Exceptional books, excerpted

Photograph by Alexander Deutsch.

The Excerptional Questionnaire with art director Fabrice Frere

Tell us about yourself.


From where do you draw your inspiration?

I always advise people never to give advice.

Inspiration is all around you. Everyday waking day, you observe the world, and hopefully see new things. You draw inspiration from something benign, and if you cultivate that observation, you can shape it into something completely new. However, the common danger that most creatives face is to confuse observation and imitation. They are very different. If you walk by a florist, and see a beautiful and unusual flower arrangement, you might go home and reflect on the colors and composition you just saw moments ago, and it will give you a jumping-off point to design a new wallpaper pattern based on what you saw. That’s drawing inspiration from an observation. However, if you go home, and on the way you buy similar flowers, and arrange them the same way as what you had seen earlier, that’s imitation. And in today’s world, imitation is a tempting proposition. Ultimately, you end up being much happier with yourself, when you feel that you went your own way, and made something your own. Books and magazines are great sources of inspiration, but the immediacy and ease of the internet has changed that forever. With that said, nothing compares to the detail that goes into making a beautifully printed photo book for me. It’s the printing, the binding, the layout, the choice of paper, the experience of turning a physical page, that will never change. It’s not just the content that inspires me, but the attention to detail in the manufacturing process.

What do you hope to inspire in others?

Whatever you create, you have to believe in it. You have to be totally passionate about it. This is not easy. How many of us have to make creative compromises when it comes to commercial work? Ask around. If you can strike a balance and divide your life into the bread and butter projects (where you have to make compromises) and your own personal work (where you make NO compromises) then you’re batting 100. If you find yourself only working on what you love, then you’ve reached nirvana.

What role does print play in today’s culture?

I often get asked if I work in print or in digital. The reality is that while everything starts for me from a “print” point of view, today everything eventually makes it to the web. That can be a poster, a catalogue, etc…

If every movie theater in America shuttered its doors tomorrow, you would still need someone to design a movie poster so that it can appear as a thumbnail on your Netflix queue or OnDemand programming. Not so long ago, music companies had designers work on LP cover art. While LP’s are making a small comeback, the majority of album covers are designed for a digital world, but it all originates from the same place, and the same format (a square canvas). Same with book covers and most other media that we consume. Magazines and newspapers in particular have probably suffered the most as a result of the digital revolution. They have been completely upstaged by new channels of information that are hard to compete with because of the immediacy of the internet. They do however still possess a richer infrastructure than their digital counterparts. The fact checking department at a major magazine or newspaper is still in my mind a million times more thorough that some blogger re-posting, re-wording someone else’s story. And in a broader sense, and as a result of the digital revolution in particular, print has morphed itself into an entirely new role. It’s SO much more special now. It stands out. It makes an awesome gift. Can you imagine giving a friend a digital edition of an Andy Warhol book? How lame. Give them an oversized beautifully printed edition, and they will cherish you and that book forever.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

I always advise people never to give advice.

What’s your favorite book and why?

The book that had the most meaning and impact on my life was 1984, the dystopian novel by George Orwell. It was published in 1949. It is in my mind the most accurate depiction of the world that we live in now. We are surrounded by screens that incessantly chirp away bits of news, and that tell us how to live our lives. There are surveillance cameras everywhere we go. Our language is being eroded on a daily basis. We carry on our lives with little white headphones glued to our ears, communicating with each other in little 140-character messages, essentially living in a detached and de-sensitized virtual world. We are being watched and scrutinized by our governments. In the book, the upper-class or Inner Party, the elite ruling minority, makes up 2% of the population, the middle-class or Outer Party, makes up 13% of the population. and the lower-class or Proles (from proletariat) makes up 85% of the population and represent the uneducated working class. Sound familiar? The similarities to today are endless, and in my mind it’s a real tour de force to be able to forsee the future so far in advance and with such precision. Oh and speaking of dystopian novels, I also love the My Little Pony series.

View an excerpt from Fabrice’s book, CITY: A Photography Retrospective.

Photograph by Alexander Deutsch.