The project is called Sign Language: Route 1 and was created by Tricia O’Neill, a photographer and sign painter with a degree in a fine art. The idea behind the series was to capture the unique and ephemeral nature of vintage and hand-painted signs and advertisements across the east coast of America, showing the skill and craftsmanship of a trade that is dying out. Throughout the project, Tricia passed through seven states, travelling from north to south, meeting shop owners and locals and learning whatever history she could about the art.
“The inspiration for this project stems from a desire to capture a disappearing America. I also wanted to honour painters and sign makers who have greatly contributed to the accessible outdoor artwork that we call ‘Americana’. I use photography to preserve the tradition and histories of the art, paying homage to those that came before me and recording those remaining manifestations of hand-lettered signage,” Tricia told Lonely Planet News.
Because of today’s municipal ordinances controlling size and structure, some of the old signs featured in the project cannot be replaced as they exist today. As a sign painter herself, Tricia wanted to capture the fact that traditional methods are being replaced with digitally printed or electronic signs. While much of the old work is visually beautiful, the photographer also wanted to outline the fact that the medium was a trade designed to keep food on the table for many talented artists. “I wanted to represent and hold up the people that make all of this work but are not perhaps considered artists ultimately because they have to work for a living and don’t have the luxury of pursuing art for art’s sake,” Tricia said.
The photographer is working on another project that sees her capturing the Martello Towers scattered around Ireland in a similar documentary style.
More information on her shows and work can be seen at her website.