Power to the People: Geoff Kaplan

Curator: MacFadden & Thorpe
date: November 10, 2012
Categories: Book & Magazine Design
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Cover of Power to the People

Today we’d like to share a special sneak preview of a book edited, coauthored and designed by Geoff Kaplan of General Working Group. The book, entitled Power to the People: The Graphic Design of the Radical Press and the Rise of the Counter-Culture, 1964–1974, will be published in February by the University of Chicago Press. The book looks at the radical movements of the ’60s and ’70s through the graphic frame of their publications and propaganda.

We’ve known Geoff for many years, and we originally connected with him through the Cranbrook network, where both he and Brett studied. Geoff has long been interested in design that packs a purpose beyond being simply organized or attractive. In his own work and in the publications revealed in this book, he gravitates toward the experimental and adventurous over the well-behaved. “Disruptive” is one of those terms that has been jargonized by the business world to the point of nonsense, but the publications featured in Power to the People truly strove to be disruptive, as tools for activism.

Power to The People has been in the works for more than a half-decade—with materials culled from the archives of U.C. Berkeley, Stanford,  NYU, the Wisconsin Historical Society, the Getty, the California Historical Society and others. In this research, Geoff unearthed a broad range of underground publications, from the Black Panthers Party Paper, to the sublimely trippy Oz. As cheap offset printing became more accessible, these publications become a primary channel of communication with the public: a powerful tool to spread messages of civil rights, alternative politics, spirituality, sexual liberation and a spectrum of other agendas. 

Visually, the publications were compellingly illustrated and designed, particularly on their covers, where low budgets might bring the publication’s only color imagery. Charmingly amateurish, psychedelic, experimental or highly professional, the design of the publications brought energy and authority to their causes. Many of these publications have disappeared from the public eye since their original distribution, and we’re looking forward to seeing them when the book is released early next year.

A spread and covers from Oz (London, 1967)

Covers from Vector, a gay culture magazine (San Francisco,1964–1972)

A spread from the Oracle (San Francisco, 1967)

Clear Creek (San Francisco, 1971) focused on the environment.

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