“Lettering and signs are very important to me. There are infinite possibilities both decorative in itself and as popular art, as folk art, and also as symbolism and meaning and surprise and double meaning. It’s a very rich field… I think in truth I’d like to be a letterer. And then broadly speaking I’m literary. The sign matters are just a visual symbol of writing. – Walker Evans

Hits: 7

32 thoughts on “Signs

  1. Rob Campbell

    Understandable; I find myself snapping them too. Trouble is, I like doing them best with my 500mm mirror lens which means a tripod, which means I seldom do them as I’d like because of the tripod which I hate lugging around. Compromises, all the bloody time.

    The other annoying thing is that they are often better in colour, and I gravitate towards black/white…

    Whenever this kind of shot is mentioned, my mind inevitably goes to a classic long lens street shot by Ernst Haas. Which in its turn, reminds me of a Crewdson shot, which might be just a rip off of Hopper.

    Who was it said there’s nothing original possible anymore?

    1. Rob Campbell

      How I don’t!

      I thank my lucky stars the entire family got the hell out unscathed. I just can’t understand the attraction of poverty, disease and terminal hopelessness that is India. My doctor, after his holiday there, told me that everybody he saw in the streets was sick, displaying one symptom or another.

      A brief look at the chaos of these past few days, with racketeers selling access to hospitals via the good graces of corrupt officialdom, government that allows religious mass-gatherings exactly as the nation hits the highest infection rates in the world, and still fails to enforce the slightest kind of distancing or masks in these religious circumstances – no thanks. Maybe the govt. just gives up in the face of impossible odds.

      And this the country that we Brits are supposed to have guilt about because of our distant presence there. As with so much, the truth is the polar opposite: it went downhill from August 1947 onwards. Left to its own devices, it reverted to the practices of ancient times. The really rich, and there were many, got ever richer and as with China, profits came rolling in, bathed in sweat, child labour and shopper indifference in the first world.

      Votes for everyone? Tiny hitch: literacy and, as with Scotland where a cynical set of politicians selling tartan dreams runs the show, blaming England for all Scottish problems, India has Pakistan for regular diversion from domestic failures, just as Russia uses foreign games such as massive troop movements on the border with Ukraine to distract from domestic problems and political prisoners on hunger strike.

      I feel a lot of sadness for the normal people there in India; though I was just a kid, I was still old enough to know how gentle the majority of the poor whose paths crossed mine were. When we departed, six years after Independence, there were tears all round the domestic front, not least because both parties understood that the chances of staff getting alternative employment was pretty much zilch. When you’ve had folks working in your home for years, they tend to become second family. If there’s guilt, it lives in the impossible dilemma of leaving of them behind without hope.

      As one Mr Macmillan famously said, you’ve never had it so good. A lot of life’s like that – perhaps understood mainly in retrospect. Oh well, I can’t fix myself, never mind the world.

      🙁 and, to cheer us all up again, 🙂

      1. Keith Laban

        Of course, there’s poverty and disease throughout the world for those who feel the attraction: India is no exception.

        My wife and I have spent several months walking the streets of metropolitan and rural India, meeting a vast range of people, from the wealthy privileged to the deprived homeless. Our overriding impression of India and her people is one of dignity and pride and above all a stoicism. acceptance and remarkable positivity. If it wasn’t for this dreadful pandemic we’d literally be there now and make no apologies for that.

        “and, to cheer us all up again”

        Oh, Rob, as usual we can rely on you for that!

        1. Rob Campbell

          And no reason for any apology: it wouldn’t change a thing out there on the sub-continent. The only thing that can change it is limited births – just as everywhere else where there are more kids than the means to support them properly.

          Frankly, our own society has too many bearing too many without the means to keep them without state intervention. But how do you counter this when faced with the arguments about freedom of choice and/or religious convictions? I can really see the day coming when all governments will be forced to act in this respect; creeping desertification and loss of arable land as well as declining fish stocks will force this issue to an existential head. And it won’t help being a member of a richer society. In fact, it’s possible that a richer society is also responsible by providing too generous support systems that can encourage irresponsible behavioural patterns within its remit.

          There aren’t going to be easy answers. There have never been, throughout all the endings of various forms of civilization. We can be no different if we ignore the lessons of our own science; as Covid has revealed, it’s often the richest countries that are led by the most blind of leaders.

          Do I derive some pleasure from any of this? Nope; I love my grandkids too much for that, but I do wonder what sort of future will await them.

          1. Rob Campbell

            Dan, that’s an interesting link to the Indian water problems.

            There are lots of water system remnants in Mallorca, thanks to the ancient Moorish settlers who brought with them engineering skills. They managed to arrange for cultivation to be possible even on really steep mountain sides – hence the citrus fruit orchards in narrow wedges, purpose-built land terraces, on those mountains. The region around Deya, where Michael Douglas bought a large property, is one such. Soller, another town in the mountains, has a lot of little reservoirs and underground irrigation passages built by the Moors. Much of this had been left to rot after the Moors were expelled, showing that not all invasions are negative… those same mountains once boasted so-called snow houses where mountain snow was collected, compacted, and taken down as ice to the big smoke by donkey carts. I think very few such places remain standing today.

            I hope this doesn’t also spread and hit the Indian efforts at conservation, but the winter weather here has become warmer, and even since my arrival in ’81 there has been a marked difference in the snow that is now so much more rare a sight, other than on one or two peaks at around 1400 metres. My wife used to love watching the astonishing lightning and thunderstorms that regularly rocked the place those winters past. They have pretty much vanished. There comes the occasional ultra-heavy downpour that reminds people of the folly of building on flood plains – several people were drowned in their homes and cars a couple of years ago through these flash floods. But, the weather is certainly not what it once was.

            India’s got a ranges of mountains running down much of the eastern and western coasts – The Eastern and Western Ghats, and it’s these that force the rising and condensation of the air that provides the two monsoons, the north-eastern and the south-western. Should that air change direction of fail to blow, no conservation devices will make any difference. Life there, as everywhere, depends on us looking after our spaceship..

    2. Keith Laban

      I should add, rather than images of signs per se, I’m particularly drawn to images that include signage that is in someway linked to and resonant with other elements within that image.

  2. Dan Newell

    I like that little rush that comes from signage…Oh Yeah that is going to work!
    I remember Frank’s No More Goodby’s when I first saw it and I thought this cat is not even waiting for a sign he just made his own.

  3. Rob Campbell


    The three women in white that appear on the header bar, though different setting, remind me of HC-B’s slightly larger group of similarly clad Indian women looking across to distant mountains. Who said you have to show faces?

    David Bailey claims that the photo convinced him there was more to photography than snaps.

  4. Rob Campbell

    I got distracted by Indian memories.

    Some Balearic signs/lettering:

    The last one’s from the 1.8/85mm Nikkor G. This lens is a bit problematic: as here, it required no sharpening at all (no camera sharpening is ever intentionally used) which means that I would have to soften the images if I shot women with it. Largely an academic problem, I guess.

  5. Rob Campbell

    I realise that there’s no dedicated slot for such links, but this one is of interest to those of us who think about what we do, as well as its place within society – its value, perhaps. As such, I hope it belongs as much here as in any other slot in Leicaphilia. The person being intervied is Mexican photographer Pedro Meyer.

    As usual, with anything I attempt on the iPad, I trust I’ve copied the link successfully!

  6. Daniel Castelli

    Didn’t someone once state (in reference to Swedish movies of the 1960’s) that sometimes, a cigar is just a cigar?
    I always shoot pics of newspaper stands. Same with signs. Not trying to rip off anybody, not pretending to be H-CB, just shooting signs.
    It might be my education in a former life as a graphic artist…I don’t know. I do know that I tend to see potential subjects existing on parallel planes, rather than as something that has depth, shape & form. Maybe I need a brain scan…

    1. Rob Campbell

      No need for the scan: I have several galleries devoted to the idea of parallel perception.

      I’m not absolutely sure what I mean when I employ the term; I find it easier to think of it as my eye/brain being attracted to something that I don’t necessarily find easy to explain in precise ways at the moment of attraction – but at least it’s got the feeling of some significance beyond the physically obvious.

      Often, when I get to the stage of working on the files, I no longer remember what it was that I thought that I’d felt attracting me. However, it’s a rare occasion that I am consequently unable to make something of the shot, so I guess it’s not a matter of shooting blanks. I guess that the thing’s basically a reaction to stimulation of some kind. Could one but control that stimulation and apply it to many other matters, I suppose that we’d have a more usefull tool at our disposal than one limited to photography.

      1. Dan Newell

        That’s an interesting group in parallel perception that you’ve done. The one thing that seems to be a strong qualifier in almost every shot is strong contrast.
        What’s interested me is the part of the mind that I would term infantile. When we are in the crib we all recognize contrast above all else, never mind what the colors or monochrome is that we are looking at.
        So I think of it as a subconscious drive. It’s impossible to verbalize let alone fully realize a subconscious drive in a conscious mind but it is a significant drive nonetheless.

        1. Rob Campbell

          I have reservations about subconscious minds: due to having been prescribed too many beta blockers through the years (so many meds for different ailments seem to contain them), I reached a period where I’d sit down for lunch, and in the middle of the main course, I would sometimes be overtaken by the desire to faint. I knew it was coming, and had time to shift the plate and not knock over the wine glass before blacking out.

          Now, if there is a subconscious state, why does it not permit a memory of the faint period, which apparently lasts tor several minutes? Instead of any memory, there is absolutely nothing: I faint, and then I’m right back, with no conception of lapsed time. Some write of near-death experiences, but if you are truly unconscious, how would you have a memory of such experiences to relate? Fortunately, after the last such event, the doctor in the hospital told me that the fainting was due to the too powerful natural effect of blood leaving the brain to assist the stomach with digestion, combining with the intended effect of the beta blockers. He told me to get the local doc to cancel all my beta blocker meds. That was a couple of years before Covid at least, and so far, I eat without creating further public entertainments. It never happened when eating at home – only in restaurants.

          Could it be that there is no subconscious, and that we just compartmentalise things by need, just as does memory hold the rest of our known information? In that case, we might be seeing our parallels photographs simply through old memory files. I know that I have described the driver to my “glimpsed parallels” somewhere as being perhaps some sense of déjà vu, of distant memory of something else. Maybe, after all, such things might hint at an earlier existence. I sometimes feel that my wife was not my first time round with her; we seemed to fit perfectly from the first date: I can’t remember ever having the sense of getting to know her; it was as if I always had. Odd. However, perhaps that thought holds promise for a next time. I’d go with that; in fact, I do.

          1. Dan Newell

            The medication induced loss of consciousness really isn’t a fair appraisal in my mind. That’s a biochemical change to brain chemistry that is a unnatural process.

            The subconscious is all the memories of experiences that are compartmentalized because the response mechanism of our conscious mind may demand a physiological response that induces stress.

            Most of us only have a capability to respond to stress for 5-7 minutes. If the stress continues longer then we either run away from the stress, deflect or tell the other person to get away. Now, if you are filled with anxiety, the main feature of that, is the thought that is being reviewed incessantly. That is not a subconscious drive, that is an active problem solving exercise.

            So when I decide to go take some shots I want as little conscious mind involvement as possible. Speed, f-stop, light that’s it. No conversation, music or questions just a quiet mind. I might have a chance at that point to do some work that interests me later but I have shot enough to see when I was preoccupied with some concern on my mind and it usually doesn’t turn out well.

            That’s about as close an explanation to myself that I can come up with.

            I don’t know how the connection with your wife works into it….that’s some mystical thing only for you. I have a couple of memories that are like that but they stay in their own place undisturbed, holy ground.

  7. Daniel Castelli

    I can’t even imagine (alert! Old man talking!) how many mechanicals I created when I worked in graphics. To indicate color or a graphic we created acetate overlays and pin-punched the whole thing together to register when it went to the process cameras. That’s how I see much of what I compose or see – like planes or overlays that have infinite dimensions running vertical and horizontal.
    Funny thing though; our daughter is a trained artist. One day she told us (Mom & me) that she had trouble in the landscape classes in art school. She didn’t see in 3D, but in overlapping planes. Her prof. got her into a neuro study at MIT where some wonks were working on how humans perceive shape & form. Nothing wrong or right, but just another way to see the world. She’s also hypersensitive to color, she sees an expanded spectrum. But, not all is wonderful; she can’t dance or hold a tune.

    1. Rob Campbell

      Seeing in three or two dimensions is a difficult thing to grasp if it starts to be viewed further from its basic idea: to see things as closer or more distant from the viewer. A person with but a single eye can’t see in 3D, but I have personally known two car drivers with only one eye (each!), and they have no apparent difficulty driving long cars and parking them.

      I imagine that in your daughter’s case, the problem may well be one of terminology rather than of ability to see in 3D. As long as both her eyes function well she has the two separate points required for triangulation with the third, the subject. There may be the further complication that most of us with normal colour vision have with red: it leaps out. If other colours can be seen to the individual with equal strength, I get that this a depth perception problem might arise.

      As I’ve often said, an acute lack of singing or other musical abilities has caused me much regret throughout my life. Dancing? Thank goodness for the twist! At last something not too far beyond me, even if a bit silly, insofar as these things go. Wish I could do this:

      1. Keith Laban

        Ron, thanks. It was taken when I was a fully paid up member of the Leica appreciation society – still would be if it wasn’t for eyesight issues.

        What Leia user happening upon that scene wouldn’t have pressed the shutter release?

  8. Juan Valdenebro

    Dear Tim:
    The first time I ran into a Leicaphilia post was only a few months ago… I was surprised at your deep understanding of photography.
    This month I read -again as a casual internet finding- another equally impressive set of deep and brilliant ideas rising from your words.
    I want to tell you what I felt after coming into Leicaphilia to read for an hour in the morning today (now it’s past midnight) and then I just couldn’t stop until this moment: I went though all of it from 2013… This site you built with your eyes and your heart, is no doubt the best photography site in the world, ever.
    Please allow me to be clear enough: everything else could just be deleted. Seriously.
    From the right understanding of equipment as efficient tools, to the soul flight of philosophy of photography, everything here is relevant. Even calling some people by their names. It’s all fair, clean and necessary. Thank you very much for this huge legacy: I’m recommending all this to my students from tomorrow morning on, forever.
    Your effort has been remarkable, and you’ve given life to a whole… Thanks for many quotes I had never read before! One more thing… Believe me all you’ve put here is a blazing treasure, but you gave me another unexpected gift: you made me laugh, many times today, and, living alone here, sometimes my laughing could be heard outside my house. That had not happened in years… God bless you.
    But that’s not all of it: there are many, many photographs you’ve done, in different decades, that show your talent and outstanding eye at making true art. You’re an amazing, unforgettable photographer!
    Thank you very much for sharing your family, your life, and all that love!
    I have no words, brother photographer… You’re big! Huge!

      1. Finny

        I am so happy to hear that.
        I check your website almost every day and am happy every time I get to learn something new that inspires me. And: this also includes the many good comments of some fellow readers, which are often also very worth reading.
        … I would like to join “Juan’s” comment. I feel exactly the same way.
        And my great wish would be to have all your previous thoughts, texts, comments… in printed form in front of me on the table, with all the photos, to be able to browse through them again and again and to be inspired and to indulge in the thoughts.

        לחיים – To life!

      2. Tam

        Speaking as some random internet stranger who’s been checking twice a day, I am relieved and gladdened.

        Looking forward to whatever further content you wish to share.

  9. Rob Campbell

    Delighted – and relieved – to see you back online and not selling little blue and/or yellow pills or rockin’ on the harp!

    I had been trying to get through at least twice a day, and this current connection has been brought about by finding an indirect link to here via a comment I made some long time ago on Luminous Landscape, a site which I no longer connect with for a variety of irrelevant (here) reasons. Strange to find a long-forgotten comment standing boldly and nakedly there in Google; a bit worrying, too, about what else may emerge, though I try to remain cautious at all times.

    For a while, I could still get through directly via the iPad (to silence) though the computer failed every time and all I got were the meds. Then, a couple of days ago, the iPad wouldn’t load the site at all. I’m on the computer right now.

    Looking forward to more of your musings!


Comments are closed.