FontLife

by | Jun 3, 2024

 

HELP ME GET MY FEET BACK ON THE GROUND

In which Karey Shinn rescues a group of abandoned dolls and recreates a famous album cover.

Three or four years ago, at the start of the pandemic, Karey entered her Doll period. She has always made clothes, from early childhood to a career in costume design, and now focuses on creating photo tableaux of her fashion doll collection, with couture which she designs, drafts, sews and tailors.

I assist with a bit of production work. Recently I suggested that “full figure, close cropped on a white background,” might be a useful format for the doll art, as on record albums such as HELP!  She took me rather more literally than I had anticipated, and proceeded to create and photograph miniature versions of the outfits the Beatles wore on the cover of that album, with the understanding that I would finish up the homage.


Her models had been rescued from thrift stores, where they were ignominiously stuffed together in clear plastic bags, often naked, and sold for a pittance. Now she gave them meaningful work to do, taking the place of John, Paul, George and Ringo in Robert Freeman’s famous photographs. Although a disparate group of three soldiers and one civilian, from various parts, they got along just fine.

“This was the perfect opportunity to make rain-wear for my guy dolls,” says Karey.

George: The Ultra Corps, 1999.
Lanard Toys,
 12” male doll

 

John: Alan, 2001.
Mattel,
12” male doll

 

Paul: Action Man Max Steel, 1998.
Hasbro, 12” male doll

 

Ringo: Ultimate Soldier Action Figure, 1996.
21st Century Toys,
 11½” male doll


HELP!
was chosen for the title of the Beatles’ second movie when all previous attempts (such as Eight Arms to Hold You) had failed to spark any kind of a song from Lennon and McCartney. And there had to be a title song, with film, single and LP cross-promoting each other, just like Elvis. One can imagine the consternation as the deadline for the film’s release approached: “Help!—we don’t have a title for the film yet, what are we gonna call it?? —“I know, let’s call it ‘Help!’!!” And then John Lennon wrote the song pronto, it being a theme he could relate to.


Robert Freeman’s cover design, photography, collage and typography for A Spaniard in the Works, John Lennon’s second book of poetry and drawings, Jonathan Cape, London, 1965. 5½ x 7”.

Robert Freeman (1936-2019) was busy in 1964. Apart from his regular work for the Sunday Times Colour Magazine (Britain’s first weekend supplement, started in 1962), he shot the first Pirelli Calendar in Majorca, and the covers for the Beatles’ second and third albums. He also designed John Lennon’s book of poetry and drawings, In His Own Write, and created the brilliant animated typophoto closing credits sequence for the Beatles’ first movie, A Hard Day’s Night.  For 1965, more of the same.


HELP!  Album cover photography and design by Robert Freeman, 1965.

By coincidence, there are four letters in the word “help,” and there were four Beatles. But the semaphore of Freeman’s visual rhetoric didn’t please him at first—the correct spelling looked awkward—so he asked them to make random semaphore shapes, which he shot individually then rearranged, flipping where necessary, to get a satisfactory design. It spelled NUVJ.  I realized, when laying out Karey’s photographs as per the original, that he also retouched their boots, making sure the four of them are conceptually grounded, despite floating in white space.

Marilyn, by Norman Mailer
Hodder and Stoughton, 1973.
9 x 10½”
Designed by Allen Hurlburt.
“Jump” photos by Philippe Halsman, 1952 and 1959

Left: Beatles’ first album, Canada, 1963, photo by Fiona Adams. Right: HELP!, 1965, design and photography by Robert Freeman.

Freeman was no doubt familiar with Fiona Adams’ 1963 photo of the group, used on the cover of their mega-hit Twist and Shout  EP in Britain and on the cover of their first album in Canada (Karey’s copy shown above), which may have provided some inspiration. In turn, Adams would probably have known of Philippe Halsman’s “Jump” photographs, which had been published in book format in 1955, to great acclaim. She outdid him, getting four in the air at once! Halsman had a theory that catching his subjects in mid-jump revealed their personalities, this he called jumpology. Silly as it sounds, it’s uncanny how John and George hold their arms in the same pose in both Adams’ and Freeman’s shots, and Paul and Ringo, not too far off.

Rather than copy the graphics on the cover verbatim, I took the opportunity to make the piece a Shinntype specimen, of Beaufort, which has a similar serif treatment (glyphic, i.e. tiny sharp serifs) as the lettering on the original. I replaced the Parlophone “Sterling” logo with an interrobang, this unusual character being in the Beaufort variable font.  And, continuing the entomological conceit, with Karey’s capes suggesting wings, these sombrely attired gentlemen became The Moths.


The Moths, Karey Shinn, 2023. Giclée on clear plastic, 12 x 12″.