Accidents of history

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When Arnold Odermatt retired in 1990 he was Head of the Traffic Police of  Nidwalden, Switzerland. For decades before he was employed to take photos of car accidents – not a promising line of work, you might think, if your goal is artistic fame. But Odermatt’s pictures have just that, he is widely exhibited and published and is now represented by Galerie Springer in Berlin.
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As pictures they have an innocent functionality, free of artifice or art-making; they do their job of recording incidents involving the police. But there must be some further appeal to explain their current success. Is it automotive nostalgia or ghoulish pleasure in other people’s misfortune? The delicious German word for this is schadenfreude – malicious joy.
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Odermatt-1958
Arnold Odermatt, Buochs, (Switzerland) 1958
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In 2015, designer Julian Montague used them in his series of bookcover designs based on early 1960s layouts for Penguin crime novels. The covers are for a series of invented novels using the Fast and Furious movie titles.
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The design are an amusing clash between the fascist aesthetics of the Furious franchise and the modest integrity of Romek Marber’s 1961 Penguin grid and Odermatt’s photos from the same period. The extravagant crashes in those lurid Hollywood movies are brought down to earth – literally – in these quaint designs.
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Montague’s layouts perfectly capture the mid-century Englishness of Penguin’s covers at that time, now celebrated for their Swiss-influenced modernism. It’s something Montague does well and often, as you can see from these other retro designs on his website.
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