type distortion

Graphis cover by Eberhard Rensch, 1965

advertisement for fruit essences, 1962
(funny how sterile, unfruitlike and German it is. Geschmack!)

brochure cover by Ivan Chermayeff, 1960advertisement for a Milan-based printer, 1964type studies, above and below, 1994 by me
I found a couple old Graphis magazines (very serious Swiss "bastion of excellence in design" since 1944) at my local flea market for a couple bucks apiece. This one, from 1965, was a gem. The issue featured an article about Geigy, the legendary Swiss chemical/pharmaceutical company whose brilliant and prescient attention to all things graphic was influential and, well, very Swiss (more in a future post). In addition, it also included samples from "the most ambitious typographic exhibition ever staged" Typomundus 20, which opened in New York, October 1965. There are many examples of stretched, distorted and generally groovy manipulated type, much of it reminding me of film effects in tv or old film (you know, the "hippy party scene with the wild cavorting dancers" effect, or the "you are getting very sleepy" waves). Of course this makes sense with the times: psychedelia, Op Art, and experimentation of many kinds.

I started thinking about how all this was done back in the old analog days, before you could choose a warp or fisheye filter and be done with it. This Graphis cover, by someone named Eberhard Rensch, is described as "a typographic composition that was then photographed through glass structures." How crafty it all was and had to be. Designers were ripping and pasting together images of type or developing type on acetate film, twisting and crunching it and then rephotographing, or manipulating things on stat cameras . (In a recent lecture I went to about book jacket design at Knopf Chip Kidd and Barbara de Wilde went on and on about the stat camera; it seemed to be the magic box of tricks for all their early work.)

I rooted through my old design sample folders to find these sketches I'd done (15 years ago!) Now Photoshop was around then, it debuted in 1990, but I think we just didnt have it at my office or maybe I was afraid of it. At the time I was doing a poster and brochure/checklist for an exhibit of mid-19th century railroad documentary photography called "Tracking the West." I set the title in ITC Machine and played with a printout on the xerox, moving it slightly as the light scanned. I liked the ghostly ephemeral "tracks shifting in the sand" idea but I didnt end up using it as the rationale didnt seem right: they were talking, in part, about railroad tracks!

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