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Rowland Scherman’s “Love Letters”

Typographica on March 18, 2007

Rowland Scherman's nameplate for Typographica.orgRowland-SchermanPhotographer Rowland Scherman tells the story of Typographica’s latest nameplate:

When I lived in London (1970-74), I saw an etching by Bracelli that showed angels flying around to create the Alphabet. I wondered if humans could do that; and inasmuch as my studio was right next door to the Covent Garden Dance Centre, I asked some pals there if they’d like to try. “Sure”, they said.

Giovanni Battista Bracelli: Alfabeto Figurato
Giovanni Batista Bracelli’s “Alfabeto Figurato”. Image courtesy Giornale Nuovo.

A couple of rehearsals and two days later we had it. No one got paid. It was just a high-spirited valentine for the eye, but when I realized it might be the first photographic freestanding human typeface ever (it was), I tried for a while to make a coffee table-type book out of it. New York publishers were afraid that the pubes and the Z might offend someone. This was in 1975. Japanese publishers couldn’t do it either because of the pubic hair.

Love Letters by Rowland Scherman
Love Letters by Rowland Scherman, 1975

Later I had a slide show in a gallery in Alabama in 1979 and no one so much as complained. Teachers even brought their 3rd grade students to see it.

Love Letters was also shown at the Arnol-Fini Gallery in Bristol and at the Photographer’s Gallery in London. Then the chromes sat in a closet for a decade or so. When I learned the rudiments of Photoshop, I did what would have been prohibitive in analog photography days and started making the typeface useable: spelling out greetings, making an eye chart, etc.

I really don’t know why it hasn’t had a more successful life. Yes I do: marketing. Not my strongest point.

The original chromes are 6×7″. It can be made to mammoth scale. I owe an important debt of gratitude to my (then) assistant, Chris Thomson, who designed the lighting and lots more.

Rowland Scherman
Orleans MA, December 2006

Update: Nov 17, 2008 — Big news. Love Letters is now available as a book. You can see higher resolution images of the first few photographs in the book preview below.


Update: Apr 1, 2010 — A few weeks after I published this entry, Rowland sent me a little animated GIF which reveals some of the staging process for the shoot. I neglected to post it. My error is now rectified.

See also: Scherman and Dylan : Scherman and the Peace Corps

5 Comments

  1. marina says:

    Lovely!

    I’d like to know if the author has released them in the public domain or any other kind of license that allows everyone (me!) to use them freely.

    Thanks in advance.

  2. Dr. Prakash C. Malshe says:

    Someone has used these images to make a clock.I shall send you the link if yu desire.

    Prakash Malshe

  3. Go ahead and post the link, Prakash.

  4. Puja says:

    You can get the clock at this link:

    http://billychasen.com/clock/

    and you are read more abt the numbers at

    http://srhpost.blogspot.com/2006/08/0-to-9-numbers-in-postures.html

  5. wei says:

    great article on the erotics of type by Max Bruinsma, shows an Anthropomorphic alphabet of similar vain by Peter Flötner

    http://www.maxbruinsma.nl/erotype.html

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Typographica is a review of typefaces and type books, with occasional commentary on fonts and typographic design. Edited by Stephen Coles and designed by Chris Hamamoto. Founded in 2002 by Joshua Lurie-Terrell. Relaunched in 2009 by Coles and Hamamoto.

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