Photo Friday: Ghost Sign

While in New York (site of last week’s Photo Friday), I became completely entranced with “Ghost Signs”, faded advertising signs painted on the sides of brick buildings. Most of these are from decades ago. Some are faded beyond recognition. Many offer goods and services that have seen more popular times: millinery, lithography, shirtwaists, coatfronts, sewing machines, steam heat, furs and skins, paper and twine.

As I walked around Manhattan’s streets, gazing up and peering around corners for ghost signs, I felt like an urban archeologist. Each sign held a clue to past generations. Each felt like a surprise to discover, as well as a fleeting treat. I knew that the next time I might pass this way, the sign could very well be faded completely, lost to memory — or lost to new construction, as glass and steel might completely cover it up, much the way the tearing down of old buildings to make way for new ones may have led to some of these old ghost signs seeing the light of day once more.

I try to photograph ghost signs wherever I go. I have found New York City and Portland, Oregon, to be especially rich places for them, in addition to forgotten main streets and quiet roads where rural barns advertise tobaccos and colas. Look for an upcoming post that will feature more.

In the meantime, keep observing, wandering, and being open to a surprise or two. Last week reader Alice sent a link to this story on Slow Photography, which is more about the joyful process of taking pictures than it is about the finished result. (Thank you Alice. See Alice’s photos on flickr.)

Have you seen and photographed something unusual, whimsical, beautiful, or otherwise interesting in your travels? Has anything surprised you or caused you to pause? Or have you simply experienced a small, lovely moment that you wanted to capture? If so, I hope you’ll share with us by leaving a comment with a link to your photo. I look forward to seeing it!

Photo by Susan Sachs Lipman

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9 responses to “Photo Friday: Ghost Sign

  1. Love this post Suz. Love the name you have given the faded advertising signs……wonderful!!! I have taken many photographs of “Ghost signs” in many cities (my favourite being Paris) but I have never had the time to capture them on camera whilst visiting New York. Unfortunately each visit to New York has been on business. I guess I will have to make a trip just for photography alone…….that would be fun!!!!

    Thanks for sharing.

  2. Hi Marghanita! It’s wonderful to see you here, as always. Thank you for your lovely comment. Obviously these ephemeral signs speak to you as well. I can’t take credit for the name “ghost sign”. I’m not sure where it came from, but it wasn’t me. I hope you’re able to spend time photographing NY. I know you capture beautiful images wherever you are.

  3. Pingback: Tweets that mention Photo Friday: Ghost Sign | Slow Family Online --

  4. I love these signs, too. You’ll enjoy seeing my friend Sean’s NYC sign photos on his blog:

    • Hi Leah! I love Sean’s blog. His photos are wonderful. I’ve actually taken some of the same ones of signs in Boston and NY — and the ones I haven’t taken, I want to take. What a great eye. Thank you for telling me about him.

  5. Hi Michele! What a wonderful, magical photo! Thanks so much for playing and for mentioning me on your blog. Let’s keep getting out there, playing and seeing. Cheers!

  6. I love ghost signs also. I have tons of them as I take a photo in every little town I pass through. Just saving them for a day when I need a photo to blog, but have nothing in my head! Loved your photos!

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