Michael Wong: peasouper – journey through London

Introduction

Michael Wong is one of new emerging talented graduates from the University of Westminster’s Graphic Communication Design course. For our Baseline blog Michael explains final his major project. How the contemporary concerns of air pollution in London are connected to the ‘Great Smog’ from 1952. He explains in detail his photographic and typographic concept and the visual development of his ‘peasouper’ publication.

peasouper – journey through London

This publication uses the idea of transportation to illustrate our journey back in time to repeat our own history. ‘The Great Smog’ of London in 1952 was our past, but if we do not take responsibility for our environment our past may also become our future. I wanted to incorporate all my interests together, creating a narrative that played with the idea of transportation and time to speak about an ongoing problem in our city.

My aim for the project was to show how dangerous an effect air pollution has on us without us even knowing. I didn’t want to portray the problem in an obvious way but in a way that would be the most memorable, which is why I felt drawn to the comparison of ‘The Great Smog’ of 1952 as it really measures how little we have moved away from this problem. Air pollution is such a major issue in our society and yet many people do not take it seriously. We all know it’s there, but we choose not to accept the full extent of how bad and harmful this problem is for us and our environment. Throughout making this project, I found that we as humans rely on convenience and convenience is killing us slowly. We become lazy as we rely so much on mass producing machines that simply harm our planet, which is why I wanted to make this project to show how much danger we cause to ourselves and our environment without us fully comprehending the consequences.

‘Peasouper’ was a term used during the event of ‘The Great Smog’ since the air was so thick that it had the same consistency of pea soup. This term was only used during the event in 1952 which is why I wanted to use it again, bringing back a lost term that nobody knows of in our day and age, I wanted to link ‘The Great Smog’ in as many ways as possible. Also, I found this term to be very interesting as now in our present day the physical pollution in a city like London is far less visible but still extremely present: an ‘invisible peasouper’.

Using my photography skills, I set out to represent a journey on the London Underground, the idea of transportation illustrating a journey back in time to repeat our own history again. Throughout the book, the photography slowly changes from colour into black and white, symbolising the transition from our present day back to 1952.

I began taking photos on my travels throughout London, becoming more observant of my daily commute. I thoroughly enjoyed this process of being in the midst of the business of London and being able to spontaneously capture fascinating imagery which really emphasised both the causes and impact of pollution. Over time I did find that my enjoyment of this stage of the project was meaning that I spent a huge deal of time collecting photographs without having a fully considered idea of how I might collate and present them. Initially, I knew that I wanted to display an eerie atmosphere and tone throughout the book but found that collating the photographs with this in mind meant that the pages began to look too repetitive and boring. In an attempt to resolve this problem, I decided to experiment with more typographic elements.

I decided for GT Pressura, a monospaced typeface, which fitted in with the imagery as it gives an old fashion typewriter aesthetic but also keeps the design looking modern. The imperfections only help to emphasise the problem of pollution. However, as I began to introduce more typographic elements into the piece I found that it interrupted the flow of the book and didn’t quite fit in with the overall feeling that I was trying to create. I used sources from the internet looking at articles and news reports and appropriated the wording to fit in with the tone of the imagery, this way the book would have the same overall sense of atmosphere.

While experimenting and trying to figure out various ways to display text without compromising the images, I used different paper materials and came across a potential solution. The translucency of tracing paper reminded me of the texture of smog and so I began to investigate the effects of printing the text element on tracing paper which would overlay the images in the book. Applying the tracing paper allowed me to experiment more with the typography but still making sure to communicate my message strongly. From the beginning of the book, the typography looks very linear, but further into the narrative of the piece you can see it begins to break, becoming less legible and polluting the pages. I also increased the amount of tracing paper throughout the course of the book’s narrative in order to symbolise the idea of pollution increasing and building as the narrative travelled through time back to 1952.

For the binding, I decided to use ‘section sewn binding’ as the spine would be exposed just like how we are exposed to the amount of air pollution. I wanted the book to be printed in the most rugged way making sure the outcome doesn’t look too clean and perfect, the roughness of the printing had to correspond with the topic. As the paper thickness increases, the grain and texture of the papers can be seen more clearly at the end of the book, which in turn also creates a visual link to the past.

This highlights just some of the ways in which I ensured that every element in the book functioned in a way that would symbolise the increasing problem of air pollution.

Michael Wong: peasouper — journey through London
Michael Wong: peasouper — journey through London
Michael Wong: peasouper — journey through London
Michael Wong: peasouper — journey through London
Michael Wong: peasouper — journey through London
Michael Wong: peasouper — journey through London
Michael Wong: peasouper — journey through London
Michael Wong: peasouper — journey through London
Michael Wong: peasouper — journey through London
Michael Wong: peasouper — journey through London
Michael Wong: peasouper — journey through London
Michael Wong: peasouper — journey through London

Michael Wong: peasouper — journey through London

Final Major Project (BA Hons)
University of Westminster (School of Media, Arts and Design)
BA Graphic Communication Design
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