Monday, December 27, 2021

Sign Language, Part Three

In this the third edition of Sign Language I’m offering three pairings. Pair One tells the tale of a leather tanning town in Provence that was left empty when that odiferous trade left France for North Africa. Pair Two hales from the epic Verdon Gorge. And Pair three juxtaposes photographs from places more than 5,500 miles apart that show that the American West has long tentacles and broad appeal. 

Tannerie A. Plauchud Fils, Barjols, France

Galeries Ateliers des Artistes

Barjols in Provence Verte was home to 24 tanneries and 19 tan mills in the late 19th century. It was the home of the finest French leather. But in 1983 the last tannery closed, the victim of international competition. The gritty village is trying with limited success to reinvent itself as an artmaking mecca.

Watch your step, Verdon Gorge

Steep and Deep

Just 50 miles away from Barjols is the gaping 1,300-foot-deep Verdon Gorge, the deepest in France. Image one warns you to watch your step. Image two shows you why.

Sitting Bull Boots at El Rio Grande in Saintes Maries. Note their website

And from the real west is this rope twirling cowgirl on Santa Fe's Guadalupe Street.

Saintes Maries de la Mer on the other hand is a bustling tourist town in the Camargue that can swell from 2,680 locals to 500,000 tourists on a hot summer day. It’s charming enough but the mosquitos will eat you alive. Because the Camargue is home to sturdy white horses and local cowboys called guardiennes who are devoted to the 17,000-year-old breed an unlikely connection has been forged between Saintes Maries and the American West.

Monday, December 20, 2021

Sign Language, Part Two,

Shep's Liquor, Cottonwood, AZ.

Pine Café, Independence, CA.

Sundial Motel,  Gila Bend , AZ.

Second in my series about signs are these disparate numbers. Three are mid-century items with highly stylized fonts that I identify with the mid-fifties. The establishments advertised above have long been shuttered.

The Fifties to me were open collared shirts of pink and lavender, gray suits with wide shoulders and thick soled brogans. Fashionistas of the era called the lavender hue heliotrope. Funny the things we remember. Earlier in the late forties in the Bay Area we riffed on the clothes of pachucos defined as Mexican American gang members. It’s analogous to rappers today whose threads are often derived from gang attire.

My fourth-grade class was half Mexican and my bestie was Ramon Gutierrez. He and I copped the pachuco look, no mean feat when you’re a nine year old blonde, blue-eyed wasp. We wore Levis with the belt loops cut off and the pant legs turned under to form a perfect cylinder that didn’t touch our calves. The jeans had to be unwashed. The ideal was to be able to stand then in the corner, stiff as a board.

This bit of nostalgia has nothing to do with signs but that’s what I’m reminded of when I see the sign for Shep’s Liquors. Shep's brings to mind my first restaurant job at The Huddle at the corner of  University and Mill Avenue in Tempe, Arizona. The Huddle had a quintessentially fifties sign, too, I was a busboy at 14. It was 1955. God, I hated that job. 

MOTEL 3 Blocks East, Desert Shores, CA.

$500 Fine For Littering, Desert Shores, CA.

Amboy School, Amboy, CA.

The other three come from the nothing there or long gone schools I so favor.

Monday, December 13, 2021

Sign Language

Opera House, Randsburg, California

Famous ABC Beer, Keeler, CA

I hadn’t given it much thought till I posted the Art Deco signs from Oklahoma City’s Automobile Alley a few weeks back. That’s when it occurred to me that I’ve been fascinated by signs since I was a kid. Signs, it seems to me, say a lot about a place at a point in time. That was true about the handsome mid-century signs in OKC and of weathered and peeling ones that tell us that a place’s time has passed. It no surprise that my favorites populate latter camp. Despite my interest I’ve made no demonstrable effort to photograph signs over the decades. If I see one that I like, I’ll take its portrait and that’s that. I even started a portfolio of signs 15 years ago. It was tepid effort at best. Some of that are included today are from the portfolio which I called Signs of Times back in 2006, so named because signs speak so eloquently of the era in which they were painted, assembled, and mounted.

Valve In Head Buick Motorcars, Oklahoma City, OK.

Navajo Handmade Jewelry here, near Monument Valley, AZ.

Nothing sold here, Peñasco, NM.

Another appeal to signs is my abiding appreciation of graphics and design, generally. A sign that is mostly logo or logo type is the simplest. Other signs may reinforce the notion that Buick is a handsome, elegant, and substantial machine. Others may present a benefit promise like “Clean Restrooms” or “Navajo Handmade Jewelry Here.” Sometimes the sign is void of a message. And empty vessel tells a different kind of story.

I beg your pardon.

Sign can be handsomely presented or gone to seed. Like the decaying buildings in the desiccated landscape that I favor, signs that advertise something that no longer exits are the most poignant. They can be funny, too, or attention grabbers like Egg Slut the egg dish emporium in LA’s Grand Central Market. In the shot above the provocative name vies with the implausibly beautiful customer for our attention. My choice is clear. I like signs but I'm not dead yet.

Monday, December 06, 2021

Testing 1 2, 3

 Sierra View

In a castle dark

The second photo essay from Landergin ghost town is of the grain elevators and an abandoned farmhouse just the west of the graveyard of dead trucks. I say elevators plural because there three cylindrical elevators within the towering structure.

I can’t explain the appeal of elevators except to say that the soaring height of the vertical tubes seems outsized and ominous when plopped onto the plains of the Texas Panhandle or the big empty of, say, Kansas. You can see the monoliths across miles of grassy flats. They are beacons of a sort, erected as if to say there’s something here. Visualize a lighthouse protruding from a rocky promontory at the edge of the earth.

In Landergin I was transfixed by the fallow elevators, the empty farmhouse and fifty bent metal carcasses from last week’s post. Landergin in its heyday was barely there. At its apex in the 1930s 15 lonely souls and a couple of a stores called it home. The sign over the truck repair shop tells us there was once a restaurant, maybe gas station and truck stop.

Nothing captures my attention like nothingness.