You would be forgiven for switching off upon hearing the term ‘infographics’; the mundanity of pie charts, bar graphs and overly-complicated tube maps all spring to mind. Only recently fished from the relative obscurity he fell into as a result of the Nazi’s distaste for him, Fritz Khan was a German gynaecologist, writer and all-round brilliant mind who made use of illustrative metaphors and diagrams – the real art of infographics – to wonderful effect. TASCHEN’s release of brother-sister duo Uta and Thilo Von Debschitz’s monograph of Khan’s best work marks the 125th anniversary of his birth. It’s a tome whose size is testament to the sheer volume of creative genius that one man (or woman) is capable of. Covering topics as broad ranging as the growth of the hair on our body and the concepts of speed, thought and technology, it seems certain that everyone could learn a thing or two from this book.
Khan’s particular genius lies in his comparisons of the scientifically complex to the everyday, thereby rendering the scientific graspable. A tear duct might be compared to a windscreen wiper, or the complex system of sight and sign association represented as a sort of mental projection system. These metaphors alone would be illuminating, but it is their visual representations that really unlock their meaning. TASCHEN’s clear reproductions are full of vibrant colours and intricate details that the book’s size seems to invite one to really examine. There is a never ending sense of delight and surprise on encountering a dissected thing or object whose interior looks normal at first glance, but on closer inspection is revealed to have been supplanted by components of an entirely different nature. Thus we find the iconic image of the human body rendered as one giant factory, complete with workers, whose processes are neatly explained by precise illustration.
Part of the joy of this monograph is simply in the quality of the illustrations themselves, which often look like they were taken from a dream-like picture-book or utopic imagination of the future. Tiny men parachute alongside metamorphosing insects, while on another page a lone cell gazes out at the botanical-like beauty of the intestinal tract which dwarves it. Almost every page could stand alone as a visual object of immense and purely aesthetic value.
Einfahrt in eine Drüsenhöhle (Entering a gland cave) © Franckh/Kosmos Verlags-GmbH & Co. KG/TASCHEN
Khan’s Brilliant mind wasn’t just put to use visually though, and TASCHEN have included some of his scientific writing as well. Khan’s sense of scientific wonder and excitement comes across in these, as his use of expressive metaphor and allegory is carried over to an excited prose style whose explanation marks belie his excited urge to make us see. The ‘drama’ of the blood cycle has never seemed so captivating. Khan led a fascinating, difficult and complicated life, and thankfully lots of space is given to exploring it. Introductions from both Uta and Thilo Von Debschitz and design historian and writer Steven Heller provide us with contextualising reflections that paint a fascinating picture of a fascinating man.
This is a book which possesses that unique quality of being entertaining and informative whether looked at for a few minutes or a few hours. It may sound cliché but this really is a collection which seems poised to suit anyone who comes across it, and so really would make the perfect gift for someone usually impossible to buy for.
Fritz Khan is published by TASHCEN and is available now for 34.99
Featured image © Franckh/Kosmos Verlags-GmbH & Co. KG/TASCHEN