Birmingham Graphic DNA: Digbeth Found Fonts

Still Walking isn’t afraid to visit the grittier side of town if there’s something interesting to be found there. Gez Marshall has been combing the back streets of Digbeth for the last few months in search of indigenous lettering – that is, signs created by the company itself, almost always by someone untrained in the graphic arts. Her interest ranges from the metal letters cut and shaped by the factory itself to signs painted on walls which are closer to graffiti than corporate branding. In between lie some visually arresting example of graphic naivety which are spectacular by NOT knowing the rules they are breaking. The letters tell the story of how we think about alphabets, accidentally create our own fonts and are a glimpse into how people think.

They also tell the story of Birmingham. Gez has unearthed examples stretching back a century or more and they chart the changes in local industry and the character of the area. It’s the local angle that she’s going for: she wants to find out if Birmingham lettering when taken as a whole, can show Birmingham has a local typographical “accent” (the DNA of the tour’s title). Her work reminds me of a naturalist returning with specimens in jars and carefully noting the differences in size, colour, origin and material. It’s also a living habitat: a fan of lost type and “ghost signs” myself, I feel the loss when something I’ve come to enjoy seeing on a regular walk disappears. The research is all part of Gez’s PhD project. and she also has a blog.

You can do some font field work yourself on her tour for Still Walking here.


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