I don’t buy a lot of books. Perhaps that makes me a bad book reviewer, but there it is. I live in a minimalist house, with little storage, and I do get to look at more books than just about anyone. (I just have to give them back.)
So when I found myself at the New York Art Book Fair at MoMAPS1 last month, I definitely didn’t expect to buy anything, even though the fair was more a packed marketplace than an engaging exhibition space. It’s hard to say how much money changed hands, because I was too busy trying to figure out how to navigate the crowds. (Of obnoxious hipsters. Is anything more uncomfortable than watching a bunch of artsy types lined up ten deep outside a schoolhouse bathroom? Talk about a stink vibe. Sorry. Couldn’t resist.)
I’ve been called a hipster before, and it will likely happen again. Having lived in San Francisco’s Mission District, and Greenpoint, Brooklyn, I suppose the moniker was inevitable. But I’m the last guy to walk around with an ironic mustache and a sour look on my face, so there are limits.
Needless to say, I was pleasantly surprised to find myself obsessing about a super-cool black hard-cover book I found on a simply adorned table. It sat there, alone, topped with a yellow post-it note that read: last copy, $10. $10? Are you kidding me?
Whether it was the ridiculous price that made me reach for the book, or the fact that the air surrounding this particular booth didn’t reek of insecurity, I cannot properly say. But reach I did, and I soon fell in love. What was it, you ask? A typography book put out by a Swiss art school. (ECAL/ University of Art & Design Lausanne, Switzerland.)
Does anything sound less sexy than a book about typography made by a country famous for watches and banking? I doubt it. (But it might be a fun game to try. What could be less sexy? How about a sweater knit from wet dog hair? Or a six-day-old hamburger?)
Right. The book. It does contain interspersed photographic images, which often come from magazine covers or exhibition posters. But the photos are there as supporting examples of high-end typography. Page after page of just the alphabet, rendered differently. It might take an expert to suss out the expectations of intended impact, but any layperson can see that when shown together, the effect is a bit hypnotic.
Must. Have. This. Book.
That’s what I thought. Unfortunately, I was faced with a day of running around NYC, and the kind-of-large object would not fit into my green, Brooklyn Industries manbag. (Yes, I bought it in Williamsburg. Make of that what you will.)
What was I to do? Believe it or not, our friends at photo-eye had a booth in the fair, and they kindly agreed to ship it back to New Mexico for me. (Thanks, Mel and Vicky.) Therefore, I’m writing this review of a book only nominally pertaining to photography, and we’ll see what you think.
I’m not entirely sure why I love this book so much, but the ineffable beauty is part of what I enjoy. If you find that typography can be fascinating, what else is there to learn from this big, spinning planet?
We really do take this facet of communication for granted. As photographers, we always think about the quality of the pictures. As writers, we worry about the words we conjure, whether they’ll be good enough to get the job done. (Or whether they’ll be edited outside of our control.) But how often do we consider the structure of the letters themselves?
It’s obviously a lesson we can apply to the wider world. If typography is more interesting than previously thought, what else is out there? Bird watching? Particle physics? Soduku?
Bottom Line: Super-cool book about an esoteric subject