Newly established Berlin-based publishing house Callisto made a fearless entrance into the world of art-book publishing last year. The company aspires to “create printed works of perfect quality in terms of content, design and production,” and that’s indeed what they have achieved with their inaugural publication, Airline Visual Identity: 1945–1975. The 14-pound magnum opus follows the evolution of corporate design and advertising through the airline industry’s most rapid period of growth. Embellished with exquisite color and tactile finishing, these are 436 pages of visual seduction.
It is clear upon opening your book that care and precision was put into its development and production. What inspired you to first start research for this project? What does the material mean to you?
I encountered an Air France poster from the 1950s at a gallery in Paris some years ago. I had seen this image in publications before, but the original was so much better. I thought that it is unfortunate that most people would never see (and appreciate) the true qualities of such an outstanding piece of graphic design. This reflection became even stronger as I discovered even more elaborate designs as part of my early research, and eventually led to the idea of creating a book that truly conveys the qualities of the originals, in every respect.
Today, many of the posters are seen as a form of art, and the “commercial” component of their design is no longer of any direct relevance, of course. This is one way to enjoy the book, to simply be inspired by the many beautiful designs. The book also provides relevant background information, allowing the reader to understand and compare the different strategies behind each design, and there is a lot that can be learned.
Where were all of these posters found?
Most of the posters were acquired from professional dealers in the United States, the United Kingdom, France and Switzerland, or at auction houses.
Did you uncover any unexpected gold mines of material during your years of collecting originals? One could imagine a scenario where dozens of forgotten boxes are discovered in a basement, containing the remnants of some family-run travel agency long out of business…
Probably the dealers I bought from can tell many stories like that. I can offer one good story. The Canadian Pacific Airlines posters from the 1950s, which are so representative of “Canadian” style of that era, seemed impossible to find anywhere – most dealers did not even know they existed, and never had them. I contacted the Canadian Pacific corporate archive in Montreal, but they did not have these posters as originals, only digital scans of some of them and those were not of very good quality. They told me that the daughter of Peter Ewart, the designer of these posters, had provided the scans. I contacted her, but she did not want to discuss the posters or selling any of them with me at first. I offered to fly to Vancouver to meet her and tell her about my project, and eventually was able to acquire a number of very impressive posters from her.
I offered to fly to Vancouver to meet her and tell her about my project, and eventually was able to acquire a number of very impressive posters from her.
You had a clear vision for the design of the book from the get-go. Why did you decide on this particular format and layout?
Three factors influenced the book’s design: 1) I wanted to show the images in a specific order so that they would relate well to the text. 2) The book should have a large format, because the posters were designed to be displayed in large format, and much information is lost if they are reproduced too small. That is the reason for the size of the book, and as many posters as possible are shown as full-page reproductions. 3) I wanted the reproduction qualities to be as perfect as possible with regard to colors and surface appearance (i.e., matte or glossy, etc.).
At what resolution were the original documents scanned?
The originals were professionally scanned using a Cruse CS scanner capable of scanning at a resolution of up to 990 dots per inch – much more than we needed for reproducing the images perfectly in the book.
What percentage of the material used in the book required digital restoration?
More than 60 percent of the images required some restoration; for example, to remove fold lines or other forms of damage to the surface. The idea was to present the images to the reader just as they appeared when first published.
Some of the posters in the book are incredibly complex to reproduce. Roger Bezombes’ Air France – Mur du Son, for example, uses foil printing and embossing. Could you explain the process of reproducing an image like that?
For the Mur du Son poster, Roger Bezombes used offset printing and silkscreen printing, foil printing and embossing. To simulate the silkscreen printing, we used a soft-touch varnish; offset printing was simulated using a standard varnish; the silver foil was replicated using a hot foil embossing technique, and the letters were embossed just like the original.
What was it about the inks used in old printing techniques, such as silkscreen or lithography, that produced such vibrancy and depth of color? Can you explain what went into matching your colors to the originals?
The colors of posters created in silkscreen or lithography printing processes often look stronger because they were not created as a result of mixing four colors, as in offset printing (“CMYK”), but, instead, each color was specially made for the image and then directly applied.
The printing and binding of 3,000 copies of this book took three months in total. How many weeks of that 16-week period were spent testing and retesting your colors?
All of the special colors were tested even before the printing began. We created three elaborate test designs that included sections of most of the “difficult” images. The printing company then “only” had to execute according to the digital files they received from us – which was enough of a challenge and required extremely high precision and constant quality controls. The most demanding images required that the same sheet had to run up to 10 times through the printing machine. A mistake in the final print run of such a sheet would have required a complete restart of the sheet with all the previous steps.
The most demanding images required that the same sheet had to run up to 10 times through the printing machine.
What specific qualities were you looking for in a paper stock and how did you make your final selection?
We were looking for a paper that would allow for the best possible reproduction of the large number of different colors and printing techniques found in the originals. Because the majority of originals have a matte surface, it made sense to select a paper that has a matte finish. We had one of the test sheets mentioned above printed on various types of papers we had preselected. The best paper for this book turned out to be Fedrigoni Symbol Matt Plus 200g.
Which are your favorite posters?
That is a tough question. Each poster represents such a special story and is so well designed, I like them all. One of the technically most demanding is Peter Gee’s 1969 poster for American Airlines. The series created by Aaron Fine for Pan Am is great. So are the modern designs created for Swissair or the beautiful artful posters commissioned by Air France. Each poster has a great story to tell.
Each poster has a great story to tell.
Some of these original posters are selling at over $1,000 online. Do you have any tips for those of us who would like to try and acquire a full-size original or reproduction?
I would recommend only buying an original poster, not a reproduction. Original posters can be acquired at reputable dealers and auction houses. Their prices range from a few hundred dollars to several thousand for the very best and [for the] rare.
How has the response to the release of your book been so far?
The response has been excellent – the book has been well received by media and customers.
Who is buying it?
We do not have precise statistics regarding buyers, but they include designers, people who enjoy well-made books and, of course, everyone interested in the history of the airline industry.