Robert Brownjohn, known as BJ, is best known for his work designing the James Bond title sequences for the ‘From Russia with Love’ and ‘Goldfinger’. Here BJ projected titles and images onto the bodies of curvaceous women and were risqué at the time but are truly inspired and display a clever interplay between type and image.
He studied at the Institute of Design in Chicago that was formally known as the New Bauhaus. He became the protégé of Laszlo Maholy-Nagy and much of his modernist influence can be seen in BJ’s work. His type/image projection for the Bond titles was probably inspired by Maholy-Nagy’s original cloud projections. BJ was also a fan of jazz and befriended musicians such as Miles Davis and Charlie Parker.
It is said that his most inspirational and playful work was related to music.
BJ believed that words have an emotional and intellectual affect on its audience. In 1956 he formed the design company BCG with fellow designers Ivan Chermayett and Tom Geismar where they were experimented with typography producing the book Watching Type Move. Here they showed that, through a certain placement on page for example, type itself could speak, have emotion, narrative and the power to move.
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BJ is also known for having a strong emphasis on sex in his work, especially the female anatomy. He was a fan of Playboy magazine and in the 1960’s he moved to London where the London’s swinging 60’s provided a more liberal attitude toward design and his own personal habits. His ‘lifelons’ campaign for nylon stockings presented the viewers with only the legs of a woman wearing stocking that is sensual enough without showing much else. The image of the legs was large on the page, the type plays casually alongside and the posters where placed in everyday locations such as the London underground.
In 1963 BJ designed a poster campaign for a pop art exhibition at the Robert Fraser gallery in London entitled ‘Obsession and Fantasy’. This poster presented its viewers with an image of a woman’s naked breasts, the nipples playing a part in of the letters ‘o’ in obsession. BJ saw this as representative of the connection that existed at the time between ‘soft pornography and social radicalism’.
In his article ‘Sex and Typography’, BJ wrote that the idea for this came from his ‘disordered mind’, describing the poster and its composition as an ‘integration of sex, typography and meaning’. The poster stimulates the senses in seeing and reading.
BJ’s work for the Rolling Stones’ album ‘Let it Bleed’ has a ‘before and after’ style cover. The front of the album has the band members playing on a cake that is sat atop of a record on a record player. On the reverse of the album we see the same image but now a piece of the cake has been removed, the record is smashed and the band member are no longer standing. The album cover has some poignancy as the image could be seen as an illustration of the devastating effects drugs can have as it did later in Rolling Stones’ career and on BJ himself.