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Book design process for “The Virgin Suicides”

Original source from designer’s website here.

Excerpts are below:

“Jeffrey had suggested the Dutch photographer and video artist,Rineke Dijkstra. She photographed an early series of adolescent bathers in the United States and Eastern Europe in 1992 that dealt with their discomfort over their bodies. Children who seem at odds with their own bodies as they confront puberty. I contacted her representative at the Marian Goodman Gallery and we looked over her work and selected this image entitled, “Hel, Poland, August 12, 1998″. Even though it didn’t have a direct link to the story, it captured the mood.”

“Reineke’s image was gorgeous but it was decided that a young girl in a bathing suit was too far away from the book. I remembered when we were brainstorming for MIDDLESEX, Jeffrey had suggested using one of sculpture/performance/video artist Matthew Barney pieces from his Cremaster Cycle on the cover. Interesting idea because they both dealt with early moments of sexual development that represented a condition of pure potentiality. But it would just be too disconnecting to most readers.

Another photographer that I had worked with on a previous book,Serious Girls came to mind. Justine Kurland, the fine-art photographer. She first became known for a series that depicted fierce feral teenage girls running wild in nature that addressed female identity without appearing passive or seductive.
I thought she would be perfect for this.

I got in touch with Justine’s gallery Mitchell-Innes & Nash and asked if they had anything that would be related to the book. They were very helpful. Justine sent me two images that she thought would work.”

This image entitled MIDSUMMER NIGHT:

“Beautiful and appropriate. But I loved her second image entitledORCHARD:”

“final cover

“It wasn’t depicting anything that actually happened but was a visualization of a group of young men’s nostalgia for the unattainable girls of their youth. The Lisbon sisters of their memory. Below, Justine describes in an email her inspiration for the photo after I sent the comps to Jeffrey.

hi henry,

great. I hope something works out. I loved that book, and actually read it the same time I was making the girl pictures. my favorite part, which was completely missing from the movie, was the hyperbolic fantasy life of girls imagined from the point of view of the boys, forever unknowable. for that, my strongest recommendation would be “the orchard”

How about that? It was as if I commissioned her for this book. It all came together nicely in the end. My Publisher and I loved it, and so did Jeffrey and his wife. DeLUX.”

End excerpt

My comments: I really appreciate that such a deliberate effort was made when designing the book. As a longtime fan of the book, I’d admired the cover and appreciated the way the designer and author were able to successfully collaborate on a composition that harmonized with the tone of “The Virgin Suicides”. To have the design process explained for a project so large-scale is helpful for several reasons: it’s good to know designers encounter the same problems as students and it benefits me as a student to see the process and why a certain photograph or design is best. It also reminds me to stay humble and let the essence of the design (whether it’s for a book or just a simple student project) speak for itself. That is when design is most successful: at its core, it is meant to speak to everyone in a simple and unpretentious way. The problem with many student designers is the level of pretension or egotistical desire to show their name. To see really skilled professionals who have could rightfully brag or be pretentious and refuse to is refreshing. That humility is the reason successful design such as the example above still exists. It is a form of restraint, which Chanel said was elegance.



One Comment

  1. Design Deficient wrote:

    Hey thanks for posting this. I love that they talked about Rineke Dijkstra and Barney. Ha! Barney is a hard sell if it’s not the exact thing someone is looking for.. though I’m not sure anyone could look for anything and use Barney’s image to encompass it, instead I think Barney’s images would have stood alone. I haven’t read Virgin suicides but I actually liked the first image better that the second. The second did not seem deliberate in it’s execution but instead like a snap shot. I’m assuming it works well for the book cover.

    Thanks for posting, again!

    Monday, April 23, 2012 at 7:31 pm | Permalink