Bridgeman Images had the pleasure of speaking to Ben Denzer, a book cover designer who has utilised images sourced from the Bridgeman archive on several occasions. Thomas Haggerty, Account Manager in our New York office spoke to Ben about his career and work process.
Can you tell us a bit about your background and career path to becoming a book cover designer?
BD: I've always liked making things, and when I was going to college, I thought studying architecture might be a way to do that. So I studied architecture and got a certificate in visual arts. Along the way, I took a graphic design class and at the end of the semester the professor brought a visiting guest critic along who worked at Princeton University press. That was the first time I realised there's a job where you get to read and think about books -- and then you design the cover that sends it out into the world!
So I started walking around in bookstores and looking up the people who designed book covers that I liked. I started making fake book covers, emailed a bunch of designers I liked asking for advice and enquiring about internships, and luckily I was offered an internship at Random House and really loved it. I was working at Knopf Doubleday. I got to meet great people and really loved the whole process. After I graduated, I got lucky and there was an opening at Penguin.
TH: What's your creative process or usual approach when starting a cover design?
BD: It depends on if it's fiction or non-fiction. In general, you start by reading the book or reading however much of the book that you have. When it's fiction, I read it as if I'm in an English class, underlining themes or that might be interesting symbols or things that might hint at a visual or a feeling. For me, the hardest part is starting - staring at a blank screen and wondering how you go from there. The nice thing about design is that you're given constraints that you have to work within. I know I'm going to have the title, the author's name within a specific sized rectangle. I often will start by going on Bridgeman Images, and will type in keywords that relate to what I'm looking for and just start gathering images that either are things that I might be able to directly use or just things that are references. Then, it's really a process of taking that pile of stuff and then trying to experiment and collage that material together in different ways.
BD: This one was a project with a real physicality. The cover is a photo of a 3D physical collage, a physical environment for different images, all of which relate to the point the author is trying to make about how certain inventions came out -- often because people were just trying to have fun! The physical process of creating a diorama was a way to pull all the images I found all together. By printing them out you get something that I think is so much more realistic. It would be hard to Photoshop in all those shadows and manipulate how things interact with each other but you can print it out and it becomes real - because it is real.
SB: One of the reasons I like Bridgeman so much is the quality of the images; you always seem to have something that avoids looking generic because it comes from historical sources. This is just my theory, but back in the day you couldn't take a million photos of the Statue of Liberty, for example - so you had to take a little more care. Images were a little more intentional and the photos that survive to today are still here because they were special in some way. So when looking for that cover for photos of Statue of Liberty, I found these great images on Bridgeman - including the one we ended up using. It’s a lovely close up with a lovely colour and texture. It's all about trying to find ways of using these really powerful images in intentional ways.
TH: Benefits of using Bridgeman?
BD: I genuinely enjoy searching for images on the Bridgeman website. When I look for something like ‘border’ or ‘fire’ etc there's all these interesting things like scans from a title page of a book that has a really interesting border or amazing linocuts, and so oftentimes I find myself drifting from my initial target. It’s like I'm in a bookstore, finding a really great book filled with images, and I just get to dig into it. Then there's also the curatorial aspects. Because the assets are often from curated, historic sources, they've already been kind of pulled or edited or selected just based on the processes of the time, and with Bridgeman's keywording and search tools I feel like it's easier to find interesting, useful things for my projects.
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