Sunday, November 2, 2008

A Television Notebook by Robert Weaver

The most exciting discovery that came from Andy French's photobooks sale was a small illustrated datebook published in 1960 from the CBS Television Network. Titled, A Television Notebook, it contains pencil drawings by Robert Weaver that allow us a behind-the-scenes look at the workings of a '60s TV studio.

Weaver sought to join illustration with journalism much in the way it existed before photography replaced it as the more acceptable medium for journalists. Although I never met him, Weaver taught at my art school SVA in the '80's.

Weaver's sketches in this notebook are fascinating. His compositions are complex - bringing both the chaos and control of production into each drawing. A couple of technicians with hidden faces stand behind some large lighting reflectors. A mass of cables from a lighting rig hangs over a cameraman at his post. Four men stand with their shadowed backs to us holding cable from a huge television camera. Make-up tables, extras, stage sets, props, editing rooms all are the center of attention rather than the "stars." If forced to make a comparison to another artist, I would say he is like Robert Frank with a pencil. Many of these had instantly reminded me of the few published Robert Frank photos made on television sets in Burbank.

Each drawing is reproduced over lined pages of a datebook giving the sense of looking through an artist's sketchbook. Laid into each copy is a calendar bookmark with an introduction by then CBS President James Aubrey. He writes, "If, like Alice in Wonderland, you could walk through the looking glass of your television set, you would find that for every performer you see on the screen there are ten more behind the screen, performing their tasks with equal dedication and split-second precision."

This datebook was one of a series published each year by CBS. The others feature other illustrators known and obscure. Out of the few that I have seen, this was by far my favorite. It is hardcover with the CBS "eye" logo debossed into the cover. The trim size measures only 6.5 x 6.5 inches square.