Aaron Draplin on the Death of the American Neon Sign

America Is F*cked…….(Graphically at least) from Jess Gibson on Vimeo.

Warning: The above video contains graphic language. If you are offended by profanity you might want to skip it.

My Motel America set was featured on Digg over the weekend. In the comments someone linked to this great video (above) about the death of a neon motel sign.

The video is a short interview with Aaron Draplin talking about a 28 foot motel neon sign that he recently purchased on eBay while he was drunk for $300. In his rant he cringes at the crappy $15,000 ugly plastic sign that the new motel owners put up in it’s place.

So much of American neon is disappearing every single day. Over the past few years I’ve literally watched dozens of signs disappear before my eyes. Personally I’m trying to photograph as much neon as I possibly can. My Neon Days and Neon Nights set currently has 2,656 images of neon in it. I’ve been trying to get out on the road as much as I can and travel to as many new American cities as I can to try and photograph as much neon as possible.

When I was in Chicago earlier this month I shot a ton of the neon in and around Chicago. I shot this one motel sign on a vacant lot. The entire motel had been razed and the only thing left standing was simply it’s old sign. The highlight of my trip was stopping by The Neon Shop, AKA Fishtail Neon, and spending time there with it’s owner Tom Brickler. Tom had some great signs in his store and invited me in to the back room of his shop as well and showed me some fantastic old signs that he had there. It was really a treat.

I’ve created a collection of my neon images as well that tries to break down neon signs by geographical areas. I’ve still got so much work to do in adding more neon images to my library, and unfortunately every day it seems like more and more signs are snuffed out of existence.

Earlier today I joked when I wrote about Hunch that the first question I wanted to ask Hunch was what City should I visit next to shoot neon signs in America? Tom Spaulding, a prolific neon photographer himself said Wildwood, NJ.

What do you think? Where’s the next City I should visit in America to shoot neon?

Microsoft’s DeepZoomPix Viewer is Pretty Cool

PhotoMetadataUrl=http://deepzoompix.com/API/PhotoMetadata.ashx?alias=thomashawk&album=2,Get Microsoft Silverlight

The slide show above is from a new photo viewer by Microsoft called DeepZoomPix. The technology feels a lot like CoolIris to me and I think that you are going to see more and more dynamic ways of viewing photos online like this in the future. The view above is pretty simplistic as an embedable slide player, but you get a far more interesting view if you actually click through to one of my albums. You can check out the more interactive version of the above slide show here.

Use your mouse or scroll pad to increase or decrease the magnification of the photos and to move around and explore a bit.

The player allows you to either upload your own photos to it or to link the player up with either your Flickrstream or your Facebook photos and import photos from there.

I found that it took me several hours to import a little over 400 slides for the slideshow above. For some reason it did not import all 2,000+ of my neon photos, but the average person probably doesn’t hae a 2000 photo high res slide show to put together either.

I think that this player will make for an interesting way to share sets of images from events, vacations, parties, really anywhere where you’d like to put together a relatively quick and easy slideshow.

The service has a fairly strict Code of Conduct which prohibits your using it to display any “nudity of any sort including full or partial human nudity or nudity in non-human forms such as cartoons, fantasy art or manga.pornography, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity, hatred, bigotry, racism, or gratuitous violence.”

The offering also is only available through the end of 2009. I’m not sure what happens to your slide shows after that but I suspect that if Microsoft chooses to discontinue the service that the shows could be deleted. Microsoft makes a point of noting that you should not consider this site as a primary place to host your photos and that there are no privacy controls, so anything you publish here will be viewable to the entire world.

According to Microsoft, the primary purpose of this technology is three-fold:

1. Provide an end-user friendly demo around a scenario that everyone can understand.
2. Show designers the capabilities of Silverlight for creating rich user experiences (UX).
3. Show developers how they can use various Microsoft client and platform technologies to easily create compelling and scalable systems.

You can learn more about this new viewer at the FAQ for it here.

Thanks for the heads up Steve!

Los Angeles’ Museum of Neon Art


Museum of Neon Art (MONA)
136 W. 4th Street
Los Angeles, CA

Last month while I was down in Los Angeles I had an opportunity to stop by the Museum of Neon Art, or the MONA as those familiar with the museum call it. Those of you who follow my photography know that my Neon Days and Neon Nights set is one of my most worked on collection of images. I’ve got almost 2,000 photographs of neon in my collection so far and so I was very excited to be able to visit this interesting museum devoted to neon signs in Los Angeles.

The MONA is easy to miss. It’s on 4th Street in Downtown L.A in a fairly nondescript space with three big letters in it’s storefront window, A-R-T. But if like me you admire neon, you will definitely want to stop by and check it out.

The museum was founded in 1991 and the space it’s in now is its temporary space from what I understand. I don’t think that a permanent space has been identified for the museum but I think that they are working on finding one. The current space that houses the MONA is a little on the small side for a museum, but they make up for their smaller size by having some of the most amazing vintage neon signs I’ve ever seen. Included in their collection are a giant Jantzen neon diver, a great vintage Pep Boys sign, a Van de Kamp’s bakery sign, a Fun Land side with moving neon, and lots of other great vintage signs.

Big Big LoveChaos of My Neon Heart, Plate 3Neon IndianLanz

In addition to the museum’s vintage neon signs, most of which were restored and in perfect working order, there were a number of other interesting group exhibits by contemporary artists focusing on neon. In the lobby of the museum they also had several fantastic neon photographs by photographer Rob Carter. They also had some great historical neon photographs, including a photograph of the first neon sign in the United States, a Packard sign that people used to drive from miles around to come see and visit.

I spent a half an hour or so talking to the guy who was working the door at the museum and he gave me a lot of great background on the museum. Apparently, in addition to the museum itself they also have a giant warehouse with even more signs downtown somewhere that is not open to the public. Apparently the warehouse doesn’t have electricity so you have to visit it with flashlights. Hopefully someday I’ll be able to check out that place as well.

My favorite thing about the museum? It was such a relaxing place to take photographs of their signs. It’s refreshing to me that the museum is so open with it’s photo policy and had no problem with me spending a few hours shooting their collection. I pretty much had the entire place to myself and had all the room I needed to work and photograph the amazing collection. I was able to get down on the floor to shoot and really had the run of the place. My only warning from the guy working there was to watch out for the suitcase that moves around on the floor, it’s an exhibit and sometimes people forget that it’s there.

In addition to the neon museum itself, the MONA also runs a number of different double decker bus neon tours. I didn’t get a chance to go on any of those but I’ve heard from other people who have that they are great.

It seems like every other day another neon sign is coming down. I worry that, especially with the bad economy, more and more places are going to go out of business and that we are likely to lose more and more historic signs going forward. Having a museum devoted to salvaging these signs and restoring them is a great thing. Hats off to the people behind this museum for doing the important work that they do.

Admission to the MONA is $7. There is metered street parking, but bring lots of coins because the parking meters downtown are pretty expensive (fortunately I found a broken meter when I visited). The museum is open Thursday-Saturday noon-7PM; Sunday noon-5PM.

I put together a set of about 15 images from the museum that you can view here. I’ve got lots more images of the museum that I still need to upload that I’ll be adding in the days ahead.

Update: Interestingly enough there is an article today over at the Environmental Capital blog at the Wall Street Journal that talks about the recent decision by ConnocoPhillips to try and save some of the Union 76 service station balls that have been coming down. It looks like the MONA has in fact recieved on of these iconic balls from ConnocoPhillips. Thanks, Russell!