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After publishing between 1991 and 1995 the acclaimed QWERTY series of booklets on Australian type design, Stephen Banham of Letterbox studio in Melbourne created this witty and sometimes critical look at many of the roles played by letterforms in the total visual environment. Ampersand successfully combines perceptive essays & exemplary photographs in a spontaneous, somewhat retro design style--not too dissimilar from that of Martin Venezky*--that imbues the book with whimsy and liveliness.
Although based solely on examples found in Australia, Banham's observations have widespread relevance and may even harbor some enduring truths. In the essay, From Cradle to Grave: The Life and Times of Mr. Typeface, Banham considers the transformation of visual elements like signage that occurs in the wake of the factory shut-downs and small business closures that characterize the black days of economic depression. Façades then bear telltale scars--faded, peeling paint or globs of adhesive left behind where letterforms have been removedthat create unintentional dialogs with passers-by. Messages, though clearly not the original ones, are nonetheless conveyed. Banham also discusses other instances in which letterforms and messages are changed, challenged, or borrowed as a result of their exposure to and interaction with the public and the environment. It's summed up well in the statement:
"Corporate identity is a participant in our visual environment and must accept the unpredictable consequences of public response."It can be argued that this applies not only to corporate identity but to all other forms of exposed art; and that it is not just public response but also unforeseen acts of God and the passage of time that can alter the importance of their roles or their meaning altogether.
Another essay, This Type is Bigger than the Both of Us explores how type ceases to be a letterform or a word and becomes a structure when it exceeds familiar proportions. Intriguing case studies such as the Readymix logo in Western Australia's Nullabor Plain are discussed. More than two miles in length, the logo was dug into the earth, filled with cement, and painted white. A remarkable satellite photo
accompanying this amusing (amazing?) story almost makes Banham's point for him.
All in all, Ampersand is a cohesive presentation of adept writing with a fresh perspective, and skilled use of photography & typography, all dressed in casually narrative design. The book is enclosed in a transparent polypropylene case and is available in two versions, one with a disk containing the font, Gingham; the other (Ampersand Lite) with a voucher card/order form good for a discount on the same font.
The QWERTY series
*Martin Venezky is the Art Director of Speak Magazine