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Jörg Müller in dialogue with Giulia Mirandola

Jörg Müller, here in dialogue with Giulia Mirandola, tells us the genesis and development of its most iconic illustrated book.

Where there was a meadow

How did the idea of ​​creating Dove c’era un prato (Where there was a meadow) come about?
In 1970, I was planning with a friend a picture book about children’s games. We recalled our childhood adventures in the early postwar years. In the meantime, we realized-it was the time of the economic miracle-that our environment had changed so much in the meantime that it had become too dangerous for children to let off steam as freely as they did then. So instead of presenting our children’s games, what was more obvious than to show the reasons why children had to be locked up much more now? 


A direct look at the landscape

What are the elements of the landscape that at that moment attracted your gaze the most and your desire to tell the landscape visually?

The first images came out of my memories. It was the village of my childhood that I wanted to depict. Meanwhile, I was living in a village near Bern, where there was also a rapid increase in concrete construction and excessive and haphazard building of the surrounding area, many details of which were incorporated into my photographic narrative.

During the creation of the illustrations, what weight did the photographic documentation, direct observation, walking in the landscape, geography, historical sources have?

Most of it is painted from memory. It is mainly the technical details that are precisely documented. I knew from personal experience that children get irritated when, for example, a car door opens on the wrong side, especially if the family owns a similar model. And I had discovered and photographed the little purple house in the center of the image during a walk near Bern — three years after the publication of my book, however, there was a large apartment building there…


The cover of "Dove c'era un prato".

Jorg Muller smokes a cigarette and paints.

Physical, editorial and literary places

What are the physical places (regions, valleys, villages, cities) and literary places entered in the tables of Dove c’era un prato?

The story is supposed to be set in Switzerland, somewhere in the Mittelland. I was inspired by Küsnacht near Zurich, where I grew up, for the village depicted. I took the name “Güllen” from Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s play The Old Lady’s Visit, in which an entire village community sells its soul in the name of profit.

What was the genesis of the format of the Sauerländer edition?

As a commercial artist, I always painted my artwork much larger so that it would look more accurate when printed. When I presented my project to the publisher, he thought it would be a shame to reduce the size of the large pictures. So I came up with the idea of gathering the loose sheets of photos into a folder.

In Italy his book has always been published in a different format from the original one. Do you think it is a limit or an extra possibility for those who approach the reading of his story?

For the first German edition, color lithographs were produced only in a reduced size for cost reasons. For printing, these films were eventually enlarged back to the size of the original illustrations. The Italian publisher at the time (Emme Edizioni, ed.) saw proofs of these resized ‘original lithographs’ at the Bologna picture book fair, and decided to publish a bound book in this reduced format, instead of a portfolio with the individual loose sheets. The images were supplemented by a text by Rosellina Marconi. For me, both forms are good options, although of course they are read and used very differently.



What are the criteria according to which you decided to set the story between the fifties and the seventies of the twentieth century? Why are these twenty years decisive for you?

My daughter was four years old at the time. I imagined how I could use images to tell her about the upheaval I had experienced in our environment in the years following my childhood. That led to this window of time from the early 1950s to 1972, when I was working on these illustrations. I dated each of the seven photos to a specific day at intervals of three years and three months. In this way, I was able to enliven the constant sections of images as the seasons changed.


An illustration of Jorg Muller.

An illustration of Jorg Muller.

An illustration of Jorg Muller.

An illustration of Jorg Muller.

Dove c’era un prato makes you think deeply about the relationship between imagination and collective processes. What effect does returning to these topics have on you fifty years after the first edition? In the meantime, what do you think “the landscape” has become?

The acceleration of change has not slowed down since then. Above all, with new technologies, not only has the visual appearance of our environment changed rapidly, but also its social and ethical nature. What has remained is the greed for profit and with it the increasingly difficult task of ending the growing destruction.


Music misunderstanding 

Dove c’era un prato inspired the realization of a record by the Viennese composer and pianist Wolfgang Söring published in 1976 in collaboration with Ute Blaich and Gert Haucke. What do you remember in particular of this experience? What effect did your images ‘feel’ for you?

My editor had not told me about this record. When I happened to make the acquaintance of Ute Blaich and Gert Haucke, I was initially irritated by their great reserve. They both thought that my silence meant my rejection of their project. This initial misunderstanding turned into a long and cordial friendship and further collaboration. Unfortunately, I never met the composer Wolfgang Söring, but his musical background in the story still inspires me today. My daughter had been watching the very slow creation of my images for days and months, so in the end she was not particularly interested in the printed book. She was only really impressed with everything when she could hear the story told and set to music.


The last question

The last question was asked to the Lazy Dog publisher by a reader who particularly appreciates this book. He asks: “Is there something strictly autobiographical in the story being told? and are there other tables originally inserted in the temporal succession, then discarded, or was the project immediately thought of divided into 7 acts?”

As I said, the story was based on my personal memory. I was often asked to continue with the images. But I had conceived the whole project from the beginning to be based on these seven images. An extension could not have added anything to the central message. But as a logical continuation of the change in the landscape, I then added a change in the city. In doing so, I relied much more closely on photographic documentation and used images from Zurich, Biel (where I was living and working at the time), Frankfurt, Zagreb and other cities to construct a fictitious city. These images are dated at the same time as the first folder of images, they also refer to it and complement the statement from a different angle.

Jörg Müller, here in dialogue with Giulia Mirandola, is a swiss illustrator. Check his Bio.

Giulia Mirandola works in visual education, children’s literature, cultural design. She has been working in the publishing field since 2004. In 2019 she moved to Berlin. She writes for the columns “Window on Berlin” and “Literature” of the online cultural magazine of Goethe-Institut Italia.