landfill: no country for old graphic designers

culture in a dumpster and the bothers Coen….

by Art Chantry (

This is Joel and Ethan Coen, the amazing film makers, from about 1982 or 1983. this photo (i think by rex rystedt. there’s no credit on the print) was shot out on the outdoor deck of the pink door restaurant in Seattle’s pike place market. they were in town promoting their very first film, “Blood Simple.” They both look like they’re twelve years old.

At the Rocket Magazine, we had access to some amazing people. basically, if somebody interesting was around that weren’t ready for prime time, we covered it. we basically called our own shots on what we liked and wanted to write about. it was one of those places where the freedom to cover what you thought was interesting became the standard. in that process, the Rocket began to dictate “hip” or ‘cool’ in Seattle. but, everybody so hated the rocket’s snidely snotty attitude that it actually worked against “hip”. Only real dorks thought we were hip or cool. all the hipster cool kids thought we were loathsome assholes. We were totally hated and despised and really really “uncool” as a result. we loved that.

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That also made us really poor. our office space at the time of this photo was in an old theatrical rehearsal space above the old rendezvous restaurant on second avenue (the pits back then. but really cheap.) the landlord was so miserly that he wouldn’t do a thing to the place. when it rained, the roof leaked so bad that we had to move our desks and drawing tables around so as not to let the current issue be destroyed. the leaks were so bad that they would actually change locations all the time – you never knew where it was safe to set up a workspace. one wet rainy morning on deadline day, you’d come into work and find everything ruined. it was as if the building itself was playing nasty practical jokes on us all the time.

On one particular disastrous morning, we came in to find the whole workspace flooded. the main source of the leak turned out to be directly above our photo files! every single drawer in our file was crammed full of completely wet and mostly ruined photographs, stuff we’d been collecting for nearly a decade. amazing stuff by then unknown/now famous photographers, not to mention countless promo and publicity shots, were all ruined.

This shot by (i believe) rex rystedt of a young joel & ethan coen is a case in point. it was soaked and stuck to other photos and was a really nasty mess. as we tried to clean up the mess and salvage what we could, this image was so fucked up it didn’t make the cut and went into the garbage. I couldn’t stand an it and pulled it out and did my best to clean it and save it. it turned out ok (i guess).

15 years later (the rocket lasted over 20 years), when the magazine finally collapsed in a death spiral, the entire operation closed down suddenly – in fact it never even got to print up it’s last issue. it was at the printers when the magazine died and that was that. most of the office stuff was sold off to salvagers or tossed in the trash – archives of past issues, artwork, article files, morgue, furniture – everything in the garbage.

That included the photo files. I got an anonymous phone call from somebody telling me the Rocket photo file was sitting in a dumpster and to quickly come and save it from oblivion. the entire history of the Seattle music scene in visual form was sitting beneath of pile of trash headed for the compactor. I didn’t arrive in time and it was gone when i showed up.

click on image for more...---Joel worked as an assistant editor and production assistant on low-budget horror films, including the cult classic The Evil Dead, written and directed by Sam Raimi. The brothers have said they were not exceptionally close as children, but, as Joel remarked, they "kind of rediscovered each other after college, really through making movies." In 1980, they began writing Blood Simple. Unable to find a studio to back the project, the brothers raised the necessary funds by selling limited partnerships in the film. Through elaborate pre-planning—storyboarding every scene and shot—and creative filmmaking techniques

ey were able to produce a film that had the look of a much more expensive production.---

Some years later, a collector I know was approached by somebody claiming to have that photo file in his possession and wanting to sell it. the collector took a look and said that all of the original and historical stuff was already gone and that it was at this point just a small collection of old stock publicity shots of really mediocre forgotten pop bands form the 80’s. What had survived at this point was completely ruined and picked over by – who knows?

And so it goes. so much wonderful historical imagery and collectible artwork, so much amazing history decomposing in a landfill out there somewhere. that’s what most of us “commercial artists” actually make – landfill.

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