The ŁÓDŹ-ORWO Collection: Typographical Identity of Socioeconomic Transition

  • Abstract:

    The so-called ŁÓDŹ-ORWO Collection refers to a set of two hundred 35-mm slides that document typography and visual communication in the city of Łódź, Poland, in the late 1970s. The set of slides represents a unique study material into the language of visual communication within urban environment during the decade of transition from communism to capitalism in Poland. This recently rediscovered collection has been already the focus of two photography exhibitions authored by Professor Jan Kubasiewicz and prepared to premiere in the USA and Poland in 2016. This paper, conceived together with Professor Ewa Satalecka, provides a rigorous analysis and comparison of typography and visual language documented in the collection. The authors attempt to distinguish different typographical styles, from the “official” government-sponsored propaganda and corporate advertising, to “private” small business visual brands, to “personal” messages within the urban space. The selected images provide the dialogic juxtaposition of the “formal” language of propaganda billboards, mimicking the western-style corporate advertising in the “international typographic style” of the time (predominantly sans serif fonts), with examples imitating western-style signage and branding for small businesses (hand lettering and slab serif fonts), as well as samples of “personal” messages (scripts and graffiti). In addition, the paper discusses instances of visual communication that is unreadable, or barely readable, due to deterioration or physical damage, yet creating unpredictable textual/visual meta-messages. Resulting from rigorous visual studies, the paper concludes in a classification of patterns of typographical identity, as well as the semiotics of typography, contributing to a cultural narrative of that particular historical period of socioeconomic transition in Poland.