ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF IDIOCY
This tabloid-size book conveys a grim, potent message about humanity’s imprint on the planet. In 100 photographs curated from photo libraries around the world, One Hundred Years of Idiocy surveys the biggest human blunders of the last century. The images are superimposed on collages of clippings from international newspapers and organized-with the help of vintage video game-style bitmapped logos-into a themed narrative, from “water” to “war” to “poverty.” The result, which implicitly nods to previous pictorial narratives in places such as Colors magazine or the Eames’ Powers of Ten, manages to evoke the idea that human idiocy is a process that’s continuously in flux, and thus, perhaps, reversible.
The book was designed by Naoki Sato, principal of ASYL Design Inc. and is the first annual publication of the Think the Earth Project, a nonprofit, Tokyo-based organization backed by such corporations as Seiko, Benetton, Microsoft and the musician Ryuichi Sakamoto. While the group aims to make business a “dynamic force for a better society,” the book focuses intently on past mistakes. Sato and his team first considered printing photographs directly on used newspapers to imbue waste with “new value.” In the end, he mounted the images on newspaper collages-a tribute to the journalists and photographers who revealed some of the industrialized world’s most egregious acts.
The first chapter, “Water,” presents images of black water (a 1968 oil spill in Puerto Rico), red water (copper-mine pollution in Michigan) and silver water (mercury waste being poured into the ocean near Minamata, Japan, in 1973). A more hopeful counterpoint is offered by some of the essays, including legendary physicist Freeman Dyson’s “Problems for Our Grandchildren in the 21st Century,” which finds a solution for global warming in better land-management.
The jurors were impressed that the book dealt with an epic theme without embodying a lavish or self-conscious form. “There’s nothing I don’t love about this,” Janet DeDonato said. “It has tremendous impact in addition to original design and thinking; the type is accessible and the format is appropriate-in no way gratuitous. It’s amazing. It could make you cry.”
Q&A WITH NAOKI SATO
How did this project come about? Tetsuya OZAKI, our editorial director, came up with the idea of publishing a photo book that summarized human idiocy in the 20th century. His idea included use of newspapers, the most important news media in the 20th century. We decided to mount the photographs on old newspapers to pay respect to the photographers and the media.”
What were the biggest challenges of designing and printing this book?Selecting only 100 eloquent images out of vast numbers of photos. We discussed the project concept over and over and chose photos that we want people to look at and think about.
How long did it take to design and print?Three years of planning, three months for design work and three days for printing.
What were your influences?When I was a child, I used to go to a kindergarten, passing on the way unpaved roads full of rumbling dump trucks. I saw rivers of orange industrial effluent on the sides of the roads. This bright orange wastewater seemed very beautiful to me, as were the scattered paints I remember seeing on concrete walls. Such memories aren’t uncomfortable, rather I find them interesting, and I think they had a huge influence on me.
BIO Tokyo-based ASYL design was founded in 1997 by Naoki Sato, an art director whose work includes editorial design, advertising, fashion, music and film. Sato was born in 1961 and studied sociology of education at Hokkaido University of Education in Japan. His work on the magazine Wired Japan, which he art directed from 1994 to 1997, is included in SFMOMA’s permanent collection. He also received awards for his work on Composite magazine in 1998 and Mid-Tokyo Maps in 2001.
CLIENT Think the Earth Project, Tokyo: Seiichi Mizuno, chairmanDESIGN ASYL Design Inc., Tokyo: Naoki Sato, principal; Ozaki Office, Tokyo: Tetsuya Osaki, editor-in-chief; Spaceport Inc., Tokyo: Soichi Ueda, producer and editor; Tami Okano, editor; Corbis Japan Inc. and Magnum Photos, Tokyo, photos MATERIALS | FABRICATION Chipboard cover wrapped in Kaisei GA recycled paperSOFTWARE Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop, customized Helvetica and various Japanese typefaces