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Book review: The far-reaching influence of Weimar book design

The name might be unfamiliar, but you will most likely recognise John Heartfield's pioneering use of photomontage when you thumb through this meticulously researched volume.

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 08 August, 2015, 11:03pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 08 August, 2015, 11:03pm

The name might be unfamiliar, but you will most likely recognise John Heartfield's pioneering use of photomontage when you thumb through this meticulously researched volume.

Born Helmut Herzfeld, Heartfield anglicised his name to protest against the anti-British fervour sweeping Germany in 1917. Complementing his acidic images, Heartfield mixed elaborate, traditional German typefaces with unadorned modern type into a unified design. For Eros, a cover from 1925, a woman's finger pokes through the "o" of the title. Common currency for today's designers, his designs were then radical and provocative.

Elsewhere in the book you'll find the work of George Grosz, known for his scathing caricatures. On book covers such as 1923's Abrechnung Folgt!, showing a fawning businessman licking a jackboot, benefit from designs using typefaces sympathetic to his raw and expressive drawings.

Split into themes, the covers are lovingly reproduced and accompanied by captions rich with anecdotes. In 1927, for example, Upton Sinclair's book Oil! was banned in Boston for its sexual frankness, so the author censored and sold the book himself, complete with symbolic fig leaf, out of a local park.

Four accompanying essays about this golden age of the Berlin publishing industry explore contemporary subjects such as the situation facing Jews and women. As the world's youngest capital city, Berlin was home to the government of the Weimar Republic (1919-33). Founded after the humiliating defeat of the first world war, this was a time of social upheaval and economic boom and bust, with Berlin an energetic testing ground for competing visions of modernity.

This eclectic collection showcases avant-garde masters based in Berlin. Painters, sculptors, architects and filmmakers worked together to break free from book design which used the same fonts for the body text and plain jacket. Cover design came of age by extracting a book's essence onto its cover through type and image.

You'll learn how designers Jan Tschichold and George Salter, who cut their teeth in Berlin, went on to transform the look of Penguin, Alfred A. Knopf, Random House and Viking. Readers will see this period's far-reaching influence on pop culture through magazine covers for The Face and on artwork for such bands as Franz Ferdinand.

The Book Cover in the Weimar Republic  By Jürgen Holstein  (Taschen)

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