Shapes and Meaning of Letters


Credit: Google Images

While enjoying an e-book about close-up photography, I serendipitously happened into a rare perspective on the different shapes and meanings of letters.  When I was just a kid in Elementary School, I learned the alphabet and that was it—no big deal!  Even to this day, letters, were just that–codes—used to make up words to express thoughts.  Even though I used letter every day to communicate, I was never interested in looking at their shapes up close, let alone understand their meanings.

Now, I’m curious to know what the different letters mean, and how we are using them to design our houses, utensils and other articles of common use.  By the way, the name of the book, where I found this unique perspective on the different shapes and meanings of letters is “Understanding Close-Up Photography:  Creative Close Encounters With or Without a Macro Lens” written by Bryan Peterson.  He also wrote a another wonderful book on photography dubbed, “Understanding Exposure”; it’s a recommended book if you are interested in dipping your toes in the world of lights and shadows.

Below is an excerpt of Bryan’s book about the shapes of letters and their meanings:

“My fascination with letters has enabled me to put together five complete alphabets, with each letter in each alphabet being entirely different.  Some may ask, “Why would anyone need not one but five complete alphabets?  Strictly speaking as a commercial photographer, these letters do have value in the marketplace, particularly in the graphic design community.  But hey, if nothing else at least I’m ready should the need ever arise to put together one heck of a ransom note!

Focusing on one subject in greater depth is a good exercise visually and photographically, and it can lead to a more complete appreciation of the subject.  This journey of being on the constant lookout for new letters has really opened up my eyes to the importance of communication and language itself.  Where would man be without an alphabet?!  And then there’s the “art” in the letters themselves.  As any graphic designer or typesetter knows, letters come in host of styles, designs, and colors, and one could easily argue that each letter has its own language.

The letter A, with its two converging sides, is a letter of movement, but is also stable (as evidenced by the “bridge” connecting its two sides).  The inspiration for the A-frame house, it is a cozy letter in which one can take refuge.  The letter C is open, unlike the letter O, which is closed.  The letter S is snakelike.  It meanders, without worry; it is carefree, it throws caution to the wind, it is the rivers and streams.  The letter Z is simply a very decisive S; it wastes no one’s time, it is matter of fact, it is what it is.  Of course, I’m just having fun with the symbolism of line here.

George Eastman loved the letter K, considering it “such a strong and decisive letter” that when it came time to name his new company, he simply told his fellow board members that he didn’t care what they named the company—as long as the name began and ended with the letter K.  Thus was born a name known the world over:  Kodak”

How about them green apples?  This is really a breath of fresh air.  An unexpected approach to the shapes of letter and what they mean to a photographer or, to just about anybody who is curious enough to learn new constructs.  I’m happily surprised and pleased, in fact so much that I just wanted to share these artistic perspectives with you all.  Good Day.

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