Thomas Hawk’s Big Ol’ House of Neon

Snakes on a PlaneGrand Lake Theater of DreamsStaCal Va Rado

One of the longer-term artistic projects that I’m working on is building the world’s largest collection of personally shot neon. Someday I’m going to print out every single shot of neon that I’ve taken on 8x10s and build a fantastic and giant collage that covers every inch of wall, ceiling and floor space (no windows) of an interior gallery. It’s gonna be large.

Part of what’s interesting for me about collecting neon is that I feel that it’s a bit of preservation. I’ve heard stories about how Vancouver, for instance, used to be this amazing capital of the world for neon but that most of it’s all gone now. For me I want to preserve as much of this neon as I can photographically before the signs are destroyed and disappear forever.

Anyways, by way of update, at present I’m at 1,134 photographs of personally shot neon. Anyone know of anybody else with a similar fetish for that glowing gas in the hot glass tube?

You can see the entire set of images thus far (it’s growing almost daily) here.

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  1. Russell G says:


    An inspiring set of photo’s covering your love of neon signs. I too love the neon, but my collection is very small compared to yours, but working on it.

    Will keep checking back on your collection for more insperation


  2. Andy Frazer says:


    I’ve been a neon photo junkie since the late 1980’s. Unfotunately, I wasn’t very prolific shooting until I went digital five years ago. It’s too bad because I would have been able to get a lot of South Bay neon that’s probably already gone.

    P.S. My collection pales in comparison to what you probably shoot in a single month.

    Andy Frazer

  3. I’m building my own collection, of tattoos. I love the idea of a focused project like this.

  4. Jeremy says:

    Hello, my name is Jeremy, and I’m a neon addict. I’ve always been attracted to neon, but shooting it is a relatively new thing for me.

    When I first started reading your blog, I was just getting back into photography as a creative outlet. I saw your neon, and read your posts about shooting neon, and I didn’t really get it.

    Then I decided to shoot a few signs at night, just figured, hey, why not? When I processed them, I was amazed at the great feel they had, and I was hooked. I am glad I started, because shortly after that we spent 3 weeks in Europe, and I was able to capture some great neon that I would have totally overlooked otherwise.

    I’m now up to 324 shots, and growing all the time.

  5. Eddie says:

    It’s funny you mention Vancouver.

    I live there currently, and we went to a photography display of Fred Herzog’s at the Art Gallery downtown, and they had a timeline discussing all the neon that was ever present.

    Allegedly, Vancouver was voted “Canada’s most tacky city” in the hey-dey of neon, which caused me and my wife a bit of snicker.

    Vancouver still has a fair bit of neon, and looking at some of the old Herzog photos, you can see how over abundant it actually was!

  6. Cassandra says:

    This is a great project. I love neon!

    A few other folks do too. There’s a neon museum in Nevada. They are trying to save some of the old casino signs from the trash heap…

  7. Thomas Hawk says:

    A few other folks do too. There’s a neon museum in Nevada. They are trying to save some of the old casino signs from the trash heap…

    Hey Cassandra, yeah, I know the neon museum in Nevada. I sent them an email a while back to try and get permission to shoot there and they turned me down. Obviously their claimed mission statement of, “collecting, preserving, studying and exhibiting neon signs and associated artifacts to inspire educational and cultural enrichment for diverse members of our international community,” is a little different than mine.

    I thought I could really get behind the neon museum when I first heard about it. Really it’s such a great idea. I’m trying to do with my photography what they are trying to do with the actual signs.

    Unfortunately though while my photography is open for the entire world to see, their museum is closed with a “no photography” policy that restricts most of the world from viewing the collection.

    I could sneak my camera in there and take some shots. But it’s sad that a non-profit museum can’t see the importance and relevance of sharing their rich neon history with the rest of the world online.

    It’s funny. I can go into the de Young Museum here in San Francisco, one of the finest museums in the world with a collection worth millions of times what the neon art museums collection is worth and shoot just fine, but I get denied by a museum who I would have hoped would have better understood the purpose of what I’m trying to do with my own collection.

  8. Thomas, there is a mac app that lets you create poster from images called posterino:

  9. TranceMist says:

    I want to have the world’s largest collection of personally photographed CFLs.

    (just kidding)

  10. scherbi says:


    I always love your neon shots. As much as I dislike museums with no photo policies.

    I was in NYC today and shot a bunch of neon. I think you could reach your neon goal in a weekend there!

    Here’s my neon smartset:

  11. John says:

    speaking of vegas, one of my favorites shots is one that i took of a “loose slots” neon sign.

  12. briconcella says:

    I love them but have just one. Mind you, it’s a neon in paris. You’re welcome to borrow it.