For many like me, born in later times, typography and type design has largely been of a two-dimensional nature. The books we read are printed with offset lithography, our documents are printed by toner-based laserjet printers, and the articles we read online are displayed through condensed little points of light.
The process of how these letters are made, formed by hand, has largely been lost on my generation, and that is why P22’s Making Faces: Metal Type in the 21st Century is such a valuable documentary. The art of letter-crafting is carefully captured by Richard Kegler as he follows the late Jim Rimmer (1934–2010) through his process of design, transfer, and cutting of a new typeface, Stern, which has been released in metal and digital form simultaneously.
The process of pantographic typemaking is fascinating to watch, as Rimmer’s hands craft the letters, digitise them, cut them into blanks, and eventually shape the metal punches that will produce the letters on paper. The trained movements of his hands produce the shapes and intermediate objects involved in pantographic typemaking in very tangible form; one sees at a glance how the process of his arm movement creates the letter “k”, cuts its sillhouette out, transfers it to a metal blank pantographically, and cuts its three-dimensional profile into brass. For us, whose physical intuition of type largely amounts to Press the “k” key, and the letter “k” appears on screen, Kegler’s documentative piece is a solid reminder that type is shaped by human hands, and not merely digital forms given shape by digital processes.
The commemorative print of Stern, shown near the end of the film, is breathtaking:
The dark imprint Rimmer’s effort leaves on paper is the final result, but the processes that produce it are the source of its richness.