"What the human eye observes casually and incuriously, the eye of the camera notes with relentless fidelity"... Bernice Abbott

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Signs for the Times

4th & Lacy, Santa Ana
When I first noticed these billboards a couple of years ago, I immediately passed them off as visual blight equal to gang graffiti. Then one day while parked in front of one of these public billboards, I began to view this mishmash of colored paper and tear-off phone numbers through the eyes of a photographer and that is when I developed a new appreciation for them. As I gazed at the wall, the random patterns and vibrant colors began to take on a life of their own, forming a kaleidoscope of hues and textures that unexpectedly altered my view.    

Santa Ana

But a closer look at these walls revealed much more. Each of these transitory postings represent a person living on the margins; a lifeline to those who lack access to Craigslist or funds for newspaper ads. Many are from small business owners struggling to survive day by day in an increasingly competitive world, and most are from individuals selling goods and services.

Pilsen Market, Chicago
Fullerton Parking Lot

They are symbolic of today’s economic environment where homeowners struggling to make payments must rent rooms; where the indigent seek medical attention from  unlicensed Curanderos, and where services from palm readings to massages are available. These local billboards serve an entire underground economy where cash is king and desperation reigns. 

Santa Ana
Lavanderia, Chicago
They have proliferated as the nation’s economy continues to plummet. Competition for space is fierce as many of these ads regularly encroach upon each other by weeks end, before they are removed; allowing the process to begin again. This is direct marketing in its most basic form, serving a market not captured by corporate America. 

El Toro, Wednesday morning
El Toro, Thursday night

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