Jo De Baerdemaeker ¶ type design & typography ¶ Belgium & UK (Reading)
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Typeface design & typography workshop in Kolkata | February 2009


From 14 to 21 February, Dr Fiona Ross and Jo De Baerdemaeker were invited by Professors Sukanta Chaudhuri and Swapan Chakravorty of the School of Cultural Texts and Records of Jadavpur University to run a two-day workshop on typography and typeface design in Kolkata (India). Graham Shaw, Head of Asia, Pacific and Africa Collections at the British Library, was initially intending to participate in the workshop but, regretfully, was obliged to cancel at the last minute.

The workshop coincided with the exhibition ‘Printing and book production in Bengal’ at the Rabindranath Tagore Centre which was presented by the same school in collaboration with the British Council and the Indian Council for Cultural Relations, Kolkata. The exhibition showed an overview of printing in Bengali, and displayed various original printing presses, original type material from Serampore Press, cases of Bengali type and various printed works. It also showed a range of original artwork from the Linotype Non-Latin Collection, which the Department of Typography & Graphic Communication (University of Reading) had lent to the organizers.

‘Imposing characters: a workshop on type and typography with Fiona Ross’ began with a welcome by the Dean of the School of English, Jadavpur University, and Professors Sukanta Chaudhuri and Swapan Chakravorty, followed by a two-part illustrated lecture by Fiona Ross on ‘The 21th century: a new era for type and typography in Indian languages’. In the afternoon local typographers, historians, publishers, printers and calligraphers exchanged thoughts about the current situation of Bengali fonts and typesetting on computers. The day ended with the booklaunch of Fiona’s second and enlarged edition of The printed Bengali character and its evolution, published by Sahitya Samsad.

The second day of the workshop was divided into two sessions: a morning session ‘Indian typeface design: tools and approaches’ and an afternoon session ‘Indian typeface production and applications: effects on typography’. In both sessions Fiona and Jo presented the various design issues which could be considered when designing a non-Latin font, while demonstrating the latest OpenType font technologies in various applications on a PC laptop; and discussed the findings with the audience. It was promising to notice that a younger generation of designers and calligraphers anticipates the possibilities of new typeface designs which will hopefully result in some exciting new fonts.

During this work trip Jo compiled a collection of about 440 digital photos from the colourful lettering and calligraphy in the Kolkata streets and he also shot many pictures of the omnipresent Bengali typeface that Fiona had designed together with Tim Holloway for the newspaper Ananda Bazaar Patrika in 1978 and first published in 1982. Originally conceived as a textface for newspaper print, it is difficult not to notice it in everyday life, as it is now often used on 200m2 Billboard posters, on T-shirts and car stickers and various other designs. In this way, it is no exaggeration at all to refer to Linotype Bengali (or the ABP Bengali typeface, as it is locally known) as the Helvetica of Bengal in terms of its ubiquity.

Before heading back to the UK, the last day was filled with rendezvous at the British Council and Ananda Bazar Patrika, together with a unique visit to Serampore College and the museum, library and archives of the Serampore Mission Press situated beside the Hoogly river. On this location William Carey, Joshua Marshmann and William Ward had set the typographic standard for many Indian scripts during the years 1800 to 1838. Browsing through the authentic Pali, Bengali and Sanskrit manuscripts and wandering around the premises of the early days of printing in India proved to be a special experience to conclude a successful week in Kolkata
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© Jo De Baerdemaeker 2009

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