Anything Can Be Used
A book collaging a 1950s art theory essay with images from the birth of skateboarding.
Great ideas (/great designs) don’t come from nothing, rather they are always recycled from old influences. When I was tasked with re-imagining a favorite book of mine, these thoughts seemed like the perfect place to start.
The assignment was to create a book where the structure came from an idea. After reading the 1993 essay “The Idea is the Machine” by Abbot Miller, I looked around my bookshelf and found an old photo book of Tony Alva appropriating Los Angeles swimming pool luxuries into an entirely new kind of a luxury.
Growing up as a skateboarder and surfer in Los Angeles, some of my heroes have always been the original Zephyr Skateboard team of 1970s Venice Beach. Tony Alva was one of the most influential skateboarders of that group, and one of the photographers who documented him the most is an old family friend of mine — Wynn Miller. When I was young, Wynn gave me a signed copy of his book of Tony Alva images from the period and I’ve always cherished it. But cherished enough to make me not want to re-design it? Not quite ;) .
The empty swimming pool is such a beautiful metaphor for a lost-luxury. An emptiness where there once was plenitude. But by attaching a new culture to that swimming pool, the liveliness of the pool is once again regenerated in a completely new way.
I wanted to put an essay in contrast with these photographs. Something to convey the idea that the pool was appropriated by skateboard culture and given entirely new meaning.
I explained this to one of my professors and he suggested I look into the situationist movement, particularly the essay “A User’s Guide to Détournement” by Guy Debord and Gil J. Wolman.
The essay (in a brief summation) speaks about how combining things from different contexts creates an innovative result. “The mutual interference of two worlds of feeling, or the bringing together of two independent expressions, supersedes the original elements and produces a synthetic organization of greater efficacy.”
Once of the first things I decided was to break to the rectilinear frames of the photographs.
Photos displayed in their own context are shown in rectangle frames, this book was supposed to be about putting things into new contexts, so that had to go. This also worked because the curvy photographic frames mimic the curvy bowls of the pools that the skateboarders use.
Wanting this book to be more than just photos and text, I created another visual system of shapes to help illustrate the concept.
The green shapes are always rectangles, and they are always meant to be contrasting with curvy, light pink lines. Each page uses this language of shapes to both advances the story and exemplifies the contrasting ideas.
The shapes are also meant to convey movement and energy throughout the story, something I felt was lacking in the original photo book.
In designing the book I ended up creating three narrative flows. On each individual spread, the three flows merge to show the idea of re-contextualization.
By combining these photographs of the birth of skateboarding culture with this theoretical art-critic essay, I'm aiming to remix your interpretation of what Tony Alva was doing.
It's easy to see these images as some teenagers with skateboards tearing up empty pools, but I've always thought of them as postmodernists. What the Zephyr Skateboard did in the late 1970s was galvanize new meanings by appropriating these swimming pools with their skateboards, a perfect example of Detournement itself.
Design by Winston Struye.
Help from professors Mary Banas, Jon Sueda, and Chris Hamamoto.