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The typographic Times
Alejandro Lo Celso


[July 2003]
“My work as a type designer, as well as the work of many others in the region, is the work of somebody who believes in this idea of cultural diversity and subversive identities, as the necessary means where interaction between designer and his culture take place.”
Alejandro Lo Celso

Pampa Type

Who is the man behind PampaType ?

I trained as a graphic designer in Córdoba, Argentina, where I was born. Then worked for some years in newspapers and magazines at Buenos Aires but finally decided to get deeper in the universe of text typography, which I have always loved. So I moved to Europe and completed two postgraduate courses, one at Reading University (UK) and the other at the ANRT (Nancy, France). I currently live in Puebla, Mexico, where I happily teach typography and information design at the Universidad de las Américas Puebla.

PampaType was created, when I was still in England, with the ideal of bringing to life new typefaces which at the same time could cope with the particularities of European languages but that could also express some fresh, Latin spirit. My obsessions with literature also represent an important part of this, since I see in the thoughts and feeling of my region’s writers (Julio Cortázar, Jorge Luis Borges, Macedonio Fernández, Roberto Arlt...) excellent prime material to work on the shapes of letters.

My career as a graphic designer hasn’t satisfied all my expectations. I love reading and I love books, so actually typography happened to be a sort of personal niche, where I find much more pleasure than in commercial graphic design. Teaching is also an interesting activity, it makes you interact with people and knowledge in very dynamic ways. I’m pretty happy with all this.

You seem to be a specialist of “reviving” old typeface. Why this interest ?

I don’t think I’m a specialist in reviving old styles. There are people like Robert Slimbach or Matthew Carter who are highly authorized on this field! I do think revivalism is a major factor in the evolution of type design.

While in Reading I was caught by the phrase: "Let there be no mistake, the future is with the old face", coined by Stanley Morison in 1923. I did write one essay on this subject (which you might download from the site), trying to figure out why the issue of revivalism is so controversial among type designers. Some consider it a natural effort through the history of typography, while for some others it is a step behind plagiarism!

The letter shapes haven’t changed much since the creation of the Latin alphabet, and every type designer’s approach may well be seen as a personal interpretation, and thus at some extent as a personal revivalism of the Latin alphabet. But I believe subtleness becomes as important in type design as the structure of letters itself. So it would be out of place to deny the efforts of so many type designers along history who have passionately tried to give the alphabet fresh, original, new interpretations to read with. Wouldn’t Aristotle say our alphabet, formed through centuries in calligraphers’ hands as in readers’ eyes, is the matter, and type designers give it a shape?

On the other hand, it’s true that when I draw Quimera I was inspired in Roger Excoffon’s fantastic type Antique Olive. But it was a sort of ludic homage to him. I do think his types aren’t taken much seriously by the type community in general, though people use them a lot all over the world! It’s a strange case, isn’t it? I wish Gerard Unger would write a book on Excoffon’s work one day! We all need that, Gerard.

Is it why you decide to do your post-diploma in France ?

The ANRT, dependant of the Ministry of Culture, had a good reputation in my country, and it represented a worth opportunity for me to stay in Europe for a while, after finishing my MA course at Reading. I successfully passed an interview in the Musée D’Orsay and they considered it worth to give me the chance to keep working in my "Rayuela" project. It was a perfect combination of resources and peace, a nice environment at an Art School in Nancy (capital of Lorena), also shared with teachers (mostly Swiss) who regularly visit the atelier to give advice. Among them there are Philippe Millot and Hans-Jürg Hunziker, to whose contributions I’m deeply grateful.

If you compare the typography teaching in South America, the UK & France, what differences (if they exist) will you see ?

That’s a difficult question. It would be very pretentious to say that my singular experiences were representative of countries or continents! don’t you think? My experience in the University of Buenos Aires (I’m sure not representative at all of "South America’s typography teaching") was that of a very sociable way of learning. Sharing four or five hours every Friday evening with some 300 students can give you a perspective of what I’m trying to say. The experience at Reading (UK) was rather an individual process, where you got to interacting with appropriate literature, writing essays on specific subjects, following courses, complying with deadlines, always focused on your single path. The ANRT was again a little bit more social kind of approach, since you share the space and experience with other four students (to whom I am also in debt). It was a more relaxed time, without deadlines nor pressures. So if you knew what exactly you would like to do that is the best place. Self motivation and self management has been always important, in all theses different places, but the people around you can make it completely different. I believe much in the social part of learning.

You are Argentinean and work now in Mexico. Can you tell us more about the South American typographic landscape.

First things first: Mexico is in North America. Central America starts in Guatemala and ends up in Panama, where South America begins. This is a common misconception in Europe, perhaps favoured by the idea that Latin American countries belong to the same culture, because they speak the same language, which is not as easy to conclude. The ways we speak Spanish, from Ushuaia to Tijuana, aren’t quite the same in such a big continent, and it is profoundly linked to the voices of each region, before Spanish conquest took place. Having said that, I have to accept that living in Mexico makes it more familiar to my country’s culture than living in other parts of the world. Many things are common in our way of thinking, we are all extroverted and very sociable for instance, but there are many differences indeed: weathers, clothes, food, paysage, accents, smells, music, religion, colors, jokes, traffic, sports, things that show in day by day life.

In regard of a regional typographic landscape, we are working hard with a group of Mexican colleagues to give birth to a volume intended to compile all type design experiences across Latin American countries. It won’t be available soon, I’m afraid, there’s a huge work to be done, but I suspect we are in the right tracks. The idea is to provide the design and type community with an important reference in all fields related to typography and also to linguistic matters. We hope that book will give you a better idea of the work that is being done over here, as well as to reflect some of the cultural diversity that all these different countries enjoy.

Can this culture be too a source of inspiration ? (Amerindian Glyphs, colonial typography)

Yes, I think these kind of sources have been taken widely by Latin American designers in the last years. Good sites -like the Argentinean, the Brazilian or the Chilean - show how it’s been developed an inspiring commitment with vernacular typography, street posters and popular culture. With local inflexions this phenomenon is happening also in Mexico and in other Latin American countries. Graphic designers are enthusiasts about looking to our own graphic culture rather than importing ready-made formulas, as it’s been the case during the 80s, when graphic design got impulse around here. However I expect this actual enthusiasm will create new experiences in the future, maybe from a more critical point of view; otherwise it rests as a sort of fetishism which, at the end of the day, doesn’t make things better.

I believe graphic & typographic design can reflects culture in a very intensive and rich way. So our roots and character are well expressed through graphic design as in music or food, even if we’re not concern with that. But I think the world misses these "peripheral" views, and so the "Latino" is often taken as a superficial cliché, where color, dancing and spicy food usually play an important role. I hope people would see deeper than that. And that graphic designers around here would also be able to explore and express that depth.

My work as a type designer, as well as the work of many others in the region, is the work of somebody who believes in this idea of cultural diversity and subversive identities, as the necessary means where interaction between designer and his culture take place. Culture influences designer as a local creator, but this creator has a clear responsibility in regard of his culture, by reflecting it, putting into crisis, discussing it, promoting it, changing it, proposing something new.

I’ll keep working in this path because I think we are all in a moment of change and exchange in that sense. And I usually encourage my students in that direction too. Certainly hope many other designers are doing the same.

Related articles: Borges &, Quimera, & Rayuela typeface portraits (July 2003).

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