We — and possibly you, too — are a big fan of large coffee-table art books by the likes of publishers Taschen, Phaidon and Rizzoli, to name but a few. Among our favorite stack of these large tomes is a book by a lesser-known German publisher. It’s a book of photographs by the artists Peter Fischli and David Weiss titled “800 Views of Airports.” And that’s exactly what you get, literally 800 photos taken in airports by the artists over several decades of international air travel. There’s no accompanying text, no explanations, no captions. Just photographs of airports, airplanes, tarmac vehicles, control towers and views looking out of windows from air-terminal boarding lounges around the globe. The book is a mesmerizing document of the airport’s cultural landscape. For those who have traveled widely and often by air, the images in this book may feel in their own way comforting.
Many years ago, when I was in my late teens and early twenties, I was travelling two or three times a year from the U.S. through the Southeast Asian city state of Singapore. These trips were usually en route to Australia and Papua New Guinea to visit family and make “visa runs” during the summer and winter months. I got in the habit of visiting bookstores in Singapore and picking up a lot of novels along the way to satisfy my voracious reading habit on the long flights and months traveling this part of the world.
In Singapore, there’s a lot of contemporary literature by local writers published in English. One such book was “Man of Malaysia” by Tan Kok Seng. His novel reads like a memoir of a poor, working-class man coming of age and finding a life in a homeland that was going through rapid economic development and social change. For a young, white Western man, his story offered a fascinating and rare perspective.
Many years later, I stumbled upon this book in a box we unpacked during a move to a new home. The minimalist design and line-drawn portrait on the cover make the book stand out and is probably what first got my attention when I browsed the display tables of a bookstore in a mall off Orchard Road in Singapore those many years ago.
Good design can serve many purposes. One is to invite the viewer in, to pique a curiosity and draw them to further explore. This book didn’t change my life, but it offered profound, unique insight that likely I would not have gained had I not noticed the book in the first place.