Herbert Matter was a Swiss-born American photographer and graphic designer known for his pioneering use of photomontage in commercial art. The designer's innovative and experimental work helped shape the vocabulary of 20th-century graphic design.
THE VISUAL LANGUAGE OF HERBERT MATTER is a revealing look at the fascinating life story of the highly influential mid-century modern design master. Known as a quintessential designer’s designer, Swiss born Herbert Matter is largely credited with expanding the use of photography as a design tool and bringing the semantics of fine art into the realm of applied arts.
Inspired by Russian constructivists and taught by artists such as Fernand Léger, Le Corbusier, and A.M.Cassandre in Paris in the late 20s, Matter designed a series of cutting-edge Swiss travel posters that won international acclaim for the pioneering use of photo-montage combined with type. Always striking a balance between fine art projects and commercial work, the taciturn designer found his own unique language, which resulted in the creation of such iconic works as the corporate identity for Knoll Associates and the New Haven Railroad. With his photography he was adept in documenting the early furniture of Charles and Ray Eames and creating covers for Vogue and Arts & Architecture as well as documenting his contemporaries Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning or Alberto Giacometti. As a filmmaker, he directed a critically acclaimed film “Works of Calder” about his good friend Alexander Calder, with music composed by John Cage. Later in life he was a professor for photography and graphic design among Paul Rand and Josef Albers at Yale University.
In today’s commercialized and oversaturated world, the documentary directed by Reto Caduff (“Charlie Haden – Rambling Boy”, “A Crude Awakening”) lets luminaries such as Robert Frank, Massimo Vignelli, Alvin Eisenman, Steven Heller, Elaine Lustig Cohen and others explain why Matter still matters. Through never-before-seen footage, personal photography and stunning graphic design work, the film explores the social and cultural impact of his personal visual langauge that influenced a whole generation of designer and artists.
One series of examples: Herbert Matter's emblematic posters for the Swiss Tourist Office (1935–36) fit squarely into both categories. While the posters successfully communicate their immediate messages through a skillful application of photomontage, on a more lasting note, they transcend what is momentary through the integration of strong, personal expression. This expression found in all significant design is essential to Matter's work.