Gabriel Benderski is a Uruguayan type designer, typographer and type collector. Three years ago he started regular visits to the Uruguayan National Library to photograph printed matter with the aim of discovering how the different aspects of the nation’s cultural past were communicated. He wanted to understand what he calls “the behavior of design as a communication channel.” As a result he compiled a rich web resource of Uruguay’s typographic ephemera and also created a rich Instagram presence. I asked him to tell us about the printed artifacts he has unearthed from the late 19th and early 20th centuries and where this has led.
When did you start assembling these wonderful typographic notices? And how did you even know they existed?
On a lovely winter day in 2017, I was walking through the center of the city of Montevideo until I wondered what flyer design was like in the past. This question arises from not knowing and not having a clear example of how this area of Uruguayan graphic design behaved. I went to our National Library since I was just a few blocks away. …
Upon entering, I went to the special materials area to request ephemeral prints from the 19th and 20th centuries. The library official who received my inquiry asked me, “On what topic?” My answer left her stunned: “All of them.”
After seeing her scared face, I began to explain that my interest lies in discovering the page composition of the past. She didn’t fully understand my intention until we found the next paper. This flyer managed to let the librarian know that I’m not mad and that what I’m looking for is relevant.
An inverted ‘V’ can be an ‘A’ and a ‘6’ can be a ‘O’.
What does the collection at the National Library consist of?
The legal deposit law of Uruguay (Law 13.835, Article 191) obliges printers to hang four copies of their prints—one copy to be archived, another for consultation at the National Library, as well as copies for the Library of the Legislative Palace and the University of the Republic.
The law indicates some exceptions such as flyers and posters. Then, it happens that the type of material I’m interested in is found in the library exclusively thanks to donations.
Is there a demand for this archival material in your country?
Not as I [would] love to see it. It’s uncommon for people to look at an old flyer for inspiration. I guess that only someone that is curious about type would do so. This is a perfect reason to dig and find out what is there. An ephemeral print is a piece of paper that shouldn’t have lasted and somehow has survived until today. Having lived all this time makes it special—something that had to live a couple of days managed to live more than a century.
What was the most surprising aspect of this material that you found during your research?
To accept that I suffer from self-discrimination. Rather than appreciate my cultural heritage, I preferred to learn and look for inspiration from the most popular design industries.
For this reason I feel that the main objective of this initiative is to generate a design archive that works as a reference for others and that this produces a revaluation for Uruguayan design.
On the other hand, I discovered that the lack of characters to compose a print [using lead type] was frequent. The composer had to manage to do the job; the lack of some letters couldn’t be an impediment. This aroused in me another type of curiosity, which I wasn’t used to, since as a designer I try to make things as perfect as possible. The prints of the past centuries have another type of beauty, a kind of charm that I wasn’t used to appreciating. This grace is intellectually elegant, but very different from the one I develop. The flyers are attractive for having accomplished so much with so little. The lack of resources meant that these were used with greater imagination.
Do you have a plan for the dissemination of them?
A week ago a website with all the registered material was released. You can also find the images on Flickr and Instagram, for those who are looking for another kind of navigation.
The intention is to share it with colleagues from all over the world to achieve a recognition of what Uruguayan design can give (that’s why the website was built in Spanish and English).
It also seeks to bring design students to the National Library.