For some, the first taste of Christmas is a crumbly mince pie, for others it’s unfurling door number one on their advent calendar. For me, it has always been the bumper issue of the Radio Times, which ushers in two weeks of uninterrupted, chocolate-induced televisual joy and merriment. Launched in 1923, the Radio Times remains the UK’s biggest, most profitable magazine.
With a cover archive to drool over and the festive season nearly upon us, it seemed only right to ask Radio Times art director and deputy editor Shem Law to tell us what his favourite books are. Working as a designer for over 25 years, Shem has launched magazines in London, Melbourne and New York, despite never actually wanting to design magazines for a living. From Bauhaus typography to the photographs of a late great, his choices are much more than just stocking fillers, so indulge in the last Bookshelf of the year.
Lawrence du Garde Peach: The Story of Nelson: A Ladybird Book
This is the first book I ever chose for myself – up until then my parents and relations had bought my books and been in charge of what I read, so this was the first book I decided I wanted to read. So much so, that I stole it from my primary school library aged around six. I couldn’t even read it properly and kept it under my mattress.
It’s the story of this nation’s greatest hero who died during his finest hour and had a thick Norfolk accent. The book is illustrated with scenes from his life so what’s not to like? I collected many of the Ladybird books from then on (by fair means or foul) and I think most of what I know in life comes from these pocket sized gems.
Museum of Modern Art: From the Picture Press
This was a book I was given by my father when I was around 11, which he had bought in New York. It’s a collection of newspaper photographers’ images from the 40s and 50s. It was the first time I came across WeeGee, the greatest newspaper snapper there was. It’s real photographs of real people, all Speed Graphics and flash bulbs. They’re a refreshing antidote to the photographs that I spend my life creating in photo studios and Photoshop. I love this book, from the kid whose puppy has been killed to the boys being shown the dead body of their friend – with little or no captions, the pictures really have to tell the story. For my birthday some years ago my wife bought me an original WeeGee print of a dead man having his fingerprints taken, it’s the first thing I’d save in a fire (after the dog and the children, obviously).
Gerd Fleischman: Bauhaus. Drucksachen. Typographie. Reklame (Edition Marzona)
I went to a state secondary school in Cambridgeshire and the building is the only public building in Britain that was designed by Walter Gropius, the founder and director of the Bauhaus Art School in the Weimar republic during the 20s and 30s, before Hitler shut it down. It’s a fabulous building, light and airy, and had classrooms that opened up completely to the elements in the summer. It gave me a lifelong interest in the Bauhaus and when I finally found myself at Hornsey Art School doing graphics, I bought this secondhand book with my first grant cheque. It’s in German so I have no idea what it says, but it contains some of the best typography that came out of that school, with stunning work by Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Alfred Arntand, Joost Schmidt. Books come and go in my life but I think this is the one I always return to when I need good ideas.
Michael Lesy: Wisconsin Death Trip: University of New Mexico Press
This is a strange and haunting book, it contains images and words taken from a local newspaper in Winsonsin called The Badger State Banner. Someone found over 30,000 glass negatives from the ten year life of the newspaper all intact, and this book is a collection of them along with words that catalogue everyday life, loss and disaster in that state from the late 1800s. Again, they’re real people who lived hard and harsh lives. I really don’t know what I like about it, but it’s a book full of terrific images, made long before the likes of Diane Arbus or Tony Ray-Jones.
Robin Muir: John Deakin – Photographs
Years ago I went to an exhibition of John Deakin’s work at the National Portrait Gallery, I was taken there by my best friend Sean Hogan, a perceptive picture editor I was working with at the time. He told me that Deakin would become my favourite photographer by the end of the night and as always, he was right. Deakin was a Soho habitué, who lived the bohemian life to the full, he was friend of Francis Bacon, and treated his subjects with the same blunt honesty in the pursuit of a truthful depiction. He died in 1972 leaving a handful of creased and damaged prints in a box in his room. Robin Muir who put the book together also found long-forgotten negatives and prints in the archive at Condé Nast and Vogue in which Deakin’s pictures occasionally appeared in the 50s. I love these images for their brutal quality and the fact that a folded and torn image might be the only one in existence. A million miles from the pictures that appear in Vogue and Vanity Fair these days and a million times better for it.
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