DJ Stout is one of Austin’s best designers. Don’t know the name? Magazine lovers – and Texans – do. He put Texas Monthly on the design map (where it firmly remains thanks to a stream of talent out of Lubbock). He also put Pentagram Design, one of the most respected international design firms in the world, in Austin.
This Saturday there will be a party at Pentagram to raise money for Mobile Loaves & Fishes and celebrate the release of Pentagram Papers 39, designed and conceived by DJ Stout. This Pentagram Paper features Joe Ely’s collection of homeless signs, as photographed by Randal Ford and accompanied by portraits of Austin homeless men, women, and children by Michael O’Brien.
How did this collaboration come about?
I was asked by the other Pentagram Partners to do a Pentagram Paper. The Pentagram Papers are little black books that we have published for over 35 years, and although they are on a variety of topics, they tend to be mostly about visual subject matter like Kimonos and folk art mail boxes or collectible items like architectural toys or buttons from the USSR. I come from an editorial background so I wanted to do something on the state of our society or commented on an important issue in our daily lives. I wanted it to be relevant to what is going on now. Little did I know when I first started thinking about this book how relevant the timing would become because of the state of our economy and rising unemployment.
I had heard through a friend that Joe Ely had a collection of homeless signs. Since my days at Texas Monthly magazine I had always been interested in hand-writing and scrawled letterforms and the power that it has to communicate both verbally and visually. I met Joe over at his house to look at his signs and that’s when he told me the story of how he had been homeless for about eight years or so when he jumped on a freight train heading out of Lubbock. Over the years he kept a journal of musings, verses, songs and sketches and because of his fascination and compassion for the homeless men and women he encountered along the way, he began to pay them for their hand-written signs. I thought Joe’s sign collection and his story was an interesting way to raise awareness on the current state of homelessness in our society. To me the homeless sign-holders are doing what graphic designers do but at its most basic level.
I asked my photographer friend Randal Ford to photograph the signs and then I discovered that another friend of mine, Michael O’Brien, had been working on a personal project photographing homeless people in Austin. His main access to the homeless people was through a homeless charity called Mobile Loaves & Fishes. I knew of Mobile Loaves & Fishes and their charismatic leader Alan Graham through my two boys who had ridden on the food trucks with the group a dozen times to feed the homeless. I had actually gone with them two or three times and I found it to be a very meaningful and fulfilling way to help people that are less fortunate. I thought that Michael’s portraits were powerful and that they would add human faces to Joe’s collection of hand-scrawled signs. It is a great collaboration for me because these are all friends and extremely talented people who I greatly admire who have come together for a greater good.
Why did you decide to make this a fundraiser?
I wanted this Pentagram Paper to have a purpose. Throwing a book release party to give out the Pentagram Papers and then asking for donations in exchange seemed like I a way to give the Pentagram Paper a reason for being.
How did you approach the design of this book?
The pacing of homeless portraits and signs is very intertwined. I like the way that the verbal messages on the hand-scrawled signs work when combined with the faces of the people.
How do you think readers will react to the book?
I’m not really sure. I know it made some of my partners uncomfortable when I first presented it to them.
What’s the most important message you hope the book conveys?
I hope that it will make people think about the world that we live in.
UPDATE: Missed the party? See photos here.
Pick up your copy of SIGNS this Saturday.
When: Saturday, March 21, 7 pmThe event coincides with the final night of SXSW, so if you’re in town, please drop by! For those unable to attend, signed copies of Signs will be available by mail for a suggested donation of $20 to Mobile Loaves and Fishes. Please email email@example.com for details.
Where: Pentagram Design, 1508 West 5th Street in Austin
Complimentary copies of Signs will be distributed at the party, and Ely, O’Brien and Stout will all be on hand to sign books. Musician Darden Smith and band will be performing, and Sharon Ely will be serving up her famous Holy Pozole soup!