Vernacular signage roundup

four from the (my) archive. 
A few gems may be found at The Journal of Urban Typography

The makings of a beautiful book in the Walker Evans/William Christenberry/Stephen Shore tradition, on Flickr.
Vernacular Typography Polaroids by onpaperwings

Molly Woodward has a way with multiples and cropping.
Her images are gathered at the wonderful and thorough Vernacular Typography
Vernacular signs—local, site-specific, handmade or hand-crafted messages produced as a unique piece of art or a small run artifact, sometimes ethnically inflected, often naive. Many people, like me, are drawn to lettering and type in the abstract and all the more so when these are encountered in the environment. There's just so much fodder for the camera: hand lettered on board, hand painted on brick, carved into stonework, cast into metal, cut from plastic or shaped in neon. Some of the many reasons to take note of signs and lettering likely just outside your window: 
because they're painfully beautiful,
or laughably ugly,
or worn and almost forgotten, 
or goofily idiosyncratic,
or stunningly banal,
or regal and antique,
 or they're unintelligible—
because of how they look, yes, but also because of what they say, 
how they say it, and even where they say it.


one more transmission from mission control

If something piques my interest I run with it: In my previous post about futuristic typefaces I wondered about the font "Countdown." How did that come to represent "computer" when I had never seen anything of the sort come out of or go into a computer. I spent way too long "researching" that by way of 1960s technology, old computer screens, punch cards, and printouts. Then I came across the above image of the Burroughs Datatron B220 control panel (c. 1963) and it made sense. Countdown seems as though it was based on the buttons and lights on a control panel, as in Mission Control, as in a countdown for a space launch...

This selection of computer brochures are brought to you by the Computer History Museum.

I must point out here that the promo copy on this 1965 cover says "Simultaneous multiple
access to more than 21 million bytes!" If I do my math correctly that means this 
big ol' hunk of tin had a memory capacity of 21MB— equivalent to about 15 or 
16 floppy disks.
Apollo mission control panels: dear God they sent men into space using Trimline telephones. One of many fascinating shots from the keen eye of Shaun O'Boyle.


typefaces of our futures past

Yesterday I sent some rough sketches of a new design project I have to my friend Doug. It's a small book about a furniture/interior designer, and I was exploring a few different directions for the cover. I wanted a quick take on what I'd done. Well, Doug definitely told me what's what, which I begrudgingly appreciate. One comment was directed at this choice of title type:
Prisma by Svetoslav Simov
In as polite a way as email commentary can be he cautioned that the mockup, while interesting, might be stepping into Planet of the Apes territory. Harsh.
Now I know my titling looked nothing like that, but I understood what he meant: 1970s absurdo-futuristic. (Ironically, the Planet of the Apes logo was actually designed by a noted typographer, Ed Benguiat, but that didnt help me.)
Another typeface I was playing with was even goofier: Futura Black. I knew it had a pedigree coming out of the Bauhaus, and it was stencil-based, but it still had some kind of...science fiction taint to it. Sure enough, in looking into Futura Black a bit I found it on this obsessively documented site about the 1970s tv show Space: 1999. Seeing it in this context completely scared me off using the face in my project. I was, however, quite taken with Robert Ashley Ruiz and Roberto Baldessari who have compiled much much more than one might think possible about a fictional moonbase set 11 years ago in our former future. I do remember watching the show as a kid but what my 10 year old self couldn't have known was that the type used on the show was so considered.
artwork by Roberto Baldessari
Countdown, Colin Brignall, 1965. Designed for Esselte Letraset 
How is it that we see this and think "computer"? It represents nothing I've actually ever seen come out of a computer. In the 1960s punch cards were the method of programming, no? So what sort of computer produced text that looked like this? Is it just because I know this face is from the mid-60s that I envision the letters as life-sized props in a Courreges fashion spread? Colin Brignall designed numerous other distinctive and recognizable fonts, many of which bring you right back to Xanadu and the Solid Gold dancers. Brignall was awarded a medal by the Type Directors Club in 2000.
Data 70, Bob Newman, 1970. Designed for Esselte Letraset 
Another computer font that somehow seems more credible. Among Newman's oeuvre is the Frankfurter family, one of many fonts that seemed incredibly cheesy until all of a sudden it looked brilliant.

Futura Black, Paul Renner, 1929. Designed for Bauer Type Foundry. 
Another font choice of mine, tried in the furniture book I mentioned above. Although it went nowhere for this project, I'm really beginning to love this face. Interesting how something that started so rationally (from Bauhaus simplified geometry) turned so kooky. Futura Black has many moods depending on context: Jazz-Age, techy, designy, 70s kitsch. And then there's that almost-punny name.

Eurostile Bold Extended (also known as Microgramma), Allesandro Butti and Aldo Novarese, 1962. Designed for the Nebiolo Foundry
A quietly "futuristic" face that makes me think of luxury goods. Eurostile was featured on HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey.
This is one rambling post but all this makes me wonder: What makes a type seem futuristic? In the 20s through the 50s it seemed to be little more than an oblique slant and possibly some zig-zags, fins, or electric "rays." The original Star Trek logo (c1966), above, is quite "old fashioned" for its time (compare Countdown, above from a year earlier) evinces more than a little "Flash Gordon" deco styling. So much more can be said on this...


Consider the Cassowary

cassowary skeleton, Thomas Smillie, c. 1906
Jean-Baptiste Oudry, Cassowary, 1745
Double-Wattled Cassowary

If I were a cassowary
Far away in Timbuctoo
I would eat a missionary
Hat and boots and hymn-book too
British children's rhyme, c. 1880
• • •   • • •    • • •
What made me start thinking about this bird? All day I've been caught up in its outlandish magnificence. 

The cassowary, living paleo-avian incarnation, avatar of dinosaurs, is part of the ratite group, one of the oldest evolutionary branches of birds with living descendants. Originating in Gondwana— the Southern super-continent of approximately 550–500 million years ago— ratites now comprise a few flightless birds sprinkled across the southern hemisphere, the cassowary specifically, is native to Australasia. The name is a corruption of the Malay suwari or kesuari which seem to refer to a tree as well as the bird.

Standing more than 5 feet tall and weighing up to 130 pounds the bird has a long, usually black, hair-like coat* with head and neck presenting astonishing swaths of blue, yellow, red and orange. Also brightly colored are the pendulous and nearly obscene wattles characteristic of two of the three species. But one of its most distinctive features is the horny protrusion or casque that crowns the head.

The cassowary figures in Melanesian art and spirituality— particularly as a fertility symbol and powerful female creator figure. Some tribes believe the birds are reincarnations of female ancestors. This seems to be an intriguing and empathetic reading of the bird's social habits. Author Bruce Bagemihl elaborates:
The cassowary is considered by many New Guinean peoples to be an androgynous or gender-mixing creature. This bird possesses many of the physical attributes of strength, audacity, and ferocity traditionally considered masculine. Yet numerous New Guinean cultures also consider the cassowary to be an all-female species (or each bird to be simultaneously male and female), and often associate them with culturally feminine elements....The androgynous cassowary is also considered to be an intermediary of sorts, between the animal and human worlds.
This "androgyny" becomes more believable in knowing that the male is smaller than the female, and the male alone incubates the eggs and stays with the young until they are about nine months old. 

The birds can run thirty miles an hour, and can jump five feet into the air simultaneously kicking a foot dressed with a 4-inch talon. (So is it more likely to be a female out creating havoc? As the males are at home taking care of the kids?) A swift downward slash of the foot can easily do mortal damage. One nature website notes: "[the cassowary's] inclusion in the British Dangerous Wild Animals Act (1976) is wholely justified and their potential to injure, maim and even kill should never be underestimated."

I love this bird.
* Now I am in no way advocating hunting but it struck me that the cassowary would make a particularly amazing chubby, with the horn as a closure adding a Rick Owens-ish edge.
1940s chubby


design out of reach

Ray Azoulay of Obsolete Inc.
Obsolete carries a number of exquisite santos figures
Much of the lighting on offer seems as though it would be perfect on the set of a Brothers Quay movie

I stumbled on the web site for Obsolete Inc., a high-end antique furnishings and curio gallery in Venice, California, a while ago and was entranced. A curatorial mix of American folk, European industrial remnants, objects of vertu and threadbare opulence of the 18th through mid-20th centuries, the shop is the creative purview of Ray Azoulay. Azoulay is, I gather, a former Liz Claiborne fashion executive who traded in the Manhattan-apartment-to-country-house-and-back hamster wheel for California a few years ago, opening Obsolete in 2008. He must be doing well: the store is a monumental 6000 sq feet, large enough for regularly changing installations. And Azoulay's 1800 sq ft showpiece loft is down the street. At 7800 sq ft I bet his West Coast indoor real estate is multiple times the size of his New York apartment AND Pennsylvania country house— combined.

I post this now because I received an email noting an Obsolete sale today through August 17th, via this site. Alas, the prices are virtually nonsensical—it is as though it's quoted in Monopoly money: a quirky set of wicker whisk brooms on a primitive peg board is now $949, down from $2800; a collection of 200 small lidless wooden storage boxes, circa 1910, $1899 down from a heartstopping $4800. But if any shop were to make me ache for, say, an enigmatic circular railroad reflector, or a heroic 12-and-a-half foot wooden ladder, it is this one...
Check out the Obsolete links page for some good random referrals.


camp: better late than never

A few days ago I came back from a week in Shelter Island. I've been going out since the late 90s— a week or weekend, here and there-- and after an unintentional hiatus of 3 years I returned to the place with quiet exhilaration. I had fully intended on updating the blog from out there, but I caught up on my erstwhile once-a-year bike rides instead.

Having grown up in New York City (well, Queens) with neither a beach nor country house in the family, and no camp experience whatsoever, I'm now living out my childhood exploratory fantasies in sporadic getaway parcels. I have ice cream with impunity and grill corn and drink wine every night. Its camp without the mean girls (usually).

I'm not a swimmer or a surfer — and Shelter Island's shoreline is pretty meager anyway—so any empty stretch of sand and water is fine for a dipper like me. The island itself is lush and green with gentle hills, horses, deer and lots of cottontail rabbits: rather like a Hudson Valley village, with beaches. Oh and there are antique stores, too. (see purchase, above)

I took some nighttime walks and tried photographing the stars. I guess it says something about me that my favorite photos of this summer beach excursion are these below: taken at about 10pm, a few days past a full moon. My fake Steichens and fake Hidos.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...