Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘typography’

06 APRIL, 2011

Store Front: New York’s Disappearing Face

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Last week, we watched a poignant short documentary about how one British barber is handling the slow demise of his business, driven by the changing face of the modern city. His was one of many voices that reflect the bittersweet aftertaste as “progress” as it touches, and invariably changes, commerce and community. In Store Front: The Disappearing Face of New York, photographer duo James and Karla Murray bring the same lens of retrostalgia to New York City’s morphing landscape of mom-and-pop shops. For eight years, the Murrays shot the facades of hundred of stores, more than half of which are now gone.

From the retrotastic typographic signage to the beautiful vintage color schemes, these storefronts are priceless time-capsules of an era as faded as their paint coats, haunting ghosts caught in the machine of progress.

Ideal Hoisery, Grand Street at Ludlow, Manhattan (2004)

Image courtesy of James and Karla Murray / Newsweek

Katy's Candy Store, Tompkins Avenue near Vernon Avenue, Brooklyn (2004)

Image courtesy of James and Karla Murray / Newsweek

Giovani Esposito & Sons Pork Shop, Ninth Avenue at West 39th Street, Manhattan (2004)

Image courtesy of James and Karla Murray / Newsweek

Ideal Dinettes, Knickerbocker Avenue near DeKalb Avenue, Brooklyn (2004)

Image courtesy of James and Karla Murray / Newsweek

Maries Beauty Lounge, Morris Park Avenue near Haight Avenue, The Bronx (2004)

Image courtesy of James and Karla Murray / Newsweek

We were shooting graffiti around the five boroughs and were always into the letters of graffiti, so we started to notice these signs have a lot of different interesting fonts. And we liked the stores themselves, but we’d come back and shoot the walls, because in graffiti, a lot of the walls are painted over and over, and we noticed the stores were gone.” ~ Jim Murphy

Brand's Wine & Liquors, West 145th Street near Broadway, Manhattan (2004)

Image courtesy of James and Karla Murray / Newsweek

Walters Hardware Co., Broadway near 36th Street, Queens (2006)

Image courtesy of James and Karla Murray / Newsweek

Erney's Bike Shop, East 17th Street near Third Avenue, Manhattan (2003)

Image courtesy of James and Karla Murray / Newsweek

Miller's for Prescriptions, Broad Street near Cedar Street, Staten Island (2005)

Image courtesy of James and Karla Murray / Newsweek

Nissan Seafood Wholesale, Madison Street at Catherine Street, Manhattan (2005)

Image courtesy of James and Karla Murray / Newsweek

Store Front is equal parts design candy, feat of documentary photography, and visual study in urbanism. For more on the project, Newsweek has a fantastic audio slideshow, featuring wonderful interviews with some of the store owners and the Murrays themselves.

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02 MARCH, 2011

Who Is The World’s Most Typical Person?

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In December, National Geographic released a fantastic teaser for 7 Billion, their ambitious series on overpopulation, delivering some jaw-dropping statistics in brilliantly animated kinetic typography. Today, they’re back with the second installment, which examines the same issue through a highly unusual lens: In a world of 7 billion people, who is the most “typical” person? The answer might surprise you.

The world’s most typical person is right-handed, makes less than $12,000 a year, has a cell phone but not a bank account. [...] Based on these traits, the world’s most typical person is a 28-year-old Chinese man. [...] But he won’t be typical for long. By 2030, that person will come from India, and typical is always relative.”

For an intelligent take on overpopulation, its implications for our not-at-all distant future and the opportunities that lie in it, we highly recommend David Christensen’s Two Elephants in the Room: Overpopulation and Opportunities We Overlook at Our Peril.

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28 FEBRUARY, 2011

The Almost True Story of NYC’s Subway Helvetica

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We have a soft spot for subway design and NYC urban typography. Not to mention Helvetica. So we’re all over Helvetica and the New York City Subway System: The True (Maybe) Story — an ambitious and fascinating survey of the distinctive lettering in NYC’s underground from MIT Press, telling the story of how typographic order triumphed over chaos.

The story begins with the ornate original mosaics, dating as far back as 1904, and their tangled mess of serifs, sans-serifs and various decorative elements that amounted to visual cacophony of the most overwhelming kind. So much so that in the 1960s, the city transit authority hired a design firm to overhaul the signage with more consistent typography, but the effort didn’t garner the public acclaim it had aimed for. In fact, iconic New York Times architecture critic Paul Goldberger famously wrote that the city would be better off if the signs weren’t there at all. It wasn’t until the late 1980s that Helvetica became ubiquitous, but what happened in those interim years has been the subject of much speculation and urban mythology.

Some images via MyFonts

In Helvetica and the New York City Subway System: The True (Maybe) Story, graphic designer and calligrapher Paul Shaw unravels this fascinating typographic changeover in an absorbing narrative augmented with over 250 photographs, sketches, type samples and original documents. As much a design treat as it is an exercise in understanding the fickleness of urbanism, the book is an esoteric gem of the shiniest kind.

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