Hot Rod (Chronicle Books)

David Perry (photography), Barry Gifford (author), Chronicle Books (San Francisco)

1997

Hot Rod was the first book I designed and my introduction to the photography of David Perry and writing of Barry Gifford, both of whom would appear regularly in Speak magazine. Perry and Gifford were brought together by the publisher, Chronicle Books, and their brief collaboration on Hot Rod led to their second book, the intense Bordertown. There is a stillness to David’s photographs that doesn’t want to be disturbed by the design. Even speeding cars look frozen and quiet against the mammoth desert landscape. Our design sought to honor the mood of David’s work and enhance it with the book’s own energy and language.

At our first meeting, David lent me a bundle of vintage hot rod magazines from which I collected vernacular elements, including the letters that would make up the cover title. These were placed alongside the photographs and added a poetic reading of their own. Barry’s six-page story, “Romantica” opens the book and it sets the tone for the rest. Because there was not much type throughout the book, I wanted every element to produce an impact. Everything seems almost neutral, but the small shifts in typography suggest a force at work, like a powerful engine under an elegant hood.

The flames and pinstriping were custom-drawn by David’s hotrodder friends, and even their placement displays a quiet studiousness. All of the elements approach each other in unexpected combinations, yet these variations retain a visual logic. As an example, the typography of the list of plates that ends the book gently tugs and shifts against its margins, becoming as important to the design as the opening pages.

Hot Rod