Amelia’s Magazine | Typographica – this magazine was built to last


Not too far away from Amelia HQ is the current exhibition now on at the Kemistry Gallery in Shoreditch. I would introduce this event with some kind of drum roll if I could. The godfather of typography, Herbert Spencer, was the founder and editor of Typographica magazine that ran from 1949 to 1967 and is considered to be one of the most significant and visually outstanding design journals ever to be published. He far preceded his age – he was only 25 years old when he started out as a freelance typographic designer. The magazine saw 32 issues printed and with the help of his team they campaigned to transform the face of British typography. The second series (1960-67) shapes the centre of this exhibition where photography is noticeably more prevalent, used as a visual means of making a more flexible and involving way of creating the magazine.


The gallery itself is contained to one small room. Strange, as you feel a grander space would be more befitting to something so iconic and influential. One wall is dedicated to more photographic examples from the journal. They are all taken in the outside world, in the streets among us. Many of the components that make up our surroundings, in the built up areas we inhabit, can often go unnoticed. Many of us are too busy looking down instead of around and these photographs show us what we’re missing. There are beautiful examples of shop signs, ‘Corseteria’, ‘Sanchez Guaza’ and ‘Camiseria’ in “Spanish Street Lettering” by Alan Bartram (New Series no.15 June 1967). These photos show an early instance of a category of documentary that is now quite common in today’s photography and graphic design. It is only when you see them arranged together in this way that you can start to build up an idea of how much symbols play a part in our daily lives.


Other pieces are comprised of different road signs, a patchwork of various symbols, that when put together, begin to form a pattern. One is specifically built up of arrows, laid on the road, painted on the walls of buildings and pinned to tree trunks. All the photographs are black and white, which strips them down to their basic forms. I think that it is clearer to see the symbols themselves in this instance and the way in which they integrate into the world around us.


The opposing wall is dedicated to the printed letter. The pages are predominantly made up of primary colours on a background of black and white. “Piet Zwart” (New Series no.7 May 1963) by Herbert Spencer is a spread from an 8-page article. Spencer would fully engross himself when presenting the work of others in his magazine. In this article about the Dutch modernist Piet Zwart, he bleeds copies of his work off the page without any suggestion of what the dimensions or parameters may be. Spencer chose to use a wide variety of different paper stocks adjacent to each other on the spreads, offering each featured designer a unique look. It also gives a sense of urgency and makes for impressive visual impact.


The centre of the exhibition is focused on the adjoining second wall. Three issues of original Typographica magazines are displayed in a large glass case, like sacred artefacts in a museum. The Kemistry Gallery have specially created three prints from the original journals. They have chosen what they consider to be the most “iconic and arresting” images from the series, which is available to buy exclusively from the gallery. Pleasantly enough, no one came into the gallery for the two hours that I was there, having the luxury of immersing myself in the work without contending with hoards of other people. This is probably down to the fairly secluded location of the gallery and an optimum time slot of 11 o’clock in the morning. Sedate music (the dulcet tones of Yellow Submarine no less) is played in the background – an agreeable companion to a two-hour stroll around the gallery.


The exhibition is curated by Rick Poynor, prolific author of the book Typographica and founder of Eye magazine and is also part of the London Design Festival and the Icon Design Trail. This exhibition is an exceptional opportunity for any typography or graphic design aficionado to be in the presence of the legendary Typographica magazine. You might already be a die-hard Herbert Spencer fan, in which case you may be the proud owner of ‘Pioneers of Modern Typography’. I would strongly vouch for the Lund Humphries/Hastings House first edition, this wonderful book is best read in its original form. If not, this typography tome is definitely worth some of your time and pocket money.

Categories ,alan bartram, ,eye magazine, ,herbert spencer, ,icon design trail, ,Kemistry gallery, ,London Design Festival, ,lund humphries, ,piet zwart, ,pioneers of modern typography, ,rick poynor, ,typographica, ,typography

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