The best solution is some kind of visual contents page or index, giving each story or item its own image-based “front cover.” I have seen this done with great success on a handful of writers’ websites — the British photography writer David Campany’s is a good example. Pinterest provides an off-the-peg way of achieving the same kind of effect. My posts are often full of images and I view their selection and placement as being as crucial to what I am trying to say about the subject as the writing. The images are also a declaration that the pleasure of the visual is a key motivation in writing about and discussing visual subjects. (I find it hard to trust any writer working in this area that doesn’t appear to experience this pleasure, or won’t own up to it.) I have noticed plenty of pictures that come from my DO writings, indeed from my own library, collection and scanner, doing the rounds on Pinterest, so why not embrace the inevitability of this casual traffic in images and join the process on one’s own terms?
I began with a board catholically titled “Art at Design Observer,” which covers essays about illustration and poster image-making, as well as fine art. Then I added “Photos at Design Observer,” featuring posts about photography and visual essays based on my own pictures, and “Graphics at Design Observer,” which is self-explanatory. Inevitably, there is overlap between these groups. My ultimate interest as a writer lies in the way all of these visual activities interconnect and fuse, but some degree of categorization gives order to the pile of posts. Each essay is represented by a single image, which comes with a link to the original post, where along with the text there are more images to be seen and perhaps pinned.
No surprise to find that Pinterest is as compulsive and potentially addictive as it appears when browsing. I started three other boards representing enduring interests in the history of Surrealism, in the history of collage, and in contemporary collage. Not much progress with those so far. I’m also planning to create boards devoted to compiling visual material relating to particular essays. The first two are both about 1960s and 1970s French book cover design for Gallimard’s Idées series, which I wrote about for Eye, and for Le Livre de Poche, subject of a DO post. My boards will range widely while following my interests and tastes.
In visual case studies based on previous writing, I will include a link to the original essay where some, but not all, of the visual material can be found. I have uploaded images not shown in the original article. I don’t know yet how other art and design writers are using Pinterest to support their own image research, analysis and writing, but it clearly has great potential. I remember being struck by Alexandra Lange’s “Thinking in Tumblr” post, in which she argues that a Tumblr might replace a dissertation or a book. I found that intriguing and persuasive, but I think Pinterest’s structure comes closer to that ideal.
Two years later, Pinterest’s stock has risen. Some image collectors have been hyperactively busy on the site. One pinner I quickly decided to follow, Wayne Ford, a designer who sometimes writes for Eye, has 53,000 pins across 193 boards. This makes me wonder what the optimum size of a board might be. After even 50 pins they can start to look image-heavy and clogged. Beyond 100 pins it’s a long scroll to the bottom and impossible to make rapid visual connections with the top of the board. Where’s the line between illumination of a theme by judiciously chosen examples and overdoing it through repetition and clouding the issue? It seems as though even a medium as informal, elastic and idiosyncratic as a digital pinboard must benefit from some care in editing.Only a week in, I have done barely any pinning from other boards on Pinterest and I’m only just starting to follow a few that look promising. After years of fact checking as an editor and caption writing as a journalist and author, I find I’m reluctant to pin any image that isn’t clearly identified by maker, title, date and place of origin. And I don’t just mean that slippery word “via,” which passes responsibility to the previous person in the chain. If it’s necessary to double-check a Pinterest pin outside Pinterest to discover or verify such elementary information, then why not pin from that more reliable source instead?