fascinating.
When I accepted the invitation to co-direct the promotional video for Maxi Priest's Some Guys Have All The Luck many years ago, I experienced my first taste of film-making (well alright, video). It was such a buzz then - as it is now, but not so far removed from the process of producing still pictures, which until then had been as far as my direction career had gone. In the stills business, though, it is more common to assume the title of art director.
This job title causes so much confusion to graphic design students and tutors alike. The whole concept of evaluating individual ability is put in jeopardy when someone's overwhelming talent is for communicating their ideas to others and guiding them while they do the actual work (a photographer, for example). In my opinion the collaboration of people with varied skills isn't just an interesting way to realise a creative vision, it is fundamental to the way we work at Stylorouge. While remaining fervently protective of our individual ideas, we indulge and encourage each other. If 'brainstorming' isn't too pretentious or naff an expression then, well, that's what we do. We each have particular strengths. Some of us work in a more illustrative way, some of us are more technically minded or photographically biased, confident with colour, accomplished with type. It allows us more breadth and scope, and helps keep us open minded about creative possibilities.
The other aspect of this team ethic is probably an obvious one - that is of utilising the talents of people outside Stylorouge - in other words, photographers and illustrators. However much we enjoy taking our own pictures and, on occasion, creating the odd illustration, we doff our caps to the better-qualified practitioners on a regular basis. I am grateful that we have been able to work with some great people in both areas and will continue to learn from the experience of setting up photo shoots with Simon Fowler, Andy Earl, Nick Knight, Sheila Rock, David Scheinmann and so on.
In our nursery years, such collaborations had to be negotiated carefully as budgets were generally low. But the reward was the prospect of greater creative freedom. Photographers often offered their talent in return for a portfolio-bound job and a 50/50 split of the modest spoils (net, of course). In this way, fulfilling and enjoyable jobs were completed for some of our favourite projects - The Passions, Shriekback, Music For Pleasure. A spirit of collaboration was born.
Like many who had studied the relatively new subject of graphic design, art direction had been an enigma to me.
At best is was something that had probably evolved during the Fifties in the heyday of American advertising, where images of utopian everyday life were created to sell everything from cars to cornflakes (automobiles to Cheerios to you). The Rockwellian visions of middle-class America had created the template for their photographic successors.
In the British underground of the 1970s, Hipgnosis kidnapped the art of the visual narrative through their contrivance of photographic reality and made it their own, with Storm Thorgesen and his partners employing the best pre-press craftsmen in the advertising industry to achieve optimum visual realism. (These were the pre-computer Seventies). In New York, ex-pat Parisian Jean-Paul Goude plied his trade at Esquire under the guidance of his magazine design guru George Lois. Fired-up by the manipulative potential of the creative photograph, he became Grace Jones' art director, svengali and sometime partner. He utilised her striking appearance to make some of the most exciting and remarkable record covers, videos and live performances of the early Eighties. As art directors both Goude and Thorgesen have influenced me, and I have also since had the pleasure of working with them. My own approach to art direction is less theatrical, erring on the side of subtlety. I am intrigued by visuals that work on a more subliminal level.
When we launched our first web site in 1996, we included a company manifesto. Our attitude towards collaboration as part of the creative process was referred to in the closing paragraph. We haven't changed our outlook much and long may we stand by our philosophy:
"We try to balance the analytical approach to visual 'problem solving', (some folk refer to this as having ideas), with a forward-looking intuitive flair (except on Monday mornings). Working collaboratively is enjoyed and encouraged; we treasure our associations with such talented practitioners as photographers and illustrators and value these experiences as an educational continuation. We hold all kinds of creativity in high esteem. Dignity and justice dictate that nothing is done for nothing and in our experience optimum success and quality result from the most respectful relationships. Nothing puts a bigger smile on our faces than driving a job from bottom to top: Concept, Art Direction, Design, Typography, Artwork, Repro, Pub; and in that order. We will turn our hands to most things and hopefully enter creative dialogue with a receptive ear and practical demeanour."