When the English version of Guatemala: Eterna Primavera, Eterna Tiranía was published in NY 22 years ago, I was living in Guatemala, and I did not pay much attention to the design. I thought designers were people who fretted about details that were not important to me or to what I wanted from a book. I was, of course, wrong.
Lucía Menéndez, who designed Guatemala: Eterna Primavera, Eterna Tiranía, spent two months shepherding the book through its various design stages. This included the photo layout, the photos' interface with the text, the sequencing and "rhythm" of the text and photos together, and delivering a camera-ready product to Print Studio last week.
Guatemala is unusual if not unique in that it contains equal parts of photo and text. Although good photos can -- and probably should -- stand on their own, Guatemala was so under-reported in the press in the 1980s that I wanted my book to be a compendium of testimonies. To that end, I devised three levels of reading: short bold-faced captions for the photo crowd; long captions for people who wanted solid information without having to slog through a lot of text; and the text for the hardcore readers.
As a result, the English version of the text was too busy: there were photos, double-spaced text and footnotes on the same page. Lucía's version of the book is a huge improvement in lots of ways.
First, Lucía gave the photos their due by blowing up the verticals to cover the page, and by running ten photos as double-page spreads. (There is a double-page of Vinicio at the beach; as Frank Goldman put it, "¡Qué pu@#$%%^ foto!" (not homage to my photography skills but to Vinicio + Speedo + gun across two pages.) She and Andrés Asturias also made photo combinations that never would have occurred to me: Mico Sandoval Alarcón, the former head of the "movement of organized violence" juxtaposed with a beleaguered civil patroller holding a torn copy of the 1985 Guatemalan Constitution, and a near-naked worker hauling sugar opposite a near naked Mardi Grass reveler at Ad Astra disco.
Second, Lucía used a cleaner typeface: Chronicle text. The captions are more compact but, at the same time, more readable than those in the U.S. version. It's clean and aesthetically pleasant.
Third, Lucía killed herself putting the book together. It is hard enough to design a photography book, but try doing a photography book where the text could be a separate tome. That was hard. I think I owe Lucía 100 beers at the Bar Central, or six months of therapy as a result. Lucía also let a whole bunch of people -- Daniel, Andrés, me -- breathe down her neck during the last part of the design process. I don't know a lot of designers, but the ones I do know keep humanity at arm's length while they work. Lucía's accommodation was unusual.
Finally, Lucía has a long-standing relationship with Print Studio, where the book was printed last week. This helped a lot, because when changes had to be made, either in the photos or the text, Lucía's relationship with PS management made a difference.
Next post: Photoshop and Andrés Asturias; Daniel Chauche at the printer