Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Coffee table colossus.

The longer I live, the more clueless I get. Or, so it seems to me. I have no clue, for instance, about how large a book ought to be before it can look the world in the eye and say, "Hey, world! I'm an honest-to-goodness coffee table book." My query to The Guinness Book of World Records http://tinyurl.com/1lgy got no response. (By the way, if you're among those who think India has finally joined the world community, you should note the glaring absence of Hindi from the list of languages The Guinness Book of World Records offers its content in: English, French, Spanish, Japanese, Italian, German, Brazilian Portuguese, Chinese, Arabic, Turkish, Swedish and Portuguese.) The absence of a world record in coffee-table books really amazed me. Are not the desire to be a world record holder and the desire to produce a coffee table book birds of the same feather, if not identical twins? I'm an avid coffee lover but my revulsion to coffee table books admeasuring 300mm x 223mm with a 28mm spine is a matter of record: http://tinyurl.com/5eapkg. Every aversion like every rule has an exception, though. There has been in my possession for the last five years or so at least one coffee table book that I love to look at from time to time in spite of the fact that we do not own a coffee table to keep it on. It's Rock Scissors Paper : Design Influence Concept Image by the Japanese post-modern sculptor and graphic designer Takenbou Igarashi, admeasuring 300mm x 260mm. Most of its text is in Japanese. There is a bit of text in English dealing with his philosophy of graphic design couched in a very Zen kind of stilted lingo. Frankly, what's written there irritates me. But looking at the pictures calms me down. Most of the images are stunning, some positively beguiling. This book was gifted to me by a bookseller for whom I have done a fair amount of copywriting work from time to time. He imports art and other speciality publications. I have a sneaking suspicion he gave me this book because it was a slow- or no-moving item. That didn't really matter because he gave me an objet d'art worth looking at, worth admiration bordering on veneration. I'm grateful for the gift, never mind the motive. The other coffee table book that recently came into my possession is larger than life, even in the coffee table space (277.5mm x 370mm). It too is a gift inscribed with this handwritten dedication on the title page:

"For Deepak Mankar
In belated acknowledgement of
the influence he has been,
With respect and admiration for
his insight and precision.

Sd/- Rafeeq Ellias

Frankly, I am left wondering if I deserve this sort of a glowing tribute. The coffee table book, Rafeeq Ellias : Selected Photographs, though, deserves the highest tribute one can pay to the art of story telling via images. The images from ballet as well as the advertising-related images in it are veritable tale tattlers par excellence. The by-now clich├ęd One picture = a thousand words gets a new lease of meaning when you're leafing through this stunning visual voyage. The opening section has a series of portraits of larger than life people. And there in a split second you get the reason why this book had to be in a larger than life coffee table format. Here's the email rejoinder I wrote to my former colleague and comrade after receiving the precious gift:

"Your dedication message on the fly leaf of your fabulous book overwhelmed me as much as the power and the beauty of your work. Thank you very much for both. Regards,