By Phil McDonald

We've had the privilege of working with Charles Monkhouse on his latest commission Brocken Spectre. The project was funded by Arts Council England and was hosted by English Heritage at Rievaulx Abbey. Having worked with Charles previously on his Derwent Pulse commission we knew his Brocken Spectre event would be an exciting and engaging project where we'd have the opportunity to learn about and experience this natural phenomenon in a man-made environment. We were tasked with the objective to develop a book design for the event which contains an essay by Richard Davey where he challenges expectations and understanding of Brocken Spectres. The book also showcases past works by Charles as well as Brocken Spectre experiment images photographed by Carl Whitham and David White. A Brocken spectre, also called Brocken bow or mountain spectre, is the apparently enormous and magnified shadow of an observer, cast upon the upper surfaces of clouds opposite the sun. The head of the figure is often surrounded by the glowing halo-like rings of a glory—rings of coloured light that appears directly opposite the sun when sunlight meets a cloud of uniformly-sized water droplets. As part of our research for the book design, we made our way to Charles' workshop on a cold January evening to see a test setup of a Brocken Spectre. The setup consisted of a large and very bright spotlight and a mechanical mist generator and to our knowledge the test worked well, although Charles wasn't as pleased with the results as we were due to weather conditions. This experience gave us the perfect start to understanding how to approach the concept, layout and structure of the book design.

Rievaulx Abbey — Defeye Creative
Brocken Spectre Book Cover — Defeye Creative

A large percentage of the book revolves around Richard Davey essay addressing Brocken Spectres where he challenges conventional wisdom and perception of this natural spectacle, whilst also paying homage to Charles' past works. The book features experiment based spectre photography by Carl Whitham as well as photography from past projects by David White. Our approach, in terms of structuring content, utilised traditional layout techniques with a focus on format and scale whilst the cover concept derives direction from uniformly-sized water droplets represented by a grid of uniformed laser cut holes. The approach and execution was purposely made simple but the overall result makes a lasting impression.


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