Thursday, July 29, 2010

#20 - Signs, Signs, Everywhere Signs! Part 1

Dad always insisted on painted wood. Painted wood isn't as fun to shoot as enameled metal. - Bill Hustead on his father (and founder) Ted's material preference for their Wall Drug highway signs

I learned a valuable lesson in effective advertising at a very early age. Staring out our Oldsmobile's big rear window watching the countryside fly by, I was with my family cruising westbound on Interstate 90 to South Dakota for our annual summer vacation. Motoring through Minnesota I saw the first one: Wall Drug Only 355 Miles. Curious about the sign, I asked my dad, "What's Wall Drug?". "I don't know," he said, "but they're not wasting any time advertising for it!". Little did we know . . .

The next sign was about 30 miles down the road - Since 1931, A South Dakota Must See, Wall Drug - and the further from home we traveled, the closer the signs were spaced. As Told by ABC Good Morning America, Wall Drug. Sheriff on Duty, Wall Drug. Save Energy, Stop at Wall Drug. Have You Dug Wall Drug? Mile after mile of mile after mile, the suspense kept building and so did our excitement. Do Lunch or Be Lunch, Wall Drug. Badlands Then Wall Drug. Great Hot Coffee 5 Cents, Wall Drug. 6 Foot Rabbit, Wall Drug. What? Finally my sisters and I couldn't stand it anymore and shouted in unison, "MOM AND DAD, CAN WE SEE WALL DRUG?".

Back then I never bothered to count all the signs, I only knew there were a lot of them and that that constant barrage of advertising worked like a series of magnets to attract my family to Wall Drug. Even now the power of those simple painted wooden signs amazes me, so that's why this year I decided to photograph all of them for my second Summer Photo Project.
Planning for the project was easy, it really only required two things: decent weather -- or at least good light, and the stamina (and time!) to stop, stand, stretch, and shoot every one of those crazy signs! I would cover all the eastbound I-90 signs on my way to Wisconsin (starting in Wyoming), and all of their westbound counterparts on my way back to Oregon (starting in Minnesota). For the eastbound shoot, I had to wait until after Noon to start working (so the signs weren't backlit), and the westbound signs mandated the opposite approach, rising and shining and shooting at 6:00 a.m. I'd need to wear a safety vest since I was working on federal highway and parking on the shoulder to access the right of way so I could study and create a unique shot of each sign . . . that was my goal.
June 18th was a gorgeous day -- breezy, dry, mild, and sunny -- and I happily snapped the first Wyoming sign (Silver Dollar Display, Wall Drug) shortly before 1:00 p.m. For the next 8 plus hours, I photographed 69 signs! Towards the end I felt like a mail carrier running a rural route -- crawling on the shoulder, emergency lights flashing, stopping frequently, and moving slowly! I captured the last eastbound sign in Wall, SD, just after 9:00 p.m. - in the darkness - the perfect ending for the first half of my journey. The westbound shoot was a bit more challenging and I'll detail that and the history of Wall Drug too, next time . . .

My suggestion for the next new sign: As posted on Newsphotography:Exposed, Wall Drug