Uncovered: Photographs by Thomas Allen
Foreword by Chip Kidd
Published by Aperture
47 pages, 2007
You Can’t Tell a Cover By Its Book
Reviewed by Tony Buchsbaum
When I was in high school, I spent a lot of lunches at the Little Professor Bookshop, two blocks from school. In those ancient days, most of the books were paperbacks. Not the trade paperbacks so popular today, but the smaller mass market kind. I’d gaze at their covers and wonder what wonders lay inside. As much as anything, the covers drew me in as much as the prospect of the tales they held.
Now I’m being drawn in all over again by a collection of covers that have been exploded, cut apart, in Uncovered, a collection of art pieces by Thomas Allen.
What Allen has done is to take the covers of mass market paperbacks and carefully cut and fold and combine them. The result is an anthology of sorts, a gathering of intriguing, alluring stories unto themselves -- all without having written a word.
And speaking of words, they’d do these pieces zero justice -- but imagine, if you can, a Shane-like cowboy pushing through the slatted, swinging doors of an Old West-style bar, surrounded by the aged pages of the book he’s featured in.
Or the image of a red-bloused woman toppling backward over the cliff of a bookshelf, pushed to her doom by a stack of falling paperbacks, with faded red and orange dye on the page edges.'
Or the lone arm of a man on the cover of a novel called The Nymph and the Lamp, holding a bottle of something green and alcoholic, his attention clearly captured by the siren on the cover of another book, her arm reaching toward him casually ... or maybe not-so-casually.
Or a man apparently peeping through the cover of his own novel, Dark Hunger, at the image of a woman on the other side, on her back, one leg raised like a seductive exclamation point.
Truly, these things aren’t just works of art, but reworks of art, meant to do no less than titillate our imagination, meant to tease out new -- and undefined and unexplained -- meaning. In a way, Allen is writing new stories on a thrilling canvas, bringing these signature-style depictions to life in a new way. If, untouched and original, these covers were meant to draw us in just enough to make us buy the books, then reimagined by Allen they now draw us into themselves.
With a foreword by Chip Kidd, the reigning king of book-jacket design, Uncovered is a new kind of storybook for anyone who appreciates a great story and an even greater cover. Unread for God-knows-how-many-years, these paperbacks now spill forth new tales, made more of questions than answers. And isn’t that how it should be? | October 2007
Tony Buchsbaum is the author of Total Eclipse and a contributing editor to January Magazine and Blue Coupe. He and his family live in Lawrenceville, New Jersey where he is hard at work on an exciting new chapter in his life.