Tag Archives: font

The Photographer’s Handbook 1

"The Photographer's Handbook 1"I’ve recently been rephotographing some of my older work, especially pieces that were made abroad or during times of transition when I didn’t have time (or couldn’t be bothered) to do proper documentation. This book was among the first to get reshot, partly because it remains among my favorite projects from the 1990s. I started it in 1993, while I was living in Germany and finished it in New York a couple of years later. I made it as I was experimenting with early desktop publishing software and a black-and-white laser printer, but its creation also involved a good many of the hand construction techniques typical of a traditional artist’s book. It is, as the historians say, ‘of its time’.

The Photographer’s Handbook 1 consists of alternating pages of tipped-in images on heavy paper stock and vellum pages with text printed in a handwriting font. The book is designed such that when a vellum page is open to the right, it displays the caption for the image on the left, and when it is turned to the left, it displays the caption for the image on the right. (Whichever caption is inactive is still visible on the other side of the translucent vellum page but turned backwards and positioned on top of its corresponding image to make it even less noticeable.)"The Photographer's Handbook 1"

The book has 8 pages of images and 5 pages of captions, and it was bound for me in black cloth with silver detailing by the wonderful bookbinder and Rumi translator Zahra Partovi. Its construction happened in a slightly back-to-front manner. I first printed all the vellum text pages and then cut them to the size of the final untrimmed book, along with the blank pages of heavy stock. Zahre bound all the pages and trimmed them to make the semi-finished book, after which I glued in the images individually.

The Photographer's Handbook 1The image plates in The Photographer’s Handbook 1 began life as photographs in old German lifestyle magazines (ca. 1960) that I picked up in a flea market. In each image, I isolated one or more details that were otherwise buried—an informal approach to the punctum, perhaps—and overprinted the rest of the image with one of the default ‘fill’ patterns found in early DTP programs. Lattices, bricks, moirés, and the like, these patterns are all but unusable for most purposes—like faux wood-grain paneling or polka-dotted textiles, they overwhelm everything around them. I was attracted to them for that very reason, and also because they provided a quality of semi-transparency that was otherwise difficult to achieve at that point because of technological issues (principally banding and smearing of ink). I ran a lot of different paper stocks through my laser printer in that period, and the thin, coated magazine stock of these images took laser ink better than most.

The text is a series of aphorisms modeled on the quasi-mathematical advice that fills photographers’ handbooks and which I have never found all that useful—it always turns out that there is some kind of unbridgeable gap between what the manuals say and what conditions in the fields actually are. So I decided to offer an entirely different approach to photographic instruction, with such mantras as:

The importance of any object enlarges in proportion to the remoteness of the eye.

The distance from any plane to any point not on the plane is equal to the distance between your thumb and forefinger.

Parallel lines disparage each other.

This last one arose from the difficulty of getting lines to be truly parallel in the final photograph without hours of measuring and adjusting."The Photographer's Handbook 1"

The font used in the book is named Forger and it’s one I designed using my own handwriting as the starting point. Typefaces in general retain a lot of vestigial traits that arose with the technologies of handwriting and inscription (e.g. serifs), and I wanted to elaborate on this skeuomorphic tradition by rendering my analog handwriting into the mathematical vectors of a digital font. It was also a way of critiquing the artificial division between the hand-made and the computer-made. Creating the Type 1 PostScript font of Forger took several hundred hours of intensive drawing and tweaking, many times what it would have taken to write out the words on the pages ‘by hand’. I produced Forger using the program Fontographer, which I still think is one of the best-designed programs I’ve ever used. (By ‘best designed’ I mean mainly that it had all essential functions, no bloat, and an easy-to-use interface.)

The Photographer’s Handbook 1 has a twin, The Photographer’s Handbook 2, with the same form and text but a different set of images on the tipped-in plates. I don’t want to part with either one, but I did want to share at least one of them here.





Posted in 2011, books | Also tagged , , , , |

TriHexals (prints)

All of the above are open-edition digital prints on satin-finish fine art paper, signed by the artist. Each comes with a bonus free printout of the full TriHexal alphabet, as shown in the black-and-white drawing below .

These works all spring from a geometric alphabet I created in which each letter has the base form of a triangle.  I designed it specifically so that it would be possible to create abstract forms from words typed using this alphabet. Triangles can readily be aggregated into hexagons (hence the name of the font, TriHexals), as well as parallelograms and a world of irregular shapes. The result is that these three pieces are both images and also short poems that I wrote. First poem:


TriHexal alphabet

TriHexal alphabet

For TODAY and SOUND, the overall hexagonal structure forces the poem to have a specific number of letters in each line; the pattern here is 5/7/7/5. (I used the same pattern for LIGHT but it isn’t as visible in the final work.) As with haiku, the constraint of the form poses a creative challenge, in this case one that is both verbal and visual.

For the geometric compositions to work properly, each letter has two forms, an upward-pointing triangle and a downward-pointing triangle. In effect, there are two ‘cases’ but the choice of which to use depends on visual (alternating placement) rather than semantic (capitalization) rules. Second poem:

reply to
this air

The font’s kerning is set so that there is no extra space between letters; thus the typed letters perfectly align with one another to create seamless geometric grids. With software that allows user control over the kerning, however, other kinds of results emerge. For example, the overlapping triangles of LIGHT are the result of negative kerning. Third poem:


TriHexal original sketch, ca. 1990

TriHexal original sketch, ca. 1990

I built the font in Fontographer and output it as a Type 1 PostScript font so that I could compose directly from the keyboard. As I was working on it, I thought of a number of further possibilities that I haven’t had time to explore. For example, color could be used to add a further level of meaning or information: to indicate emphasis, for example. A version could be created as a stand-alone application for coding and decoding ‘secret’ messages.

And the very first version I created as a sketch in about 1990 used color coding to determine the letter itself. As shown at right, only 5 colors—deployed in combinations of 3, for example: yellow/red/red—were needed for 26 English letters and 4 punctuation marks. I could have done it with even fewer colors, but there would have been more very similar letters that would have been harder to distinguish from one another.

Posted in 2010, prints | Also tagged , , , , , , |