I betrayed Gutenberg for McLuhan a long time ago.Chris Marker
Thanks to Christophe Chazalon, master archivist over at chrismarker.ch, for Christmas in June; CH2 sent a collection of images – page spreads from a curious volume entitled L’An 2000: une anti-histoire de la fin du monde, published in 1975 by Gallimard. Like 2084, 4001, 3009, 2058, Bolaño’s 2066 (& La Jetée‘s un-numbered future dates), here we find more time travels from the late 20th c. to alternate epochs to come, an envisioned ‘prospectivist’ Y2K in this case. This book comes to my attention as something completely new, on my radar at least… It is a book where Marker’s roles seem to have been lead photographer and lead book designer. These images are further evidence of Marker as designer – one with a potent combo of wit, dark humor, visual acuity, and the unique application of montage to book design.
Recent and needed devotion of attention to Marker’s editorial and design role at Seuil has come out of late surrounding the Petite Planète travel book series. It is in this vein that we can perceive Marker’s mastery of layout, via which he brings the Trojan horse of his unparalleled visual & political wit. The spreads seen here are witty, yes, but not whimsical; some heavy political narratives live within the image concatenations.
To touch on the opening quote, despite the extreme aptness & quotability of the line, Marker was as intimate with Gutenberg as he was with McLuhan. The vast majority of his ‘estate’ consists of books. And he knew how to make them too. He weaves the two ciphers for media stages/epochs, over and over again, into rare media fabrics and a new temporal praxis for media. The book form of La Jetée is the most shining example, truly a ciné-roman (and one that was dear to his heart – he absolutely loved the book). Then we have the two volume Commentaires, the book Le Dépays, the out-of-print book of Le fonds de l’air est rouge, and Staring Back. Perhaps the magnum opus of Marker’s book design is Corréennes. I can’t think of any other cinéastes with this impressive skill set and printed oeuvre.
Marker’s layout genius is linked to the true métier of film editing, the cuts and splices, the choices and juxtapositions that make of Sans Soleil such an invitation au voyage. Gutenberg in motion, if you will, with Baudelaire sulking in the background. The tradition of emblems and ‘world turned upside down’ in French literature & publishing would be well-worth exploring in this connection, as it links Marker with a deeper anti-authoritarian artistic tradition, a grand example of which can be found in the hilarious Le Monde à l’envers carnivalesque visual genre of early modern Europe (18th/19th centuries, though examples date much further back).
For further reading, check the “Related Posts” links below, as well as Rick Poynor’s excellent article on book design & Marker’s Commentaires. For an overview of the life and works of André-Clément Decouflé, ‘sociologue, historien et prospectiviste’, consult this French Wikipedia article.
La prospective, qu’il contribua à largement à faire reconnaître en France par ses ouvrages et ses interventions à la télévision, fut progressivement délaissée parce qu’il estimait s’être complètement trompé sur sa vision de l’an 2000, vingt cinq ans avant l’avènement du troisième millénaire.André-Clément Decouflé, fr.wikipedia.org
Finally, let’s not forget the unforgetable publication – with Marker’s aid – of William Klein’s Life is good & Good for You in New York: Trance Witness Revels (1956). Subject for another post. Again here, we are witness to the revolution of layout and photography, in a much more extreme manner than Marker’s own work, but certainly not unrelated.
L’idée d’« Album Petite Planète » séduira les patrons du Seuil mais n’aboutie qu’à la sortie d’un volume de photographies de William Klein, Life is good and good for you in New York (1956). L’exceptionnelle qualité des images, de la mise en page et de l’impression singularisent ce livre.Chris Marker au Seuil, Hervé Serry