Visualizing Space

In a recent edition of The New York Times, the back page of section A was covered by a full page advertisement for skin care products from a major player in the beauty business. The red star logo for Macy’s anchored the ad, a logo I had placed on the bottom of many ads when I worked in the advertising department of that department store. As I organized the sections of the paper in preparation for reading, I noticed, on the back page of the “Sunday Styles” section, a full page ad for L.L. Bean. This ad took me back to a year — perhaps 1990 — when a question was asked about me: “Is he crazy?”
I’ve previously written about some of my experiences as an art director in the advertising departments of various stores, including the now defunct L.S. Ayres. One of my duties at Ayres was to design, lay out and supervise the photography for sales catalogs. Ayres did not have an in-house photo studio, so “table-top” items, such as coffee makers, jewelry and shoes, were contracted to a local photo studio. Clothing shots on models were done in New York, and major furniture room sets were sent to a studio in High Point, North Carolina.
Many of the sales catalogs that we receive in the mail are about 8 ½” wide, by 11 inches tall, and for the front cover of Ayres’ “Semi-Annual Home Sale,” that was the space that I was required to fill with furniture: sofa, love seat, chair and ottoman, coffee table and two end tables, with a large accent piece in the background, and everything accessorized and placed on an important accent rug. Most art directors designed the merchandise to fill the middle of the 8 ½” width, and used the top of the cover for the name of the catalog (“Home Sale”) and the bottom for the name of the store (L.S. Ayres). I did the same thing, for years, and then — I stepped outside of myself.
An artist views a space to be filled in unique ways, and may not see the orientation of a page (“portrait” or “landscape”) as a constraining quality. And when I proposed a different way of shooting the front cover of a home sale catalog, the staff of the photo studio in North Carolina became nervous: “Are you sure (the creative director) is all right with this?” I told them in essence, that I was the boss on the job, you’ll get paid no matter what, and to shoot it as I designed it. My design required the reader to rotate the page 90 degrees clockwise to take in the beauty of the room set, which fit perfectly in this way on the cover of the catalog. And when the senior vice-president of the advertising department saw this cover, he questioned my sanity. The creative director did not tell me her response to that question, and I did not ask what it was. I laughed, she laughed and the room set I shot in “landscape” was printed and published. I do not think that many were inconvenienced by the need to rotate the page 90 degrees to the right, and I was pleased with the natural way that a living room was represented on the cover of that catalog.
The April, 2017, L.L.Bean ad in The New York Times was landscaped, and filled the page in the same way that my (circa) 1990 home sale catalog cover. I do not think that the ad was met with the skepticism that greeted my early artistic vision.