The Flamingo Apartments, Lake City, Florida, 2013
The Tamiami Trail (US. 41 from Miami to Tampa) is rich in vintage treasures, such as the Flamingo Apartments, formerly known as the Flamingo Motel. Just outside Lake City, its cinderblock green and pink signage, first erected in the 1930s, changes selling points as the times change. Its present owner gave us a postcard showing how this sign appeared in the 1960s. Freshly painted in green and white, and bearing the image of a small white flamingo, it then advertised “electric heat, tubs, and showers.” Today’s sign shows far more wear and tear (the owner told us that several cars have run into it over the years), and while the tubs and showers are still features (even if lost in the weeds), the current emphasis is on “cable.” The boldly lettered “APT” on this sign, along with the well used couches gracing the porch in the background of this image, tell us that this establishment’s current marketing approach is apparently geared to long term, instead of daily, stays. I filled the frame of this image with greenery from edge to edge, abstracting half the sign in the process, and building meaning layer by layer. The worn green paint, the faded pink flamingo, and the ornamental arrangement of utilitarian cinder blocks combine to symbolize the essence of persistence itself: this place was built during the great depression, surviving decades of war, peace, boom, and bust – yet somehow it still manages to play a role in Lake City’s lodging business.
CNN Atrium, Atlanta, Georgia, 2013
Seven CNN logos fight for attention in this soaring view of the spectacular atrium that is home to this cable network’s offices and studios. Using a 28mm wideangle lens and shooting straight up, I anchor the scene by leading the eye from the huge diagonal ramp at lower right to the multi story globe symbolizing CNN’s international presence, where visitors begin their studio tours. That globe, in turn, beckons towards a wall of windows filled with blue sky and a huge American flag, which proclaims CNN’s national identity. The multiplicity of CNN’s ubiquitous trademark symbols leaves no doubt as to who lives and works here, and the very scale of this atrium intensifies their sense of importance. (These logos do not even end there – they keep coming at us in reflection as well.) Ultimately, this signage symbolize the network’s very purpose: when it comes to news, CNN’s efforts are felt virtually everywhere on earth, and no more so than within its own home.
Confused, Haifa, Israel, 2011
A visitor emerging from the Port of Haifa and entering the city itself will be confronted by this bewildering mass of signage, much of it in Hebrew. A line of traffic flows around a person who pauses in the grass, seemingly overwhelmed by the confusing mélange of arrows, symbols, warnings, and directions. It is an incongruous scene, perhaps making sense to an Israeli viewer, but certainly a daunting experience for a foreign visitor. (I did not have to worry – I made this image through the front window of a tour bus. I assumed our driver knew where he was going.) All of this history becomes secondary to the moment at hand.
Tamales today, Cuenca, Ecuador, 2011
This is one of the most humble storefronts I found in Cuenca. A man and simple stove within a darkened doorway, make up a business in itself. His sign is hand-lettered – on this day he is featuring tamales, humitas (a steamed corn cake), coffee, and tortillas. He gazes at us, wondering if would like a taste. No matter how simple his sign, we know exactly what he has to offer, and when.
Bargain prices, Pittsfield, Massachusetts, 2011
The four signs hanging in the upper windows of this vintage Pittsfield building are intended as advertising puns. They certainly call attention to the presence of the clever marketer who hung them.
The building itself offers an unusual counterpoint – it, too, calls attention to itself through the orange tiling that ornaments the brick façade. The rain clouds drifting overhead add still another dimension to the image.
For Sale, Miami, Arizona, 2011
I found this old gas pump for sale in an antique store window. There are two “For Sale” signs in this image – the price of “this sale” on the pump itself, and the attached price of the old pump itself. The gas sale forever remains free, while the tag for the pump asks for $2,800. A third price is included at the bottom of the frame – the last delivery of gasoline to this pump was priced at 29 cents a gallon. (Those were days when there were no dollar signs imprinted next to the gallon price.) I found the price differentials here to be both incongruous and thought provoking. We can’t buy any gas anywhere for 29 cents a gallon these days, yet we are asked here to spend nearly $3,000 for a vintage gas pump.
The Babe still sells, Cordes Junction, Arizona, 2011
Baseball’s legendary Babe Ruth retired in 1935, yet 75 years later, his faded visage still pitches Red Rock Cola for a nickel a bottle. I found this old sign on the porch of the Cordes Junction general store, a nostalgic reminder of a simpler time. I give the rectangular sign a jolt of energy by tilting the camera to create a diagonal composition. The diagonal plays against the round baseball and the round moon-face of Ruth within it.
Cereal tin, Rock Springs Café, Rock Springs, Arizona, 2011
This cereal tin goes back to the early years of the 20th century. Today it is displayed within a cabinet at a café that is nearly as old. I exposed on the bright yellow tin with my spot metering mode, making the tin seem unsupported, as if floating in time. The scholarly signage on the tin speaks of youth and intelligence, while the dress of the child dates the box to its period. Part of the wooden cabinet can be seen at left. It adds context and a touch of warmth to the image.
Façade, Rock Springs Café, Rock Springs, Arizona, 2022
A classic American roadhouse, the Rock Springs Café has drawn travelers to its tables for 93 years. Founded in 1918, along with a hotel, it stands along the stage route that one connected Phoenix with Prescott, a former Arizona capital. The cafe sells more than 50,000 pies a year to travelers along the present Interstate 17 that runs between Phoenix and Flagstaff. The café signage emphasizes the pies that wait within. I layer the massive pie on the facade with fluttering pennants that decorate the establishment.
Art imitates life, St. Barts, French West Indies, 2011
The back of a St. Bart’s bar is painted to resemble a tropical paradise, which is, of course, exactly as St. Barts bills itself to the world. I liked the way the real palms reach out to embrace the painted ones. Meanwhile, signage is frantically at work here as well. A signpost bearing eight small signs incongruously aims its arrows at the only door in the image – the entrance to the bar’s toilet. It is locked, and the small blue signs on the door inform guests, in French and English, to get the key from the bartender. The signpost itself, which herald “The Route of the Pirates,” urges guests to take advantage of the bars many other special features.
Please wait, St. Barts, French West Indies, 2011
In this day of cellular communication, the old pay phone is rapidly vanishing from sight. But on this remote Caribbean island, not everyone’s cell phone works, and this vividly blue pay phone stands ready to help to those willing and able to follow complex instructions. I moved in on the instructional signage to stress those complexities. I put the viewer in the shoes of someone trying to make a call. The key to it all is finding the “instruction” button we are supposed to press somewhere within this barrage of signage. Hint: it seems to be half-hidden under the curling label.
Full time patriot, Mission Beach, San Diego, California, 2010
This home, near Mission Bay, juxtaposes a starless wooden flag with a window wreath made out of painted red, white, and blue bells, wrapped in tiny flag streamers, most likely as symbols of the owner’s own patriotism.