Typography is a project that identifies, documents, and preserves elements of
the visual environment that are increasingly endangered by the homogenizing
influences of globalization.
hundreds of years, artisans and signmakers have designed and fabricated
architectural and advertising signage grounded in the local visual culture of
the cities and regions in which they were produced. As retail has become more
and more global in reach, the visual environments in many world cities have
become indistinguishably uniform. As a result, the craft of vernacular
signmaking and design has been all but erased.
the past 10 years, I’ve assembled a growing visual archive of these vanishing examples
of vernacular lettering and streetscape elements. This archive (currently accessible as the website vernaculartypography.com) contains over 6,000 images of found typography from countries all over the
world, including: Argentina, Chile, Cuba, England, France, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Spain, and
the United States.
Contributions to Vernacular Typography will allow the project to expand to new cities, and incorporate new elements into the project (printed matter, interactive maps, video shorts, interviews with signmakers, etc) that are vital to the preservation of visual communication in the built environment.
is an important form of urban communication, significant not only for its
aesthetic appeal, but because of its ethnographic importance as a marker of
regional identity, its way of creating and preserving a sense of place, and its
role as a symbol of local culture and history. The accelerating pace of the
loss of these vital cultural symbols makes it critical to move beyond
documentation alone, and to emphasize the preservation and active encouragement
of this dying craft.
Typography is therefore a collaborative effort with local typographers and
signmakers to document, map, and preserve these fragile remaining examples of a
representative cultural art form that is being swept away by the uniformity of
corporate advertising, which ignores and subverts local history and tradition.
The project will focus on the historical sign cultures in four areas:
Australia, Mexico, Hong Kong, and the US where there are still cities and towns that
retain their rich traditions of vernacular signage, most notably in the large
population centers like Mexico City, Oaxaca, Kowloon, New Orleans, Melbourne, and Sydney,
and in smaller, fringe communities, like Tuxtla Gutiérrez and Alice Springs.
are formal studies of regional typography, but what is unique and exciting about
studying vernacular typography in situ is the possibility of discovering and
preserving regional typographic forms in concert with the people who can most
profit from and recognize these forms.
In addition to redesigning the website to incorporate interactive maps, video shorts, and interviews with surviving signmakers, the project will focus on designing and producing a compendium of vernacular typography from all over the world (combining the following elements: a photographic catalogue raisonné of typographic examples; an illustrated essay detailing the methodological basis of the study, and laying out the need to preserve vernacular typography as an important feature of cultural heritage; and interviews with the typographers, academics, government officials, signmakers, store owners, graffiti artists, and fine artists involved with local signs and signmaking), as well as producing a variety of new graphic materials (from murals and signs to surfboards) that encourage the continued creation of vernacular lettering.
The goal of this project is to create an awareness
within these areas of their own unique typographic heritage, encourage the
preservation of these significant and irreplaceable cultural symbols, and to
promote them outside of their local communities.
Vernacular Typography Website
Vernacular Typography Blog
Disciplines: Architecture/Design, Multi-Disciplinary, Photography, Printmaking/Drawing/Book Arts, Social Action