Thursday, December 1, 2011

“Can images reproduce the unimaginable?” [Marco Sonzogni] asks. “And how are those images to be interpreted?”

Winning design: Anna Zysko (Poland)

There is no right or final answer with a book cover. Where music albums are forever identified with the artwork that clad them on release, book covers change and change again. Over time a much-reprinted novel or short story collection will generate scores of different cover designs around the world. While the visual interpretation of any book’s contents can be taxing, with some books the stakes are especially high.
     Tadeusz Borowski’s This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen is that kind of publication. Los Angeles architect and book lover John Bertram has organized a series of cover design competitions in which he asks designers to interpret a demanding work of fiction. In 2010, with the Consulate General of the Republic of Poland in Los Angeles as co-sponsor, Bertram set the challenge of designing a cover for Borowski’s harrowingly bleak collection of 12 stories based on the writer’s experiences in Auschwitz. These speculative covers later became the starting point for a fascinating visual and literary study — This Way: Covering/Uncovering Tadeusz Borowski’s This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen — edited by Marco Sonzogni, with Bertram’s help, and published in April this year.
     I read Borowski’s book, available in the U.S. as a Penguin Classic, a few years ago. I had never heard of it until I happened to see it in a bookstore. From the author’s Polish name and the ferocious irony of the title, it was obvious what it was about and the cover photograph of something fiery and blackened (burnt metal, though the subject is unclear) clinched my desire to read it. The image played menacingly against the title — it could be interpreted as a deadly miasma — and had great metaphorical power without stating anything specific."
— Rick Poynor, The Design Observer Group

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