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Friederike Huber, Book Designer

December 18, 2014
by the gentle author

Friederike Huber by Patricia Niven

You may not be aware that there is a common sensibility which links four out of the five books I published in the past eighteen months. It is that of Designer, Friederike Huber, who has been responsible for devising the formats, and selecting and sequencing the pictures in each of these photography titles superlatively. Yet the irony of Friederike’s work is that she hopes you will not notice it at all.

Fred – as she is affectionately known by everyone that works with her – has taught me that it makes all the difference in the world how you place photographs in order. While most photographers will admit they cannot select their own images, Fred has an infallible eye which tells her which pictures to pick and how to arrange them. When you look at the books she has designed, it appears natural, even inevitable, which picture follows another in sequence and which picture is small and which is large. When all these decisions are made correctly, the book flows like a piece of music and the balance of pictures and white space, modulated by the turning pages, becomes something greater than the sum of its parts.

Such is Fred’s talent that I never make any prescriptive brief, I simply ask her to design a book that is the best manifestation of the material in hand and I know she will produce something wonderful. Apart from Spitalfields Nippers, in each case there was a living photographer with a collection of pictures and it was Fred who worked with Colin O’Brien, Phil Maxwell and Bob Mazzer to arrive at the ideal selection of their photographs. This is why these books all turned out so distinctive and so different from each other, because the form and style of each book reflects the diverse visions of the respective photographers – and thus is also testimony to Fred’s remarkable lack of ego.

Obviously, none of these compliments are in any way influenced by the fact that Fred always has a plate of delicious Portuguese pastries on her table whenever I go to a meeting at her house with a photographer. Once I have made the introductions, I leave them to it. I get the treat of seeing the cover and sample pages but – for the most part – I am not party to the intimate emotional drama of photographer and editor, and this suits me very well because the photographers are in expert hands and I know the outcome will be exemplary.

These days Fred works upon a continuous chain of commissions at home, in the modest house and garden that she shares with her two daughters, designing books in a small room off the living room while family life revolves around her. Curious to learn how she became one of the most-respected Book Designers, I paid Fred a visit recently and she talked to me about the evolution of her work, while I ate Portuguese pastries.

“In 1991, I did a Foundation Course at what was then called the City Poly in Aldgate and I remember photographing ‘OPEN’ signs in shops Brick Lane that were closed down.

When I graduated in Graphic Design from Central St Martin in 1996, I worked for a lot of different design companies, but then I showed my portfolio to the Art Director at Random House and she gave me a cover to do, and I just continued doing covers for them until 1999 when I became designer for their Pimlico list. Doing book covers took over and I realised what a beautiful thing it is to create books. It was a really nice time and Will Sulkin was a good editor to work for.

I was still working freelance and in those days they had so much space that I could always go into the office and there was a spare desk and computer where I could work. I remember going in there and sitting at the keyboard with my daughter Lottie strapped to my chest. Between 1999 and 2005, I did a lot of covers but then I was approached by Mark Holborn to design the inside of a book and I worked closely with him on the Don McCullin books, In England, Southern Frontiers and In Africa. I learned so much from him about editing and sequencing. The books were supervised by him but I did the layout and design. It was about paying attention to the book as a whole, not just the cover and inside. That was when I discovered my love of doing photography books.

When I worked with Bob Mazzer on Underground, he brought prints of all his photographs and we spread them out on the floor. He said, ‘I don’t know what to do with all these pictures.’ So I said, ‘Let’s sort them by colour.’ We realised that a lot of the groupings coincided with the colours of the different tube lines and that structure carried through into the sequence of pictures in the book. Now with Colin O’Brien, I worked with two screens and had everything on the computer. In Colin’s Travellers Children in London Fields, I arranged the photographs so that a child who is in one picture is also there in the next, telling a story with the pictures. Phil Maxwell supplied me with hundreds of his pictures of Brick Lane in chronological order and we chose to arrange them in the book without any white space to evoke the intensity of images you encounter when you walk up Brick Lane.

I recognise a great responsibility to show the photographers’ work to the best advantage and I feel I get very close to these pictures. It’s very intense and I forget time while I am working. It’s like you want to extract the personality of the photographer and show that to the readers, and give them a way into this life and these photographs. Sometimes you can show a photographer things in their own work that they haven’t seen before. It’s about taking it away and giving it back, and I can see they need to really trust me – and I’m glad they do.

I take big care of things and I take a long time. I’m slow because you can’t rush these things.

It’s not a job for someone with a big ego.”

Fred Huber’s cover design for Travellers’ Children in London Fields

Fred Huber & Colin O’Brien at Aldgate Press by Alex Pink

Fred Huber’s cover design for Brick Lane

Phil Maxwell’s photograph which featured on the cover of his book

Double page spread from Brick Lane

Fred Huber’s cover design for Underground

Bob Mazzer’s photograph which featured on the cover of his book

Double page spread from Underground

Bob Mazzer’s pictures spread out on Fred’s living room floor

Fred supervises the printing of the cover for Underground at Butler & Tanner

Bob Mazzer & Fred Huber at Butler & Tanner by Arthur Mazzer

Fred Huber’s cover for Spitalfields Nippers

Fred Huber by Patricia Niven

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6 Responses leave one →
  1. December 18, 2014

    Friederike has a great eye for design and placement! Valerie

  2. December 18, 2014

    Great story about an awesome work! — To design a book cover or a complete book is an exciting challenge. Friederike has done it very well, as seen in the examples!

    Love & Peace

  3. December 18, 2014

    Some really stunning photographs. Thank goodness the digital age has not yet taken books away from us.

  4. Jane permalink
    December 18, 2014

    Big hat-tip and hurrah for Fred Huber, her work, and to all in her field. This writing insightfully and joyfully articulates something long felt and understood but always in a fuzzy and out of focus way. ‘…the book flows like a piece of music and the balance of pictures and white space…’ A book put together well is a valued gift which makes the spirit sing, we can all recognise it. A sequence of photographs assembled with skill makes a powerful impact. Quite rightly a reader’s affinity goes directly to the author and or photographer, but as this author let’s us see, without the Fred Huber’s of our world, even the best of work needs a dynamic, skilled, poetic eye to hone and enhance.

  5. December 18, 2014

    I loved the portraits and the Gentle Author’s appraisal of the talented Friederike Huber. Fred deserves all the praise she gets for designing such wonderful books. She is always a pleasure to work with and I can’t wait to see what she does next.

  6. December 21, 2014

    Keep going Fred. Your designs are beautiful!

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