In the second part of our exclusive insight, we go deeper inside the creative benchmark that was Colors issue 13 as designer Fernando Gutierrez talks layouts, crops and the Wizard of Oz
In our concluding look at the wordless issue of Colors magazine edited by Tibor Kalman, designer Fernando Gutierrez gives a unique insight into the visual thinking and process behind this ambitious project. A visual journey from outer space right though to the physical and emotional chemistry of what it is to be human.
One more point of interest for both photographers and for those strange beasts who reflect on how companies work – organizational and brand consultants. Journalists and commentators have looked at how Colors has impacted on Benetton’s public face. What is at least as interesting with respect to Colors, is how this magazine with its ideas around communication and creativity, photography and ideas, played out in the culture of the Benetton organization as a whole. Has photography made any difference to the self-image of Benetton? To how it conducts itself? To how it has developed? There is an organizational study here somewhere on the impact of photography (maybe there already is one, please send a link!).
In the meantime, Fernando Gutierrez treats us to some fascinating insight into using photography. Click here to buy current and previous issues of Colors
Doing a whole magazine without words, what was your approach?
Fernando Gutierrez: It was writing with pictures. Laying out in an interesting and dynamic way. Things like El Lissitsky would have done, that’s what I was liking at the time, looking at pictures for ages.
It’s much more of a challenge designing a magazine without words than a magazine with text and pictures because there’s a rhythm and visual breaks that fall more naturally. That must have been a difficult thing to pace, within each layout but also within the magazine as a whole.
Fernando Gutierrez: Yes. How you crop images, how you put them together.
National Geographic must have been well thumbed…?!
Fernando Gutierrez: Yes. We had lots of books, lots of magazines, this was when there was no Google/Bing. We did it all by getting the magazines and books, then calling up to get the rights or the original….This spread’s about the representation of man, figurines in shop, a murder, biscuit face. Very Tibor, his sense of humour.
Then the advertising tied in with the sequence of pictures, the narrative. This was an ad, this was out on the street too. The studio did this ad?
Fernando Gutierrez: No. That’s Toscani. Then there’s cultures, skin colours.
Did you have help?
Fernando Gutierrez: I had a designer helping me.
Were you storyboarding on a wall, how did it work?
Fernando Gutierrez: It started with words, then with words we find the pictures,
then with pictures we’d draw the pages,
then we’d layout with the images.
It takes a while to adapt to the language and rhythm
Fernando Gutierrez: It’s important what you see big and what you see small, what’s next to what, what’s opposite what. When Tibor called, I thought it was a joke, I couldn’t believe it was him.
Had you met him?
Fernando Gutierrez: No. But I really liked what he did. I loved Colors, what he did with Interview magazine, what he was doing at M&Co. He was a big influence on me….That’s a blood cell. Goes from medicine to organs…
…Animal and human organs…
…then to DNA, then an atom. You’re into another universe…
This is The Man Who Fell To Earth moment?
Fernando Gutierrez: The Wizard of Oz!
Fernando Gutierrez: I remember Michael Bierut [from Pentagram] goes to me,” Did you really have a control room like that?”
Benetton as super-powerful, with jumpers they wanted to dominate the world, they had a Blofeld room…?
Fernando Gutierrez: That was the vision of what we did, that was Tibor…..
There was that idea that there was a crossover between Colors and MTV in terms of imagery and global youth communication.
Fernando Gutierrez: Very much so. At that time yes.
That generation’s BBC World Service with pictures, in the age before the internet, access to different cultures. Do you remember the reaction, the response when it came out? Did it feel like a benchmark issue?
Fernando Gutierrez: Yes it was the last issue of such an influential magazine. It was a very exciting thing to have got involved in. I went in 2000. It was exciting, he had set up a really good team. The team was well structured, very American, everyone supported each other. And he set up an international network pre-internet, an international network of collaborators – stringers. At that time that’s what made Colors so unique. There were all these people you could call up and say “send me your toilet paper wrapped up.” And you’d get it from all over the world, from Brazil, Moscow, China, Tokyo…’Send us your favourite glove…” you had amazing loyal collaborators. A weird sect in a way. Everyone got what it was about and was really proud to contribute. Now with the internet it makes all this very possible. Here it was super-genuine. It blew me away. They were always on the phone, always talking to someone somewhere in the world. What was great was that Benetton financed that. That was a crazy cost. A mad cost. Anyone else wouldn’t justify it.
Yes aside from the format problem which proved an issue at the Kiosk you, there was the store issue, where franchise holders wouldn’t stock certain issues because of the visual content.
Fernando Gutierrez: People trusted it. They got it. Luciano Benetton [founder of Benetton] was very much behind it. He didn’t interfere, he really supported it. The issues now are really beautiful. Saw some issues recently and they were amazing, amazing, really amazing.
They are not pushing it out there. In the English market it’s not big
It never was, it was never Anglo-Centric enough, beyond art directors and designers it didn’t have massive appeal. In most cultures but in UK and American culture especially, we really do feel as if we are at the centre of the world, it’s to do with things like language and popular culture. The Colors magnificent strapline ‘A magazine about the rest of the world’ was the opposite of lifetsyle, aspirational magazines. It’s not about ME! It’s about everyone else and that’s what makes it interesting. It was anthropological.
Fernando Gutierrez: I saw a Colors exhibition at the Design Museum, one of the best things I’ve seen in a long time. There’s definitely a legacy left by Tibor that they still follow in a nice way, not in an obsessive way. He left a nice path to follow, and everyone gets it. In 13 issues, he established something with a unique signature and a passionate community of people around it.
And it’s interesting how that corporate culture could keep that distance, otherwise they would mess up this culture which fed them
Fernando: It’s not something that’s died off, it survived many guises. Toscani took over, it survived Toscani. I got involved, it survived me. Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin did something. They saw it in very different way to me. They were photographers, they came at it in a different way.
Their values were right. The great thing about Tibor was that there was a lot of thinking. He loved to turn things upside down, and his sense of humour, and his sophistication of humour. We won’t see that ever again. Adam and Ollie brought a really interesting angle with photography.
When you went back, and it was based in Treviso, a small town in Northern Italy, it must have been quite a change from Rome?
Fernando Gutierrez: The magazine has to contribute to the culture of Benetton, it is important for them as a group, they value Colors, it is important the company is based near Fabrica. They need to do more projects based on what they have done with Colors. Not just Benetton, for a lot of companies to do something that is genuine.