In the course of researching and documenting ghostsigns from across the country I have come across many distinctive ways of interpreting the signs, via photographic means or in broader media such as paint and sculpture/models (see Martin Thompson, Stuart Free and Emmanuel Nouaillier for example).
Recently I have discovered the work of photographer Tom Bland and thought it was worth sharing here. Tom grew up with parents working in graphic design and has observed close at hand the evolution from analogue to digital processes and methods. He contrasts the work on Apple Macs with going about it on “a big drawing board using a scalpel, spray mount, kappa board, acetate and letraset”. It was this fascination with the craft but also the manner in which the signs had faded that first pulled him towards Ghostsigns as subject matter.
“I was seeing layers of typography, paint, colour – and combined with the texture of the crumbling and flaking materials, many of them were appealing to me as looking like contemporary pieces of design in the vein of work by the likes of Tomato or Ray Gun magazine. I felt that if the faded ghost signs I was seeing were used for new book jackets or record covers for example, they would stand up incredibly well against a new piece of work, the signs having evolved and aged completely naturally in ways that a contemporary designer or illustrator would try to emulate in Adobe’s Creative Suite.”
CASH PAYMENTS by Tom Bland
In his growing ‘Letraset’ collection Tom pulls from examples here in the UK and the USA, those for Boyd Pianos and Cakebread Robey perhaps the most familiar to UK audiences. He aims to achieve the crops in situ rather than relying on manipulation after the picture has been taken but does use some techniques to add to the overall effect he is aiming for:
“I use Adobe Lightroom for all of my photography. I shoot RAW images, and in applying very minimal adjustments using the tools in Lightroom the qualities of the signs can really be accentuated to bring out their texture, or to simply combat the flat light of a dull British sky.”
BOWLING AND BILLIARDS, ARMY AND NAVY by Tom Bland
It is worth noting the work of Andy Johnson and John Henstock who also use image manipulation to achieve their own desired outcomes. Tom summarises his work as an “ongoing documentation of a particular breed of ghost sign – referencing both my background and upbringing, and my love/hate relationship with new technology”.
This contemporary perspective on an old medium is fitting in the context of the work that has been done on the archive which has used the possibilities opened by the web to pull together disparate enthusiasts and their collections in a way that would not have been possible just ten years ago. As many of these signs lose their current homes on walls across the country they are offered refuge in a more lasting space online.
Thanks Tom for sharing your work and your thoughts, for those interested in seeing more of Tom’s work have a look at his website and his ‘Letraset’ on Flickr.