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Jessica Helfand
Essays | Biography | Articles & Essays | Books | Contact

Archive: March 2004


Annals of Typographic Oddity No. 2: Spaceship Gothic

Apollo brochure

An upcoming auction of space memorabilia at Swann Galleries features a number of unusual specimens of paper ephemera which have miraculously survived the last half-century of American (and Soviet) space exploration. Who designed them? Among them are two brochure covers—from 1969 and 1972 respectively—documenting the journeys of Apollo 11 and 16. It's not the miniature American flags that are unusual: after all, the image of Neil Armstrong skewering a lunar crater with an American-made flagpole has become one of the more permanent images with which so many of us remember these comparatively early days of astro-pioneering. But what of the ornate Victorian typesetting? Perhaps the anonymous designer(s) of these booklets believed that NASA's ambitions in space were simply an extension of the Westward expansion that had typified gold rush America...

READ MORE | COMMENTS (8)

Blanket Statements


Psalm 23 Quilt, Lena Moore

An exhibit currently on view in New York at the American Folk Art Museum explores the visual texture of language through a selection of approximately twenty quilts made by women over the last 150 years. Here, words become fabric and fabric becomes narrative through textiles that command our attention through poetry and personality. Syntax is as varied as form, style, structure and perhaps most of all, content. Throughout, the typography is giddy: primitive and playful, untethered by copyfitting or editorial logic...

READ MORE | COMMENTS (4)

The DNA of AND: Ampersand as Myth and Metaphor



From corporate rhetoric to consumer cliché to faux finishes and desktop veneer, truth has gone from being a steadfast principle to a silly posture. Once the stuff of morals and fables, its presence in everyday life has become an imperiled commodity. We're left with a culture teeming with contradiction: Reality TV. Fuzzy Math...

READ MORE | COMMENTS (10)

Annals of Typographic Oddity: Mourning Becomes Helvetica



It isn't often that The New York Times runs a 6-column headline on the front page. This kind of editorial real estate is typically reserved for something cataclysmic — a coup d'etat, for instance — and looks goofy and disproportionate sitting next to banal features like, say, the metropolitan weather forecast. (Especially this week, when early results from the "Super-Tuesday" primaries here in the US offered anonymous speculation that John Edwards would drop out of the race. Indeed! Neither coup nor etat.) Big, black, bold and italicized in ALL CAPS, this belt-and-suspenders approach to typography is perhaps all the more striking because it looks so lame...

READ MORE | COMMENTS (14)

Regarding the Photography of Others



In an interview published in yesterday's Guardian, David Hockney makes a case for the implausibility of photographic truth: asserting that photography is as fictional as painting, his argument is an odd sort of inversion of Susan Sontag's more complex (and arguably, more compelling) observations about the visual depiction of war, cruelty and disaster. Hockney raises serious questions about photography as evidence, no longer the barometer of truth it once was. Sontag's analysis operates from a decidedly more humanitarian premise: here, the photographic lens is a palpable reminder of the basic obligations of conscience. "'We' should be taken for granted." writes Sontag, "when the subject is looking at other people's pain." Yet in spite of their polarized perspectives, both Hockney and Sontag cite Goya...

READ MORE | COMMENTS (12)
Jessica Helfand, a founding editor of Design Observer, is an award-winning graphic designer and writer and a former contributing editor and columnist for Print, Communications Arts and Eye magazines. A member of the Alliance Graphique Internationale and a recent laureate of the Art Director's Hall of Fame, Helfand received her B.A. and her M.F.A. from Yale University where she has taught since 1994.


Recent Book



Scrapbooks: An American History
Jessica Helfand
Yale University Press, 2008
More Books >>


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