Brendan Ciecko – Seeking Grit and Ghost Signs

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I strolled along the cracked sidewalks and buckled paths of the “fossil American Venice” as Pulitzer Prize winning writer John McPhee once described this city. While passing through the sprawling district of canals littered with old brick mausoleums, I always notice something new. A century ago, that serpentine curve of the Connecticut River must have been a sight to be seen. Smoke stacks bellowing, trains roaring, and the bustle of things being produced in those factories. Each time I return, I examine the widespread decay, hoping that the “Queen of Industrial Cities” has stabilized and that she is in better condition than when I saw her last.

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“Hamilton Street” by Brendan Ciecko

Although many buildings and businesses continue to fall into ruin, the lack of forward motion has acted like a time capsule in some ways – preserving visual culture, commercial history, and proof of a more vibrant time. Behind flaking paint and around each corner, loom the ever-fading ghost signs.

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“Depot Square” by Brendan Ciecko

Most of my professional life has revolved around all things digital. Design is core to my being, and typography, a notable passion. When I travel my camera fills up with pictures of antique typography; hand­-painted signs, neon masterpieces, and chiseled cornerstones.

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“Haberman’s” by Brendan Ciecko

One of the things I can count on when visiting Western Massachusetts is that my ghost signs are still holding on tight. I’ve counted hundreds of interesting specimens within a mile radius of Holyoke’s majestic Neo-­Gothic City Hall.

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“Coca-Cola” by Brendan Ciecko

Oh, those ghost ­signs! High Street and Main Street have always been a feast for the eyes. Just look at the texture of the downtown, with its signage, old and new. But, the real treasures are of the businesses and advertisements long gone.

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“Main Pharmacy” by Brendan Ciecko

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“Essex Street” by Brendan Ciecko

Like a shoe-gazer on stage, you’d be surprised by what you’ll find with your head down. Terrazzo in the dipping entries of the old storefronts. Smashed marble and glass with hand-formed numbers and names of old departments stores. There must have been an old appliance shop here judging by that GE emblem, but I’ve never had the time to look it up.

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“GE” by Brendan Ciecko

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“Thom M” by Brendan Ciecko

In the 1960s and 70s, internationally renowned photographer Jerome Leibling took to the streets of this city’s raw downtown. During his time at Hampshire College, he brought along his students, including a young Ken Burns, to open their eyes and capture the grit of life.

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“Behind tenement” by Jerome Leibling

New York Times photographer Mitch Epstein documented the story of his family’s rise and tragic fall by the hands of Holyoke.

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“Newton Street Row Houses” by Mitch Epstein

A few months back, while visiting the deCordova, I came across a photograph in an exhibition titled “Overgrowth.” It was of a half­-shredded tenement with a hand-painted sign as an added bonus. Without reading the label, I knew where it was.

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“Coca-Cola, 1982” by Bill Ravanesi

These declining American cities have always captured our eye and imagination. I hope someday they’ll rebound, but until that day, I’ll continue collecting my snaps of signs and scenes of these formerly glorious New England mill towns.

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Brendan Ciecko is an entrepreneur, designer, and technologist. He lives in Boston, MA.

Steven J. Duede – Restive compositions of life

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During my years in art I was always interested in painting and photography as a way to convey ideas that were maybe not so obvious to a viewer within what might appear to be obvious imagery. Through texture and colors and patterns more ideas regarding the meaning of the subjects might avail themselves to those of us in the audience, depending on a person’s point of view.

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My images should be chaotic yet rhythmic. Organic, should be so packed with texture and physical substance that they can be viewed on different levels. Comforting, discomforting, beautiful, and transitory. These recent photographs reflect my continued interest in images that can be beautiful; images that are turbulent, from natural elements and that also evoke something less obviously marvelous.

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Flowers and natural things are marvels of beauty and flora is a big subject in my work abutting elements of the unseemly, the degraded. These elements provoke thoughts regarding the contrast of the graceful and the less than beautiful. Themes in relation to mortality and vitality can arise from participating in these sorts of subjects and that thoughtful imagery abounds for me in my own creative process.

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Within these images from composted organic materials I’m witnessing the decomposition of natural compositions.  In this body of work, as in many, I’m exploring the mechanics of transition through time, neglect and natural decomposition. I hope to establish images that can be beautiful and chaotic. Subjects that in their own specific way function as part of a beautiful transient process.

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Steven Duede is a fine art photographer, artist, designer and arts administrator living in Belmont, MA.

These and other works can be found at http://www.stevenduede.com

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Andrew Churchman – Album Cover Design

As digital music services such as Spotify, Tidal, and Apple Music compete for our attention, as an artist and musician I often lament the slow disappearance of physical media.  Sure, I love my Spotify Premium subscription as much as anyone but do you remember what it was like to go into a record store and browse through the racks of LPs, CDs, or cassettes?  Over the last few years there have been plenty of reports proclaiming the resurgence of vinyl records (even Whole Foods has begun to sell LPs) but 2016 has in fact been the worst year for overall album sales since 1991 (via Spin.com).

What we gain from the immediate satisfaction of streaming a song, we lose in of the enjoyment of the physical packaging of recorded music.  Have you ever taken a chance on an album just because the artwork struck you?  I have.  While it’s been said that you can’t judge a book by its cover, you can judge an album by its sleeve.  For me, an album cover enhances the listening experience and colors the music.  I want to highlight three designers that I feel have elevated the medium of album design not only as a result of their unique visual aesthetics but also the quality of the music with which they were involved.

Peter Saville:  As a young art student in Manchester, England in the late ‘70s, Saville would define the look and feel of the lauded record label Factory Records.

Home to groups such as Joy Division, New Order, and A Certain Ratio, Saville broke away from the raw, Xeroxed look of first wave punk albums and began to appropriate highbrow influences such as classical imagery and modern typography into his album designs.

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His dedication to his craft has reached mythical proportions, with stories of the artist delivering posters for gigs after they occurred, because he was not yet happy with the finished product, and designing an album cover comprised of sandpaper.

Vaughan Olivier:  Like Peter Saville at Factory Records, Vaughan Oliver’s design work would become synonymous with the London record label 4AD.

While Factory incorporated additional designers aside from Saville, Oliver was essentially 4AD’s exclusive designer throughout the entirety of the 1980’s.  What this meant was that each record released by the label bore Oliver’s unique, dreamlike aesthetic.  A customer could identify an album as being released by 4AD just by looking at the sleeve.  For groups such as the Cocteau Twins, Pixies, and Red House Painters, Olivier created a visual world that was almost inseparable from the music.

Mark Robinson:  A musician, designer, and founder of Teenbeat Records, Robinson was influenced by both Saville and Olivier but put his own distinctively American spin on his work.   From his home in Washington, DC in the mid-‘80s, Robinson’s designs for Teenbeat Records began as Xeroxed tape covers and evolved into magnificently quirky and engaging artwork.

The designs for his own groups Unrest, Air Miami, and Flin Flon are pillars of American indie-rock design.  A dedicated archivist, I encourage you to browse the Teenbeat website, a massive design achievement in itself, where Mark has documented an exhaustive amount of label ephemera (including toothbrushes and drink coasters).  When not making music or releasing records, Mark can be found designing book covers for Houghton Mifflin.

Andrew Churchman

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Andrew Churchman is a musician living in Cambridge, MA.