Otto Storch

Otto Storch, a magazine art director and advertising photographer who introduced an expressive typographic style to women's magazines as part of a revolution in editorial design, died on Sept. 29 at a hospital in Manhattan, where he lived. He was 86.

In the late 1950's Mr. Storch was one of a handful of graphic designers who helped transform and modernize the visual content of American magazines. He belonged to what the graphic design historian Philip Meggs calls the New York School, a group of editorial and advertising designers who based layouts on unified visual ideas rather than merely embellishing the page with ornamentation.

As art director of McCall's, the woman's magazine, for 14 years starting in 1955, Mr. Storch wed stylish typefaces and studio photography into word-pictures, so that a headline or text type was an integrated component of the illustration rather than separated from it, as was the common practice. Typical of this approach was a 1961 layout in McCall's for ''The Forty-Winks Reducing Plan,'' in which a picture of a sleeping woman lying on top of the text distorts the text to simulate a sagging mattress.

Otto Storch

Otto Storch

Otto Storch


Mr. Storch used a variety of photographic processes to make type twist, turn and vibrate in the days before computers made such special effects commonplace in magazine layout. For an article in McCall's titled ''Why Mommy Can't Read,'' he placed the headline over a pair of glasses and photographed it to appear warped and bent, as if seen through the lenses.

He also helped revive late 19th-century Victorian wood typefaces, which had been passe for decades, to add graphic impact and contrast to the printed page. Although he later rejected this approach because it had become a cliche, the style is in use to this day.

Mr. Storch, who is survived by his wife, Dolores, and a son, Neil, was born in 1913 in Brooklyn. He studied at New York University, the Art Students League and the New School for Social Research and graduated from Pratt Institute. He began his career as a photographic retoucher at Dell Publishing and eventually became its art director, designing book covers, magazines and comics.

Dissatisfied with the subject matter at Dell, however, he took evening classes during the 1950's with Alexey Brodovitch, the legendary art director of Harper's Bazaar who taught a course at the New School that emphasized conceptual thinking and pictorial storytelling. Mr. Brodovitch encouraged Mr. Storch to seek a good magazine job and he was eventually hired as assistant art director for Better Living, published by the McCall Corporation.

Otto Storch

Otto Storch

From there he moved to McCall's, which was then foundering, to work first with the editor Herbert Mayes and later with John Mack Carter.

He was given a free hand to redesign the magazine. Mr. Storch once said, ''It was a time when I looked forward to the excitement and accomplishments of each day.'' In 1962 he was the first art director to be appointed a vice president of the McCall Corporation.

Around this time Mr. Storch became interested in the art direction of photography: ''I became addicted to the medium,'' he said. He took his own still lifes and portraits of celebrities, including the Beatles and Julie Christie, and his work appeared in McCall's and elsewhere.

After leaving McCall's in 1969 he opened his own photography studio where he worked on assignments for many commercial clients, including American Express, Celanese, Golden Books, Sunbeam and Volkswagen

Otto Storch writes:

“After being born in Brooklyn on February 15, 1913, I managed to survive that borough, and the years between my birth and graduation from Pratt Institute. I later studied at NYU and the Art Students League. Next came the "School of Hard Knocks" trying to find a job during the great depression. Abril Lamarque, then Dell Publishing's Art Director, gave me work, temporarily filling in for a vacationing photo retoucher. Inexperienced, I ruined a couple of dozen black and white prints. Not discouraged, he tried me out on some layouts. The retoucher returned and Abril never asked me to leave. We developed such a camaraderie of interests, that to this day, I still feel a warm tinge of friendship for Abril.

After Abril left Dell, I became Art Director, sometimes doing forty layouts in one day. Not always good, but always fast. Not being satisfied with the grade of the subject matter Dell dealt with, and admiring Alexey Brodovitch's Harper's Bazaar, I started to attend classes at his home and then later at the New School.

The class was comprised of art directors, illustrators, fashion artists, package, stage, and set designers, photographers, typographers, and me.

Brodovitch would dump photostats, type proofs, colored pieces of paper and someone's shoe lace if it became untied on a long table together with rubber cement. He would fold his arms and, with a sad expression, challenge us to do something brilliant. I always managed to finish before the "Cleaning Ladies" came with their burlap bags.

In addition we were all given the same out-of-class assignments and the totally different approaches "opened my eyes."

It was then that I perceived that formula is to examine carefully each problem with the concept arriving out of that understanding, and then presenting it brilliantly.

Since ideas precede visual expression, the first consideration should be the rightfulness of the idea.

At that time I did not think that pictures and typography were an end in themselves, but just component parts of the message, depending upon the idea for their importance and technique. For me, idea, copy, art and typography became inseparable. By this time Brodovitch had become my Guru, and one fateful evening after class, after taking another look at my samples, stained with a mixture of tears, enthusiasm and perspiration, he advised, "There seems to be some potential in your work, but I do not see a future for you in your present job; you should leave.”

I quit my job and almost starved. Many doors were closed. There followed a seven-year period of freelancing that included layout, illustration, photography and worry. I worked for magazines, advertising, promotion, book jackets, record album covers, etc. I was really working hard. One day I went to Better Living Magazine (a McCall Corporation Magazine) with art spots, and left as Assistant Art Director. From Better Living I moved to McCall's Magazine, which was having problems. Circulation was declining and advertising revenues were down. Herbert Mayes was brought in as editor to save the magazine and given a free hand. My time had come. I was in the right place at the right time. I had the creative ability and the experience, and an editor who wanted to do things.

Good art direction does not come from an uncertain person. I am capable of intense feeling and was willing to lose a popularity contest with departmental editors when necessary. The visual responsibility of the magazine was mine.

Mayes as editor was the most brilliant, energetic, egotistical, opinionated, emotional, loving man I ever had the good fortune to meet.

After the first month or two of probing around and doing some experimental things, we started to find our course. In the process, we sometimes engaged in hand-to-hand combat, but we were usually harmonious collaborators with Mayes supporting my ideas and designs. He was unstinting in his praise and encouragement. It was in the art department that I first met my wife Dolores. She has been my partner ever since, sharing every endeavor. Around this time I spent many hours working with photographers, developing projects for the magazine, and I became addicted to the medium. Photography made me even more aware of things, and so I started to take some of my own photographs for McCall's. The following is an excerpt from an article I wrote that will disclose my feelings at that time.

‘A photographer is an observer of all things. He is constantly tasting the sights of the world with his eyes in the same way that a blind man identifies and experiences the world around him with his sensitive fingers. Ail of us are constantly using our senses—looking, feeling, smelling, listening, tasting, continually being informed, evaluating, conditioning ourselves. A pleasant scent, a soft texture, a tranquil sky, the contented purr of a kitten, all these give us a feeling of security and pleasure. But a red light, the feel of a knife, the sound of thunder, mean danger to us, because we have learned through our senses what is good for us and what is bad. Also through the constant evaluation of all these things we have decided what is beautiful and what is ugly.’

Mayes became President and John Mack Carter was the new editor. It was a time when I looked forward to the excitement and accomplishments of each day. Carter and I worked well together.

As the magazine became more and more successful, the policy became more conservative, and I was confronted with mostly characterless material. By now Mayes and Carter were gone. The specialness of my relationship with an editor was never the same after they left. Art directing at McCall's became uninteresting and opposition to imaginative layout was building up.

Again my time had come—I was the right person in the wrong place.

Dolores and I went out with camera in hand and photographed the famous, the rich and the poor, fashions and cosmetics, editorial articles, automobiles and airplanes—everything, all over the world.

We never had a sales representative but accepted many different assignments as shown by this partial list of products: Alitalia, American Express, American President Lines, AT&T, Avon, Baccardi, Bank of America, Barney's, Botany, Breck, Brut, Celanese Ceramic Tile Council, Chevrolet, Cinema Center Films, Copper Institute, Dan River, Doubleday, Dupont, Golden Books, Hallmark, Hunts Food, Janitor-in-a-Drum, Jim Beam, Kellogg’s, Kleenex, Kotex, Levi, Light-o-Lier, Log-Cabin, Look, Magnavox, Manhattan Shirts, Max Factor, McCall’s, MGM, Paris Match, Pepperidge Farm, Quaker State Oil, Sears, Simmons, Stendig, Stern Magazine, Sunbeam, Tampons, Teacher’s Scotch, Time Inc., Today’s Health, Tupperware, Twen Magazine, 20th Century Fox, Paramount, Vantage Cigarettes, Vogue Patterns, Volkswagen, Wesson Oil. Art direction and photography gave us a great life, although not an easy one, but then I guess it was not supposed to be. There is no road to yesterday and Dolores and I are looking forward to what will come next.”

2017 History of Graphic Design

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