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Friday, December 23, 2005

Photo Friday (Vol. XLIV) ['Moving Picture' edition]

I want to apologize again for last week's lack of Photo Friday.  Typepad (my hosting service) had a major server crash and all their clients were locked out of their blogs for most of Friday. 

In honor of my 2 year blogoversary, I wanted to post a picture that has been a part of my life since  I first saw it in an elementary school social studies book. 

Let me back up a bit to mention that I get about 4 or 5 emails a week asking whether the be-hatted guy on the stairs in the treppenwitz banner is me.  Whenever I get this question I refer the asker to an old post from when Zahava designed the banner for me.  But since new readers have arrived and continue to ask the same question I figured that the blogoversary would be a nice time to re-publish that original photo and post:

Everything looks better by candlelight

I think that most people would agree with that statement.

Some people might say that the only real difference between decent cafeteria food and restaurant fare is the presentation and lighting. I know from personal experience that my clumsy efforts in the kitchen are dramatically improved when served by candlelight.

The same can be said about the written word. A paragraph embossed in a leather-bound volume has considerably more gravitas than the same words printed in a spiral-bound notebook. One is classic literature…the other, homework.

Well, I finally got tired of looking at the tired old, generic-looking, page banner on my site. Not only did it mark me as a rank amateur (which I am), but it also bathed the writing beneath it in a pale, unappealing fluorescent light. The way I saw it, the writing wasn’t gonna get much better, so it was time to turn out the lights and bring out some fancy candles.

The snazzy new page banner you see here at treppenwitz, was inspired by a couple of unrelated things:

First, the banner obviously had to suggest the concept of treppenwitz…you know, the perfect retort that occurs to you only as you are leaving on the stairs. I didn’t know how to visually suggest this concept, other than to have someone stand on the stairs. That was the sum total of my big idea. Aren’t you glad you weren’t the artist given this assignment?

Another, more subtle influence entered, exited, and then re-entered, my life quite by chance. 

Years ago, long before I had even heard the word treppenwitz, I saw a picture in a social studies book, taken in1939 by Marion Post Wolcott entitled, "Negro Going in Colored Entrance of Movie House, Belzoni, Mississippi Delta, Mississippi."

              [click to see the full size photograph]

Something about this picture captivated my attention. Maybe it was the stoop-shouldered posture of the silhouetted man…or perhaps the battered fedora he wore…or maybe the insulting, matter-of-factness of the signage indicating who went where. In any event, I folded over that textbook page and found myself repeatedly drawn to that picture. Long after the social studies book had gone to that place where social studies books go, that image remained burned into my brain.

When I ‘discovered’ the word treppenwitz, I immediately thought of this picture because of the common element of stairs. 

Anyhoo…I wanted my talented, graphic designer, spouse to design me up a new page banner, so I downloaded a couple of ‘gigs’ worth of pictures of stairs, staircases, and people on stairs from the Internet. Lo and behold, don’t you know one of the first pictures I stumbled across was my old favorite!

Last night, after I handed over my hoard of stair-images to Zahava and gave her a sketch of what I had in mind, I left her to do her magic. I was a little disappointed since I figured there wasn’t much she could do with the picture I liked (the guy was walking up the stairs and not down), but I included it just the same.

Over the years Zahava and I have developed a finely tuned partnership when it comes to design projects: I give her a tremendous amount of detail, input and direction, (including colors, images, shading, etc)…and she promptly ignores all of it in favor of what I really needed in the first place. This project was no exception.

Not only did it come out better than I could have ever imagined, but she also (without my having even mentioned my long-standing attachment) included the central character from my beloved picture!

This, boys and girls, is why she is a sought-after graphic designer, and I’m…well, I’m not.

She whipped this little baby out in less than ten minutes while simultaneously cooking dinner, nursing the baby, checking her e-mail, helping the big kids with their homework and solving the New York Times crossword puzzle (sorry Beth…not in ink)!

I bow before her designerness.

And as an added bonus…perhaps my writing will look a little more appealing now that it is bathed in the film noir-like glow of this deep blue, candlelit banner.

Shabbat Shalom!


Posted by David Bogner on December 23, 2005 | Permalink


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Dave, it was nice re-reading about the origination of the banner. That wife 'o yours is amazin'!
Shabbat Shalom to all of you.

Posted by: val | Dec 23, 2005 2:12:54 PM

I found this article about that picture:


Looks like we'll never know the whole story behind the photo...

Posted by: Dave | Dec 23, 2005 2:49:52 PM

Good Shabbos to you and your family.

Posted by: Jack | Dec 23, 2005 4:19:14 PM

Great graphic, Zahava. I admire artists since I am an other-side-of-the-brain person. The banner is perfect!

Posted by: Stacey | Dec 23, 2005 4:29:21 PM

Shabbat shalom!

Posted by: Doctor Bean | Dec 23, 2005 4:52:01 PM

It's a cool banner but even more so, knowing the history behind it.

Wow, between you and your wife - your children must be overflowing with talent and personality.

Posted by: jaime | Dec 23, 2005 7:26:09 PM

She certainly did a great job!

I can so relate to the desire to individualize the blog...

I sometimes waste a lot of time just looking at people's blogs and wondering how and why they chose a particular design. But unfortunately, not too many people explain the story behind it.

Posted by: Irina | Dec 23, 2005 8:13:21 PM

That photo is fantastic. It's sooooo Ed Hopper. A wonderful combination of alienation and irresistible mystery. Like you so much want to know the full story, and you know you're never going to get it. Plus the guy seems to me to combine modesty but also doggedness and a determination to stay on course, no matter what. Sounds pretty like you...

It's so interesting that Zahava has the Treppenwitz character going down the stairs and away (which fits the concept of Treppenwitz better).

I love the banner. Not sure that you guys manage to deliver the aura of film noir that it suggests, but who's quibbling?

Posted by: Judy | Dec 24, 2005 8:59:54 PM

There is something about the aura (if that is the right word) she put around him that really makes it look like he is stopping short -- struck by the muse a moment too late. Or is that just the power of suggestion working its magic on me?

Posted by: Drew | Dec 25, 2005 5:12:55 AM

I was doing a search on "Israel" and lights in sky, and found your neat story on the storks.
BUT someone just emailed from Israel, and said around Modi'in near the Maccabees area, they saw lightsin the sky.
Know anything about it?

Posted by: Elisheva | Dec 25, 2005 7:38:42 AM

Val... No argument from me! :-)

Dave... thanks for the link to that article. I think one of the charms of a picture like this is that the viewer is left to fill in so much information form his/her imagination. Was it a hot day? Who was the man? Was the theater crowded or empty that day? Did he have a Dr. Pepper while he watched? The 'colored folks' paid 10 cents... what did the 'white folks' pay? I'm sure a few other questions occurred to you...

Jack... Thanks, Shavuah Tov.

Stacey... For an 'other side of the brain' person you've managed to craft some beautiful prose over on your site!

Doctor Bean... Shavuah Tov.

Jaime... and neuroses. :-)

Irina... As the blogoshpere gets more and more crowded it becomes essential to create some individuality for one's space. Otherwise people forget where they are and/or lose interest.

Judy... The 'Film Noir' aspect was just a fleeting first impression I got when I first saw the banner. You didn't see my old neon green and light blue layout... yikes was it bad! :-)

Drew... I've always thought the 'glow around the guy suggests the same thing you mentioned, but I think I agree that one would have to understand the concept of 'treppenwitz' to pick up on the suggestion.

Elisheva... We had lights in the sky here in Gush Etzion as well. I think the technical term is lightning! :-) We spend such a long time during the summer without storms that we forget that they often include a light show. Most of the country has been enjoying a nice winter storm since yesterday.

Posted by: treppenwitz | Dec 25, 2005 9:00:35 AM

Fascinating history behind your banner. What was the thought process for Zahava to transform it from idea to design?

Posted by: mcaryeh | Dec 26, 2005 7:30:14 AM

Mcaryeh... You'd have to ask her. I told her the definition of treppenwitz and turned her loose with the pictures and sketches.

Posted by: treppenwitz | Dec 26, 2005 2:01:50 PM

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