Stephanie Sadre-Orafai gave a Brown Bag Lunch presentation on Thursday, April 13, 2017 at 12:15 pm. Her talk was entitled “Making Faces: New York Type Ephemera and the Visual Encoding of Difference.”


Stephanie Sadre-Orafai is Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of Cincinnati. She received her PhD in Anthropology from New York University. Her research focuses on transformations in contemporary US racial thinking and visual culture by ethnographically examining emerging forms of expertise, cultural and institutional practices of type production, and the intersection of race, language, and visual practices in aesthetic industries. Her publications include “Models, Measurement, and the Problem of Mediation in the New York Fashion Industry,” in Visual Anthropology Review (2016); “Recasting Fashion Image Production: An Ethnographic & Practice-Based Approach to Investigating Bodies as Media,” in Fashion Studies: Research Methods, Sites & Practices (Bloomsbury, 2016); “The Figure of the Model and Reality Television,” in Fashioning Models: Image, Text, and Industry (Berg, 2012); and “Fashion’s Other Images: Casting Photographs and the Production of a Professional Vision,” in Images in Time (Wunderkammer, 2011). She is currently a Visiting Fellow at Bard Graduate Center (April–June 2017) where she is working on her book manuscript Type by Design, based on comparative ethnographic and material culture analyses of promotional type ephemera in two New York commercial aesthetic industries—the high fashion modeling industry and commercial font business. In this project she explores the mutually vivifying and dehumanizing dimensions of type production and what their professional practices can reveal about underlying changes in cultural ideas of “difference” and how they are visually encoded for the New York market.

This talk explored how “new faces” are made and marketed in two distinct New York commercial aesthetic industries: the retail font business and high fashion modeling industry. While both typefaces and fashion models are chosen for their formal and visible features, they are also meant to blend into and amplify clients’ messages through affective forms of non-conscious resonance, many of which are culturally specific. In both industries, tensions exist between visibility and invisibility, legibility and aesthetic nuance, and the management of lay and expert visions in producing culturally recognizable types and individual faces. In this talk, Sadre-Orafai explored these tensions by analyzing type specimens (documents that highlight a typeface’s character sets, features, and ideal uses and treatments through prototypical layouts and curated texts) and composite cards (condensed two-sided portfolios of a fashion model’s published and unpublished work that showcase his or her targeted, potential uses in commercial contexts) as similar material forms. She argued that by reading these two kinds of type ephemera together, we can expand how we think about the process of typification and its relationship to human and non-human faciality.