Stephen McCarthy is a graphic designer from Dublin, currently based in London. He ‘wrote’ England’s Burning, a pictographic narrative of last summer’s English riots, told entirely without words. It was published as the fourth Unit Editions research paper.
What are you currently reading — books, magazines, blogs?
Being a big football fan one of my main reads at the moment is the quarterly football magazine The Blizzard (image below). The pieces are well written and a wide range of subjects are tackled — from 1950s Swedish football to the continuous corruption in the Kenyan FA. It is a must-read for any fan. An added bonus is that it’s relatively well designed which makes it easier to read than other publications in the genre, as it’s void of horrible ads sporting 24hr deodorant.
Have you been to any interesting (graduation) exhibitions lately?
I haven’t made it to any of the graduate exhibitions yet this summer, but am sure to head along to a few over the coming weeks. A recent stand out project for me was Jordi Ruiz Cirera’s series of portraits of members of the Mennonite communities in Eastern Bolivia (image below) which featured at the LCC postgraduate exhibitions back in December.
One of my favourite mainstream exhibitions of the past six months was Private Eye: The First 50 Years, held at the V&A. I have been a fan of British satire for many years. Seeing some of the magazine’s inner workings and the roughly drawn Gerald Scarfe sketches was excellent.
The Don McCullin exhibition Shaped by War held recently at the IWM London was breathtaking. During the exhibition I attended the discussion Photographing Afghanistan: Crucial Exposure between McCullin and some contemporary photojournalists including the talented Kate Brooks (image below). It was an awkward yet compelling discussion between people who have definitely been deeply affected by what they have seen.
You’re on twitter — any accounts that we should follow?
Can you recommend some good apps?
What is currently playing on your iPod?
Whilst working I have a tendency to listen to what you might call ‘world’ music. Acts like Anouar Brahem and Gustavo Santaolalla would be given a regular listen in the studio along with folk rock acts such as Sun Kil Moon, Ry Cooder and Badly Drawn Boy. Being Irish, I have a big interest in the indie Irish music scene. Bands such as Let’s Set Sail and Wicker Bones are making good stuff at the moment. The former are due to release their debut album later this year, so listen out for that.
Are you a fan of film? Anything in cinemas at the moment that’s worth a watch?
I am a film fan with a soft spot for French comedy. One of my favourite films is the dark comedy Love Me If You Dare (‘Jeux d’enfants’ as it’s known in France; trailer) directed by one hit wonder Yann Samuell. I challenge you not to get something from it. A recent flick I saw in the cinema which is worth a watch is Headhunters (trailer). It’s a very good Norwegian thriller with one particularly ‘shitty’ scene.
Tell us about England’s Burning, the research paper you recently designed for Unit Editions.
This work was part of my MA degree; it focused on the study of pictograms both practically and theoretically. It examined the traditional uses of pictograms and questioned their role as supposed devices of universal understanding. It also interrogated the semiotics behind our understanding of this form of communication.
This piece came in a set of three separate but related outputs. The others being a 64pp newspaper completely turned into pictograms (The Sun from 15.09.2011) & 30 days of headlines reinterpreted into pictograms as can be seen on this blog.
What were your intentions with this project?
My initial intensions were to test the boundaries of how pictograms can be used as tools for social reporting/commentary as opposed to their traditional use as modes of instruction. I did this by trying to convey a full narrative using only pictograms — this was the riot story. My aim was not to give my opinion on what happened or try to explain why it happened. It was more an exercise in restraint — trying to explain the facts of the story in the simplest terms using pictograms. Otto Neurath explains: 'Picture language is an education in clear thought — by reason of its limits.' This kind of sums up the method behind the exercise.
Each pictogram on its own is relatively easy to understand on a semantic level. In understanding the nuances of England’s Burning it is noted that prior knowledge of the riot story is needed. The meaning behind people holding sweeping brushes in the air, for example, would be lost on someone with no prior knowledge of the story.
Buy England’s Burning here.