I could try to be profound and raise questions about editing historic photos, whether this makes them less valid as historical documents, etc. However, some of my classmates have spoken much more intelligently on the matter than I think I could just now, so instead I’ll refer you to Lindsay and Sheri’s posts, as well as David and Geoff, who contextualize image editing from a public history/museum standpoint.
My concern after this week’s videos and book about photoshop is, I’m afraid, far more pedestrian. I have long been aware that good editing can improve a photograph. My father, an avid digital and former semi-professional photograph calls this “developing” his pictures, or working in his “darkroom” (aka his iMac’s software). My friend Kelsey has put up photos on flickr which show the variations which can be produced through good editing.
I suspect that there is not a lynda.com video or book out there which can help me figure these things out. Rather, as Claire notes, it takes time and a lot of mucking about until things start to make sense.
This week’s assignment was to create a webpage which demonstrated a basic grasp of wordprocessing, css, and webfonts. I knew that which fonts I chose would depend on the text I used, so that was where I started.
I thought about using an essay from my MSc programme, but it’s a bit long and I didn’t want to deal with reformatting all the footnotes to get them out of .doc encoding. Besides, I knew I wouldn’t have time to hunt down unrestricted images to use with it. My thoughts then turned to public domain texts, and immediately went to Sherlock Holmes. (( One of my New Years Resolutions is to re-read all of the Holmes stories in publication order. )) I also thought about using one of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu’s letters, or a bit of Margaret Bayard Smith’s memoirs, but I’m not as familiar with them and it would have been harder to find a section which would provide a block quotation and good pull quote.
I thus chose to use A Scandal in Bohemia as my text. I’m familiar with it, it begins with a note from the Prince which I could use as a blockquote and includes in the beginning a classic Holmes line “You see, but you do not observe” which works very well as a pull quote. What follows are my thoughts on the design of the page, A Scandal In Bohemian Webfonts.
One of the comments we sometimes hear about living in the “digital age” is that texts are in a state of constant revision. For better or for worse, website content can change from one day to the next, and unless there is some sort of tracking in place (as on Wikipedia), the user won’t know what changed.
Yet this isn’t exactly a new phenomenon. Print books change in content, from one revised edition to the next. Sometimes the changes are clear, in the form of an added chapter, or documented in the new foreword by the author. Sometimes they are more elusive, woven into the original text like the near-invisible darn which restores a sweater.
C. Vann Woodward’s The Stange Career of Jim Crow (Commemorative edition) falls into the latter category. The content originated as three consecutive lectures given at the University of Virginia in 1954, edited by the author with some help from colleagues and published in 1955. For the paperback edition of 1957, the content was revised and a foreword added. Ten years later the book was again revised, not only with additional material in chapter form but worked back into the original text. A final revision, with yet another chapter, took place in 1973. The extent to which the main text was again revised is unclear.
It would, of course, be possible to hunt down all four editions and compare the content. With the help of a good scanner and quality OCR, it might not even take that long. Website revisions can be retrieved through caches, if one is lucky. The iterations of historical writing are (sometimes) discoverable.
I’m beginning to think this must be what immersion classes are like for beginners in a new language. Or perhaps what is is like to arrive in a new country having learned only a few phrases out of a dusty guidebook. We’ve been dropped into the land of design and code with a few resources and hope we land on our feet.
I feel I should point out a few things about this semi-linguistic journey. First, design and code are languages which get you to the same place, but not in the same way. I think we’re on the border of France and Belgium (and no waffles in sight!), or maybe traveling through Central America. In order to get by, we have to figure out both languages more or less simultaneously. Prior knowledge helps, but only so far. I’ve known a smattering of HTML since the mid-1990s, but CSS is completely new as are the professional rules of design.
It’s fun, but I’ll admit to some concern. Will the availability of all these fonts mean that people who stick with Verdana (named with a hint of rancor in this week’s training videos), Trebuchet, and Georgia are seen as somehow falling down on the job? Certainly, Gillenwater makes a good case for not using webfonts for body copy, for reasons of accessibility and readability. There is something to be said for using a clean, universally hosted, accessible font for body copy, and keeping the funky fonts in the headers.
Speaking of funky fonts, I think I’m due to lose another half hour (or more) browsing webfonts. After all, visiting the marketplace is a great way to learn about a new country, right?
Over the past few months I’ve had a quote, more of an idea really, rattling around in my head. The artist James C. Christensen wrote about how he thinks about creativity and new ideas using the metaphor of a library’s card catalog.
I never knew card catalogs, so in time the cards in the metaphor have gone from being library catalogs to the index cards I was taught to use to organize quotes and ideas when writing research papers. What follows is the first and last parts of the section where Christensen uses the metaphor (the whole discussion spreads out over two pages).
“The way I see creativity and imagination is something like a library’s card catalog, except that the cards are made up of concepts, ideas, visions, pictures, all the faces of one’s personal life experiences …. The exercise comes about when one practices combining the cards and putting them together in new ways. All the Edisons, Einsteins, and da Vincis of the world were building upon stored information (cards they already had in their files), but they combined the cards in new ways. Their astonishing inspirations came about because they took what was known and saw it in a new light.” – James C. Christensen. A Journey of the Imagination: the art of James C. Christensen. With Renwick St. James. (Shelton, Connecticut: The Greenwich Workshop, 1994), 40-41.
Christensen means his metaphor to apply across fields, using the names of an inventor, a physicist, and an inventor-artist to describe the sorts of people who combine and rearrange their cards.
When I think about this metaphor in terms of the study and practice of history, the cards are facts or sources. Some of us rearrange the cards in new ways, to look at history from a previously unexplored perspective. Sometimes people try introducing new cards (race, gender, furniture, clothing, editorial cartoons) to change the way history is seen.
And sometimes we use the cards in completely new and different ways. We lay them out in a grid instead of in a stack, or build castles and houses, or make a long snake of cards overlapping. Digital history isn’t necessarily something completely new and different. We still have the old cards, but we’ve added new ones to the stack and we’re shuffling them in ways no one thought possible thirty, forty years ago. With so many people rearranging their cards, who knows what “astounding inspirations” will be brought to light.
My final semester as an undergrad, I took a course on the history of the book, co-taught by the head of special collections and a professor in the English department. We started with early writings on clay tablets (and yes, I got to hold a little piece of ancient writing!) and carried forward all the way to a proof of a book by a poet who taught the occasional class at our college.
I bring this up because the historic fonts, and their creators, who show up in the first part of Ellen Lupton’s Thinking with Type are, in a way, old friends. Caslon and Didot, and of course Gutenberg and William Morris. I was aware that fonts changed over time, but not the theories behind them (humanist vs. modern, etc). That they were governed by aesthetic theory makes sense, and often seems to have been driven by the same impulses which drove interior design. It would be a fun exercise (for a real font designer) to create fonts based on some of the great interior designers. A Latrobe font!
The caveat in the last paragraph is due to the fact that I’ve discovered just how much work goes into creating a font or font family. If you want an idea of the thinking, criticism, and effort of a font, just watch Helvetica (2007). You’ll never see street signs the same way again. After this week of reading and learning about fonts, I’ve been analyzing every shop sign I see.