Countershape Marketing

Looking the other way: Paul Fusco and the power of implication in marketing

Paul Fusco
Paul Fusco, 1968 Robert F. Kennedy’s Funeral Train.

Paul Fusco is quoted in The Guardian this morning.

In 1968, I was assigned by Look magazine to get on the train bearing Robert F Kennedy’s remains from New York to Washington DC. Barred from photographing the Kennedy family in their private car, I took note of the people lined up along the track to pay their last respects, and decided to photograph them. I was surprised that the other photographers on the train either failed to notice them or chose not to take pictures. These photos, first published more than 30 years after RFK’s death, are among the among most important I’ve ever taken.

In these poignant photos, you begin to appreciate the full weight of what Senator Kennedy’s assassination meant for some of the ordinary people of the USA, for this the most important part of the news story. This is a lovely example of what I call Countershape territory. By countershape I mean what is being suggested rather than what is immediately obvious – is an elite skill for any creative person.

Other examples are easy to find once you get your eye in. Composer John Cage’s revolutionary piece 4’33” (1952) eliminates the sounds of instruments. While each musician within the performance has the potential to break the silence, they restrain themselves; they remain tacet. Cage (in what he considered his most important work) instead invites us to listen to the absence of music as if it were music.

In visual art, the countershape it is easy to spot. In Robert Mapplethorpe’s black and white photographs, beautifully-lit skin is surrounded by a dark negative space, which as a shape is as pleasing as the model’s body and contributes equally to the photograph’s composition.

While British artist Rachel Whiteread’s work solidifies the countershape and on famous piece House, (1993) casts the interior of an entire Victorian house in concrete – so that  the interior spaces of the rooms inside became solid objects.

But what about Marketing and Advertising? It takes chutzpah to omit the product completely such as in this example of a press execution for Volkswagen[i]. Its copy reads Volkswagen City Emergency Brake. For when you get distracted. The image is of the distraction: a partially clad woman in a window, and you’ll notice how the car with the special brake is absent.

Volkswagen Das Auto
Volkswagen Das Auto

Not a bad example of the use of countershape territory, although it seems to be fairly sure that its potential audience will find themselves attracted to women.

[i] Adam&Eve DDB Credits – Executive Creative Director: Jeremy Craigen. Art Director: Matt Gay. Copywriter: John Long. Head of Art: Daniel Moorey. Designer: Pete Mould. Group Account Director: Jonathan Hill, Jason Lusty. Account Director: Josh Davoren. Photographer: Jason Hindley.

Chance Comedy Marketing

Accidentally on purpose

Random killer

Many creative people learn to accommodate seemingly random events into their process. Film maker David Lynch, for example, invented a terrifying character when he glimpsed Frank Silva, a set dresser on the pilot of Twin Peaks, accidentally reflected in a mirror during the filming of a scene. Frank Silva was then cast as Bob, a demonic killer who was pivotal in the unfolding drama.

The I Ching, known as the Chinese Book of Changes in the west, is a book of divination, a way of seeing into the future. Used for more than 2600 years as a fortune telling device, it is also a repository of Taoist and Confucian philosophical thought.

I first started delving into the I Ching* in my teens. I found it a source of sagacious advice and interest. For a westerner its sheer otherness drew me in. But one of the first things it taught me was that randomness is part of the world. The random act of throwing coins to obtain your reading deliberately accommodates chance into the process, for the world is full of it.

The composer John Cage was given a translation of the I Ching in 1951, and found it a springboard to composing a new kind of music such as Imaginary Landscapes No. 4 using radio receivers, and Music of Changes. The I Ching enabled Cage to strip away the influence of the human voice on the sounds he heard, and connect his music with natural, unmediated sounds.

When I hear what we call music, it seems to me that someone is talking. And talking about his feelings, or about his ideas of relationships. But when I hear traffic, the sound of traffic—here on Sixth Avenue, for instance—I don’t have the feeling that anyone is talking. I have the feeling that sound is acting. And I love the activity of sound […] I don’t need sound to talk to me **

For me, it has left me with a legacy of noticing mistakes, wondering what they have to tell me and incorporating accidents into the work I produce. Some mistakes of course, are simply annoying, but frequently others make an idea more fertile. Introducing chance into the process is irrational, and precisely because it is not predictable it becomes memorable.

Random meerkat?

Advertising of course is full of randomness, and the appearance of randomness. Why use meerkats for a price comparison site? It seems irrational, but as we all know random things seem funny. Of course the whole shtick of the advert is that market and meerkat sound similar if pronounced with a strangulated eastern European accent. So its origin may have arisen with simple word association. Success, of course, has many fathers and there are claims that suggest employing meerkats was encouraged due to the 5p cost per click of the word meerkats against a £5 cost per click for markets.

All I’m saying is: notice your accidents.

* In the famous translation by Richard Wilhelm, (further translated into English by Cary F Baynes with an introduction by C G Jung).

** I stole this quote from wiki, which attributes it to: John Cage, in an interview with Miroslav Sebestik, 1991. From: Listen, documentary by Miroslav Sebestik. ARTE France Développement, 2003.

Buddhism Guernsey Silence

The sound of one hand clapping

I have been fascinated by silence for years. Having lately met several classical musicians and composers, it is interesting to discover just what a touchstone John Cage’s 4’33” is. What I glean from these discussions is that John Cage was trying to get people to listen to the other sounds of the music hall, or wherever the piece was presented, as well as delightfully subverting people’s expectations. I learn that the piece’s performance has of late has a flavour of audience participation with, I am told, people comedically triggering off a mobile phone rings during the performance.

The excellent A book of silence, by Sara Maitland is a lovely description of the author’s quest for the meaning of silence. The book was a welcome discovery especially as I have as yet been unable to coherently express my thoughts on the subject. Maitland’s suggestion that there are all kinds of silences is one I fully support. She also suggests certain artistic expressions are somehow express silence too — a conclusion that I also agree with.

I put here a few notes on the subject from about 11 years ago first published in my now defunct AnotherSun ezine… It kicks off with a quote from Keats, whose poetry seems to me to be drenched in silence.

For me silence in art, maybe a bit like umami – something we altogether recognise but at one time had no word for.

The sound of one hand clapping

“Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard

 Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on”
John Keats Ode on a Grecian urn.
I can remember the first time I was forced to think about silence.
My friend Michael and I walked out from the edge of Warwickshire village, where he rented an old house, into some muddy fields. The afternoon was windless and nippy. The road through the village was far behind us, and for once there were no cars, nor aircraft overhead. All about us subdued sheep stared into space.
         “Quiet isn’t it?” I said.
         “Yes,” said Michael, “this is what Heidegger calls the pre-linguistic state.”
         “Ah.” I said, nodding sagely.
         Of course, he could tell I was bluffing.
Later, hunched over his open fire in the approved student way, we had a lengthy discussion about silence. And the things he made me think about that evening have been with me ever since. What is silence? An absence of noise? What would being in total silence do to you? And above all… What would it be like to live without language?
Many philosophers suggest that proper thinking is impossible without having words to give your ideas shape and form. And if humanity had no language, then we would be no better than the poor old sheep snuffling about in the darkness behind the house. The German philosopher Heidegger, Michael told me, described mankind as the “language-animal”. Clearly one implication being that what sets us apart from other animals was language.
That’s how I became an amateur silence spotter.  If being able to communicate in language was what made us human, then what did silence contain? Things that weren’t human?  Something basic and sheep-like? Or something divine?
Even your novice silence spotter can listen to music and hear the silence between the notes. I discovered Kind of Blue by Miles Davis was especially good for this (especially, funnily enough, when accompanied by a jazz cigarette). I began to see music as an arrangement of silences with the quality of each silence being altered by the notes that surround it.
Things got a bit extreme when I started to think about words in the same way as musical notes. You can take a poem, for example, and view this as a collection of silences. The quality of the silences being altered by the words that come before or after them.
All this silence spotting didn’t really get me anywhere, apart from giving me a nagging sense that what cannot be put into words is probably the really interesting stuff. It left me with the firm conviction that words, if used skilfully enough, could signpost the undiscovered country of silence. Which is why poetry has always been important to me. I get the feeling that the best poetry is like Captain Kirk in the Starship Enterprise, boldly going where no man has gone before.
The second stage of my career as a silence spotter came through meditation. For a several years I went to a regular Thursday night meditation group. I always left feeling refreshed, relaxed and generally sorted.
Often the people trying to meditate spoke of struggling with voices chattering in their heads. I knew what they meant. Our brains are tuned to some kind of “Radio Self” and when you try to be really silent, your brain can’t stop chattering. It behaves like a child you are trying to ignore. With practice, however, you can at least turn down the volume.
And that’s how I think I got somewhere special in my silence spotting career — through meditation. There was one especially memorable time where I suddenly felt physically empty. And had a clear (and of course faintly ridiculous) vision of myself as a bell with no clapper. The chattering radio of the voices in my head had been switched off and I felt serene. Oddly I also felt as physically close to the people passing in the street outside, as to the person sat next to me in the darkened room.
This sensation, which I guess must only have lasted for a few minutes, was accompanied by a feeling of intense elation and meaningfulness. While the business of feeling like a bell was extremely specific, and I was strongly reminded of it when I walked into bell-shaped Buddhist temples in Sri Lanka.
At last my silence spotting had got me somewhere. For one thing to a direct and startling alteration of my mood.  It left me with a deep — if temporary — sense of spiritual well-being.
Below a door in St Martin’s Guernsey. One of my own snaps which seems to me to have a quality of silence about it.