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July 17, 2014

Half of a Yellow Sun's Urbane Outfitter

Costume Designer Jo Katsaras Brings the Vibrant Style of 1960s Nigeria to the Big Screen

“I stumbled across 6,000 1960s pieces that had never been worn and still had their price tags about 18 months before I landed the script,” notes Jo Katsaras, the Emmy-nominated costume designer responsible for the richly-hued wardrobe seen in today’s clip, taken from the film adaptation of Half of a Yellow Sun. “I bought the entire lot, trusting that this was not an accidental find.” Presented with a starry leading cast, including a pixie-haired Thandie Newton, and Chiwetel Ejiofor, fresh from the success of 12 Years a Slave, Katsaras’s ensembles play an integral role in director Biyi Bandele's story of socio-political turmoil in 1960s Nigeria (first told in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s award-winning 2007 novel of the same name). “Thandie’s style developed with her journey, circumstances and life choices,” says the South Africa-based costumier, who brought a discerning eye to a wardrobe as epic in scale as the tale, which ranges from the glamorous echelons of Lagos high society to the bedraggled ravages of civil war. “Creating a character for me is about taking everything into account: social status, personality, location, education, moral fiber and, of course, political and cultural influences,” adds Katsaras, whose other credits include HBO’s The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency and Mary and Martha. “A costume shouldn’t look like a costume, it should look like something that is part of someone’s wardrobe.”

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Spotlight

Valley Guy

Alec Soth Captures a Rare Glimpse of Los Altos’ Invisible Gold Rush

From Google to Hewlett Packard, photographer Alec Soth sets his sights on Silicon Valley and the businesses synonymous with it—right down to a local computer repair store. Throughout his time in the global technology center, the photographer acted upon the same enquiring impulse: “It’s mythical, but what is it? What’s the silicon? What’s the boundary of it? It’s like a fantasy place in some ways.” Yet what he found was decidedly less unusual than he expected. “It felt like a normal American place,” he says. “I didn’t feel like I had somehow crossed some line to Silicon Valley, with robots moving around.” The pictures form part of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art's offsite exhibition Project Los Altos, that also includes artists Mike Mills, Spencer Finch, Chris Johanson and Jessica Stockholder, and include the black-and-white photograph of the garage within which Google first started. Visiting the internet giant's headquarters made a particular impression on Soth. “It was like entering a nation within a nation—I felt like I should show my passport,” he adds. “To me, Google is both funny and scary. There is something innocent about it—the front page has this childlike quality—but it’s so incredibly powerful.”

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Spotlight

Shorts on Sundays: Sign Painters

Series Two Continues with an Exploration of an American Creative Tradition

Meet the vanguards peppering the urban spaces and grand vistas of America with colorful typography in this atmospheric short film Sign Painters, a special edit of a feature-length documentary shot by Sam Macon and Faythe Levine. The filmmakers journeyed across different states including Los Angeles, New York City, Seattle and Minnesota, zooming in on the lost and found art of hand-lettered sign painting and the enriching impact the artists have on public spaces. Featuring emerging creatives and more experienced artists with over five years crafting experience, Levine and Macon met such characters as the mustachioed Mike Meyer from Minnesota, Seattle’s Sean Barton who is both a sign and fine artist and the next generation of enthusiastic painters, including Marjory Garrison from Echo Park, Los Angeles. “The first move we made was to travel to the Pacific Northwest and meet a couple of painters,” explains Macon of the film’s beginnings in 2010, before the project evolved into a book with a foreword from Ed Ruscha, himself a former sign maker. “Not only were there a lot of working sign painters out there, there’s a tendency towards them being wonderful storytellers.”

What was the catalyst for the documentary?
Sam Macon:
Faythe had a group of friends she’d met in Minneapolis who had started an informal apprenticeship with an established sign painter named Phil Vandervaart. The group of guys had all gone on to become working sign painters in various cities across the US with one of them in Stockholm. Being interested in lettering, process and public space, we decided to dive in.

What was the most inspiring element of the filmmaking process?
SM: Initially, I was a bit skeptical that we’d be able to find enough content to carry a feature length film but Faythe knew better. My skepticism was almost immediately blown to pieces as soon as we announced the project.

Did the generational differences between the artists surprise you?

SM: I think the biggest difference between the old and young guard has a lot to do with the market place, then the individuals. The game has changed. There are fewer and fewer venues to really learn the trade, the unions are less prevalent, and the work is often harder to come by thanks to chain sign stores and cheap alternatives. But what surprised us was the amount of admiration and mutual enthusiasm that crossed the generational divide. Much of the younger crowd truly respects the old timers, while a lot of the older painters seem to be really energized by the up-and-comers.

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