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CIVIL DEFENSE Philip Zimmermann (1984)

In late 1983 I decided that I wanted to do a book that reflected the upcoming Orwellian year of 1984. The cold war was still at it's coldest and most frightening. Ronald Reagan uttered the now famous words at a microphone that the USSR should not worry, the bombers were already on their way to hit the Soviet Union. He meant it as an ad-libbed joke, but many of us thought that it was a freudian indicator of his true feelings about the bomb and the Soviet Union as the Evil Empire. It would be hard for the youth of today to know how scary many people felt the times were then. I participated in a huge Ban the Bomb rally in Manhattan during the summer of 1983. No one remembers this miilion person peace demonstration today. But Civil Defense was born in those times.


I applied for and got an NEA-funded Line II grant to help pay for the paper and printing of the book. After making the film and plates at Open Studio Print Shop in Rhinebeck, NY in early 1984, I drove the plates and paper up to Rochester to have it printed by Tom Sullivan at the Visual Studies Workshop Press. Athough one cannot really see it, the book is printed in process four-color plus white on a pale gray paper. Any hoped-for chiaroscuro effect from using the white ink on the gray paper was sadly not achieved.


The book was about the paranoia of an advancing radioactive cloud approaching an inhabited area (the Hudson Valley where I lived) and the uselessness of trying to escape the radioactivity. I used a mechanical device of disintegrating and steadily enlarging halftone dots and patterns to show the increasing radioactivity. By the end the page images have become almost atomistic and unreadable because the scale of the dot components making up the image is so large . Tiny little boy scout icons futily signal SOS.

Around the same time, Michael Becotte and Rebecca Michaels, at Tyler School of Art, asked a number of artists to submit art for a special stamp issue of Quiver, the photo magazine of the Photography department at Tyler. They printed the stamps on the Heidelberg KORD there at the school on special gummed stamp paper and then had the sheets perfed and bound into the issue of Quiver. They also sent about 100 extra sheets to all the contributors. I decided to make my piece using some of the imagery from Civil Defense and then including the stamp sheet in the first 100 copies of the book. Aside from the landscape from the book, it shows a small image of Reagan, a mushroom cloud, and the numbers 1984.


Available (without the stamp sheet which is out of print) from Phil Zimmermann or Vamp & Tramp Booksellers for $50 plus shipping and applicable tax.





Click thumbnails to view the full scale detail photo: