Sunday, May 22, 2016

David King 1943 - 2016

I recently read Red Star Over Russia: A Visual History of the Soviet Union from 1917 to the Death of Stalin written by David King

David King over 30 years collected a vast collection of visual material from the Russian Revolution. A priceless resource for historians and film makers interested in that period.

This book is really great. Lots of material on how that history was rewritten and retouched by Stalin

Other books published include

David King Obituary by Richard Hollis
The Guardian 

22 May 2016

David King, who has died aged 73, was a graphic designer, writer, artist, photographer and, above all, a collector. On Level 4 at Tate Modern is a room hung with 40 framed magazine covers by John Heartfield, the German political artist and pioneer of photomontage; in the centre, open in a display case, are two copies of King’s last book, John Heartfield: Laughter is a Devastating Weapon (2015). Over several years, a larger Tate room showed dozens of Soviet posters from the David King collection, items from which will be displayed again in 2017-18 in the exhibition Red Star Over Russia.

Amassed over several decades, the collection is made up of 250,000 photographs, books, journals, posters, documents and newspapers dating from the Russian Revolution to the Khrushchev era. Added to this was material from the Weimar Republic, the Spanish civil war, American labour organisations and Mao’s China. King wanted to make his collection accessible to the public, and in recent years it was acquired by the Tate.

King’s skills were those of the eye: he could speed-read an image for meaning and context. He was born in Isleworth, Middlesex. His father was a bank manager. He began his training in 1959, after leaving school, in the design department of the London School of Printing and Graphic Arts (now the London College of Communication). His political apprenticeship came from working with his teacher Robin Fior, the designer-typographer, who was then designing the weekly Peace News and covers of the quarterly International Socialism, and was a member of the anti-nuclear Committee of 100. Fior introduced King to Soviet constructivist design and political graphics.

After a time in an advertising agency, where his favoured copywriter was Elizabeth Smart, author of By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept, he went to work at Queen magazine. In 1965 he joined the Sunday Times Magazine, where, under the overall art direction of Michael Rand, he was art editor for 10 years. The magazine won awards for its picture stories, arranged cinematically and uninterrupted by advertising. King took only a morning to lay out Don McCullin’s celebrated photographs in a multi-page feature on the Vietnam war.

King later worked on books with former Sunday Times writers, among them the art critic David Sylvester, and with Bruce Chatwin on his Photographs and Notebooks (1993). In 1972 he was co-author with Francis Wyndham of Trotsky: A Documentary. Trotsky became so much a centre of King’s career that Fior referred to King’s Islington house as “Trot-ski-lodge”. In the garden King constructed a personal dacha, set up a bust of Marx (left over from a film set), and laid down in brick mosaic a five-pointed star.

In 2009 King published Red Star Over Russia: A Visual History of the Soviet Union from 1917 to the Death of Stalin. The introduction to the book is an anecdotal account of his research into Soviet history. He enjoyed telling stories, sometimes cloak-and-dagger, sometimes comical, of his search for material over more than 40 years – in pre-Glasnost Russia, in eastern Europe, and in the US. This quest won him friends in many parts of the world. The dramatically orchestrated presentation of the documents is matched by a sensitivity to the human suffering they represent.

Red Star Over Russia marked the unique character of his mature book-making: writing, designing, scanning the images, all from his own archive. His frequent collaborator, Judy Groves, tells how he laid all the pages out end to end on the floor of his studio, “coupling and uncoupling them like carriages of a train”, until he was satisfied with a complete view of the story unfolding. He did not use a computer in designing, but he put the text, perfectly judged for length, in emails to the typesetter. Proofs of the typeset version were then taped in position with prints of the scanned images, printed to size.

When King first went to Russia in 1970 and asked to see pictures of Trotsky, he was told there were none of “that fascist”. He made the repeated response to his enquiries into a catchphrase, “not possible”, uttered in a heavy Russian accent. But a diligent search in many countries eventually made an archive possible. By the time they came to do the book, Wyndham remarked that there were now more photographs of Trotsky than there were of Marilyn Monroe.

King’s interest in constructivist artists led him to the studio of Alexander Rodchenko, who had died in 1956. Opening a book – he was there to look at the artist’s book designs – was, he said, “like looking on to the scene of a terrible crime”. Rodchenko’s grandson Alexander Lavrentiev explained that his grandfather had painted over the faces of “enemies of the state”: to have been found with them risked the attentions of Stalin’s secret police.