Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Paul Giambarba

A friend of mine is self-publishing a book. I sent him a note: "Tell me how I can buy a signed copy!" Instead, he mailed it to me as a gift. Wouldn't take my money. So in meager compensation, I'm going to blog about his book, and him, and embarrass him by telling him how honored I am to know him.

Maybe next time he'll take my money.

I've written about Paul Giambarba before (here and here) but it's been a while and none of those posts mentioned his new book, 30 Years of Polaroid Instant Pictures, 1951-1981, which collects three decades of Paul's Polaroids, most taken of his family and friends at home and various travels around the world. Big deal; some guy's snapshots. And I'd scoff along if it were anyone but Paul, who served as Polaroid's first art director and design consultant from 1958 through 1983 and literally wrote the book on a camera that was not just a nifty machine but an icon of mid-century Americana, emblematic of youth, freedom, and rock 'n roll.

If you bought a Polaroid camera around 1969, you might've gotten this book with it. When I said he literally wrote the book, you didn't think I was being figurative, did you? The boy in the headdress is Paul's son.

One of Paul's charges at Polaroid was to distinguish it from Kodak, photography's 900-pound gorilla. In modern terms, his job was to brand it: not just explain to you why upstart Polaroid was objectively different, but make you feel differently about it emotionally. Here's one idea Paul came up with:

Man, that takes me back. Joy in every box.

As I wrote the last time Paul's name came up around here: if you're of a certain age, those cleverly designed rainbow-striped boxes, which looked so great stacked high on a shelf, held the promise of jazzy, energetic fun--so much more fun than Kodak's stodgy yellow and black! Every modern-day Apple ad and package design persuading you that Macs are the hip alternative to boring PCs and Microsoft--even down to their clean sans-serif text and candy-coated color palette--is the direct descendant of "product identity" design work Paul did more than 50 years ago.

Have you ever in your life been this cool? Me neither.

I first "met" Paul online as a cartoonist, but that's the least of his talents. He's a writer, illustrator, teacher, designer, printer, photographer. He knows typography, printmaking, publishing, advertising. Wrote 18 books. As a young man he worked and toured throughout 1950s Europe with his late wife Ruth in adventures that sound impossibly romantic. He's a Renaissance Man and unsung giant, which is a bit ironic since he stands about, what, 5-foot-5? Although Paul lives across the country from me now, he coincidentally lived in my hometown years ago and in 2006 came back to visit friends and take me out to lunch. We keep in touch.

My lunch with Paul, October 2006

Sincerely, just about the very best consequence of my semi-career in comics has been meeting some of the most kind, generous, talented people I've ever known. At the top of that list is Paul. I can't even express how much I respect him. He was there when the art and craft of illustration and design were at their absolute peak--not just watching it happen, but driving it. I'm proud to know him.

He's also got too much wisdom and too many opinions for one website or blog to contain. In appreciation for sending me his book, I'll see if I can send some traffic his way:

Paul Giambarba Design, Illustration and Photography, Paul's main blog. Scroll down to look at some terrific photos.

Giambarba.com, A portfolio site with links to other ports of call. Keep clicking "Next" to see some good stuff.

100 Years of Illustration and Design: Paul's perspective on some of the great commercial artists and artwork of the 20th Century.

The Branding of Polaroid: Blog posts dedicated to the topic.

Thanks again, Paul! You are the best.


patricia said...

I concur!! Paul is THE BEST. A true gentleman, and a very talented artist.

andymiami said...

Dear Brian,
I can't tell you how heartwarming your post about my dad is. He'd be mortified to know I linked to it on my facebook profile - as you know he's not about "showboating" as he calls it - but your words and your sentiment are beautiful and gracious and I'm so proud of him that I love sharing that with my friends and family as well.
Thank you for taking the time to communicate that.
All the best,
Andrew Giambarba
sans headdress and warpaint :)

Brian Fies said...

Andrew, it's great to meet the boy on the book cover! Thanks for your note; I don't feel that I'm saying anything a lot of other people wouldn't. Your Dad has a lot of fans.

Jonas Weisel said...

I love the photo of Edward Gorey.

The Innocents Abroad series
has the look of the 1950s-era
Cary Grant/Grace Kelly film To Catch A Thief.
Some kind of European
elegance that doesn't
exist now.

Thanks for sharing. Jonas

Brian Fies said...

Yes, the Gorey photo is a gem. The trick isn't posing the cats, it's being ready when the cats pose for you. And I'm pretty sure Paul spent a few years living in a Godard film.