From the Designer’s Desk: Katy Homans
April’s installation in our ongoing series From the Designer’s Desk brings us into the beautiful, meaningful, and wide-ranging visual world of renowned designer Katy Homans.
I entered the worlds of design and art as a printer, having been introduced to David Godine’s letterpress shop through a college class on the history of prints and printmaking. I switched my major to the art of books, while working continuously as a printer. Through Godine I encountered Eakins Press, which published Lee Friedlander’s The American Monument. It must have been at this point, around 1976, that I became interested in photography and also graphic design, and it is when I met Lee.
I have worked with Lee ever since, having designed by now over 30 books with him. I say “with” expressly, as most often we sit down at my computer and lay out his books together. He has the pictures and rough sequence figured out, but on complicated subjects we arrange the pages together; right now we are working on “Human Clay,” thousands of pictures of friends, relatives, acquaintances, grouped alphabetically. I contribute sizing, color, and typography; it has been a marvelous association.
A couple of years after starting to work with Lee, I met Wendy Ewald who was living and teaching in Appalachia. She had been showing local kids how to take pictures, had a great success with them, and wanted them to learn about making a book of their own pictures and stories. I came to their school equipped with blank booklets (sewn by hand) and a sheet of lettraset for each student. They made the most remarkable and moving books, which fortunately Wendy was able to keep, and which we later turned into Portraits and Dreams (Writers and Readers, 1985). Since that amazing week in Kentucky I have done my best to follow Wendy around the world as she works with children in different cultural, religious, and economic communities. Recently we have collaborated on a project in Tanzania making photo posters with local teachers to enable them to teach their ten core curriculum subjects visually.
Both Lee and Wendy are MacArthur fellows. It has been my great honor and pleasure to work with both of them, as they represent such different ends of the 20th century photographic spectrum. In between I have designed hundreds of art books for galleries, museums, and publishers. Individually I have worked with a wide range of living photographers, from David Byrne to André Kertész to Irving Penn to Elsa Dorfman. The common element of success and pleasure has been collaboration.