April 20 – May 13, 2017 – One of my photographs has been accepted in an upcoming show at the Providence Center for Photographic Arts in Providence, Rhode Island. It is a before/after enhancement of a ghost sign in Baltimore, Maryland. The sign is nearly impossible to read in person. It is more legible in the digital image. I used my image enhancement method to reveal the wonderful images of women wearing their sunburst plaited skirts. Here is a link to the show’s website : Unseen
“Simon’s Plaiting Establishment, Sunburst Plaited Skirts, Dress Platings, Pinking, Buttons Covered, 123 W. Saratoga St. – Just Around the Corner”
There seems to be a movement underway to restore ghost signs by doing what I call “muralizing” – repainting the most visible layer of a ghost sign with modern brilliant color paint. While these restoration efforts may have good intentions , they are frequently done by people who have not researched the proper colors of the signs, or what hidden information may be contained in the fainter layers.
Here are a few examples of ghost signs that I have photographed that are now gone. I present my version and a few Google Street Views to show the changes.
Approximately 200 ghost signs that I have photographed are now gone.
Owl Cigar / Knights of Pythias Hall / Barber Shop, Socorro, New Mexico. It was probably the best ghost sign in the state, but has now been muralized. Look at the rendition of the Owl sitting on the cigar.
Coca Cola, Bald Knob, Arkansas – with the outline of a woman drinking a bottle of Coke. The graphic, from WW2, is a profile similar to the “We Can Do It” poster. Apparently, we can do it better with a bottle of Coke. This graphic is now painted over. This sign was included (not my photo) in the wonderful book “Ghost Signs of Arkansas” by Cynthia Haas published in 1997. (In case you are wondering why my sign is “shorter” than the street view, it is because I trimmed away the right edge of the building to get a more contained final image.)
Newton’s Fidelity Flour / Golden Wedding Coffee, Boonville, Missouri : I photographed the sign in 2012. It was muralized sometime in 2015. The middle version shows a hidden graphic, now gone, for a brand of coffee manufactured in Kansas City, Missouri. I will talk about how these enhancements are done in a future post.
Rex Flour / Grand Hotel / Levi Strauss Overalls – Big Timber, Montana : The sign contains two separate Levi Strauss signs, one which is only visible using image enhancement. It says San Francisco Made / Copper Riveted. Only the Rex Flour is preserved (a local Montana brand of flour).
The following is a brief overview of what goes into almost every ghost sign that I photograph. The major goal is to create as close to an archival version of the sign, at high enough resolution as required, to see all of the painterly qualities of the original sign. An additional goal is also to obtain a “clean” final result where all of the foreground clutter is removed. A final goal is to make the ghost sign appear to have been photographed “straight on” by using perspective correction in post-processing.
Photos are taken from multiple camera positions to “see” around foreground obstacles. Multiple images are photographed at each camera position to increase resolution in the final image. In some cases, this can result in hundreds of separate images from a dozen camera positions. The following illustrates the images that went into three separate camera positions for a ghost sign in Helena, Montana.
The images from each camera position are then separately mosaicked. I use the program Stitcher from Autodesk – which is no longer available. Too bad. It has numerous features that I have not found in other mosaicking programs.
Then, in Photoshop, I isolate and remove foreground obstacles from each intermediate mosaic. The poles and wires are highlighted in cyan in the following image.
The resulting intermediate mosaics are then aligned and blended in Photoshop. Since the sky and clouds change between camera setups, the sky in the final image must be replaced. The resulting images are 2 to 8 gigabytes.
The gallery is next to the Pasadena Playhouse, so I’ll be at the gallery before and after performances.
I had a successful opening night at the Walt Girdner Photo Studio & Gallery. Once it got busy, I wasn’t able to keep doing event photography. Multiple items were sold, which pleases me greatly.
The large pieces are printed on 24″ x 36″ Museo Silver Rag paper, and are on display are in 30″ x 40″ frames.
I also have browse bins for many ghost signs, plus a smaller print option (17″x22″ paper) which I frame in 24″ x 30″ frames.
That’s me on the right, in the photo above, with the funny hat. The hat has been everywhere. A friend said that I am kind of like Indiana Jones (I’m a Dr. Jones too!) doing archaeology, except in an urban environment. Therefore I wore the hat (but I didn’t think a leather whip was appropriate for an Art Opening).
I have a special wall for several ghost signs from Pasadena and Los Angeles. The Los Angeles signs are either already gone, or will soon be gone.
The show features 30 ghost signs selected from a collection of over 7000 photographed in all 48 states.