Of the many pleasures in running a design studio and writing these book reviews are the wonderful treats that often come through our doors. The best of these offer visual delights and fuel for our imaginations. My highlight of 2014 so far has to be Magic 1400s – 1950s from TASCHEN – an eye-popping book of massive scope, beautifully presented and full of stunning vintage poster art.
It’s countless images and fascinating text weave a spell of its own, telling a concise history of contemporary magic and the visual language that enchanted both artists and the general public. How easy it must have been in the arts earliest days to suspend disbelief when promised with ghostly visitations or even a way to cheat death. Death and the Devil an ever-present visual language that speaks to a human, but morbid curiosity with the afterlife that remains as strong today as it ever was. Further vintage press photographs and shots of the performers in action are equally fascinating, not least for their effectiveness in brilliantly simple trickery.
Houdini’s own efforts to de-mystify the so-called spiritualists and mediums – who themselves traded in a bizarre line of ectoplasm photos – is something I would love to read more about, and is just one example of the many stories to be found within. A better book on the subject of magic and its visual culture is hard to imagine, and i’m sure i’ll return to it again and again when I feel the urge to delve into the world of the strange. Easily one of my books of the year and essential reference material.
Magic: 1400s – 1950s by Noel Daniel, Mike Caveney, Ricky Jay and Jim Steinmeyer
Hardback 544 pages with Slipcase
40 x 26.7 x 5.7 cm