WITHOUT WORDS: PHOTOGRAPHS BY HERBERT SPENCER
Herbert Spencer: WITHOUT WORDS: PHOTOGRAPHS BY HERBERT SPENCER. London: Victoria and Albert Museum/BAS Printers, 1999. Limited edition of 250 copies. A fine hardcover book in full cloth, stamped boards, issued without dustjacket and produced hors de commerce on the occasion of Spencers 75th birthday celebration at the Victoria and Albert Museum.
9.25 x 10.25 hardcover book with 32 b/w photographic plates by Herbert Spencer.
Preface by Mark Haworth-Booth and Introduction by Rick Poynor.
Herbert Spencer (1924 - 2002) will always be remembered for his influence in British typography, communication design, as the author of DESIGN FOR BUSINESS PRINTING (1952), THE VISIBLE WORLD (1968), and PIONEERS OF MODERN TYPOGRAPHY (1969), and for his editorial stewardship of TYPOGRAPHICA magazine (1949 - 1967). And as WITHOUT WORDS shows, he was also an accomplished photographer.
Urbane, prolific and unfailingly modest, Spencer was a reformer dedicated to improving standards of design in a field dominated by the printing industry's outdated conventions. But he was also an aesthete with a connoisseur's eye for the wild modernist innovations with letterforms and layout of the 1920s. Spencer launched the seminal publication, Typographica, in 1949, when he was 25, and edited, designed and sometimes wrote for it for 18 years. Equally at home publishing one of the first articles in Britain about concrete poetry (then an international phenomenon), or an illustrated study of the design challenges presented by Braille, he was a new kind of designer-editor, able to think both visually and verbally, and to fuse images and words in meaningful new relationships.
From EYE magazine, Ken Garland ( a former student of Spencer's at the Central School of Arts and Crafts in the early 1950s) recalls " ... at the age of 28, [Spencer] had moved from a two-year spell with London Typographic Designers to his own successful freelance practice; had travelled extensively in Europe, meeting many artists, designers and architects, among them Rudolf Hostettler, editor of Schweizer Graphische Mitteilungen, the typographer Max Caflisch and the sculptor / painter / graphic designer Max Bill; had launched Typographica, with the blessing and financial backing of Peter Gregory, chairman of Lund Humphries, the publishers and printers with whom he was to maintain a long and fruitful collaboration; and had recently had a book, Design in Business Printing, published by Sylvan Press. To the intense irritation of the traditionalist printing industry in Britain and the great joy of the younger generation of graphic designers, he was the uncompromising champion of asymmetric typography, of which his periodical and book were admirable examples. It is difficult, 50 years later, to estimate the effect of his views on such senior figures in British typographic design as Stanley Morison, who had declared in 1936 that the design of books 'required an obedience to convention which is almost absolute', and had not seen fit to amend that view in the intervening years. But there can be no doubt that Herbert Spencer led the campaign -- it could almost be called a battle -- to assert for English-speaking readers the principles and practices of the New Typography that had emerged in Germany in the late 1920s and were now firmly entrenched in postwar Europe, especially in Switzerland and the Netherlands.
"The paradox did not end there. At the same time as Spencer was championing, especially in his book, a new orthodoxy, he was pursuing a personal interest in Dada, Futurism and Surrealism, in concrete poetry, and in photographs of the odd, inconsequential and random imagery to be found in the street. In the pages of Typographica, especially the second series (1960-67), his own and others' photography of such subjects appears alongside more sober assessments of typographic work -- a true reflection of the contrast in his own work. Though his own photographic excursions had to be curtailed by pressure of work in his graphic design studio, new responsibilities in publishing (he took on the editorship of Lund Humphries' Penrose Annual from 1964) and the assumption of a senior research fellowship at the Royal College of Art in 1966, that interest surfaced again in one of his last works, Without Words (1999), a privately distributed portfolio of 32 photographs printed on the occasion of his 75th birthday..."
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