Walking down Indian streets, especially on the narrow gullies/alleys with small shops on both sides, we usually tend to “see but do not observe,” as Mr Holmes would say, that which is hidden in plain sight—board signs!
How often do we go searching for a small shop in a gully that may not even be recognised by Google Maps, and read its sign but ignore its details?
For 29-year-old Pooja Saxena, these simple boards would become sources of inspiration that take her through the unexplored areas of different cities in India.
“I am a typeface designer, and for me, the way I look at signboards is not a ‘creative’ way of looking at things. It is what I do!” Pooja told The Better India.
What is a typeface designer, and what do they do?
Talking about her Matra Type project and her role as a typeface designer, Pooja says,
“I look at the styles of letterforms on signboards and how they are arranged. Is the sign functional and effective at communication? I love signs that take it a notch higher by being well-executed designs.”
So Pooja travels through the cities of Delhi (and Bengaluru!) looking around for interesting signs. Even when she is travelling on the weekends or vacationing, she makes sure that she has some time allocated only for her research and goes about clicking photographs of the Indian street fonts.
She says that she has a special gift for remembering exactly where each board she wants is. Talk about amazing navigation skills!
For most shopkeepers, Pooja’s genuine interest in their signs, fonts and colours comes as a surprising reaction.
When she was living in Bengaluru for a brief time, Pooja noticed the interesting fonts used on the signboard of a photo studio named Stella. She did not get a chance to photograph it till she came back to the city after living in Delhi, England and the USA.
“Almost a year after I moved back, I returned to the neighbourhood, camera in hand, and was so happy to see that the sign was still there. I got my picture and went in to tell the owners/staff how lovely their sign was.
This led to an unexpectedly sweet moment as I got to meet the owner’s daughter, Stella, the person the photo studio was named after. She seemed almost as thrilled as me. She was so pleased to hear that a complete stranger cared about a shop sign her father had painted half a century ago,” she told TBI.
Her project requires her to be quite adventurous too.
“A lot of interesting signs are usually in the older, busier neighbourhoods which means battling the hustle bustle of traffic and crowds while finding the perfect vantage point to photograph them.
Some signs are best photographed from very inconvenient places such as a flyover, or the middle of a busy road or the roof of another building!” Pooja told TBI.
She hopes to help others see how beautiful our street signs are, by organising events. She looks for inspirations in different languages, scripts and signs of the local boards and hopes that more people recognise the designer treasure house India has stored in the most common and simple “gullies.”
Who knows, maybe someday these very simple boards, that are barely recognised by us will become the core of art galleries!
(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)