1 May 2010


Fischer Strube, Luzern Switzerland (Photo: Erik Wallace)

While mine and the History of Advertising Trust’s efforts have focused on hand painted advertising from the UK and Ireland it’s always worth remembering that Ghostsigns are a global phenomenon.
In fact there are others around the world attempting to capture them for posterity in much the same way as we’ve done with the archive.

In New Zealand you should check out the work of Mark Spurgeon, a typography enthusiast and graphic designer who has been inviting contributions to his website for over a year now. The majority of examples featured are from New Zealand and Australia but over time the photos have become increasingly global.

Here are some highlights from the site and each month a new set is added. Mark also kindly offered some commentary on his work which you can read below. I wonder if there might be an opportunity to collaborate and scale up the project/archive to similarly move it onto a more worldwide footing? I’m not volunteering yet but there’s certainly enough content on Flickr etc to do this if there was an easier way of categorising and cataloguing the signs. More thoughts to follow…

Auckland, New Zealand (Photo: Mark Spurgeon)

What is Preserve?

“Preserve an attempt to produce a permanent photographic record of hand painted building signage. These old signs are being erased from our cities either being worn away by weather over time, covered as buildings have been repainted, disappearing as buildings are demolished or replaced with modern signage equivalents. The collection is mostly in New Zealand signage but there are also signs posted from other countries as people contribute to the collection.”

When did you start the site and what motivated you to start it?

“Even as a kid I really old buildings, there seems to be charm about them that is not captured in todays modern structures. I can still remember in Wellington, where I grew up, seeing the large warehouses with advertising painted down the sides for various products from times past. These old buildings certainly then had a charm about them and as time has moved on even more so. I have a real love for old type and its many forms it comes in but there is something special when you see a building with a really well painted large weather worn sign, I guess its about the scale, size and hand crafted nature that attracts me.

I started photographing signs on buildings about 4 years ago, the first sign I took a photo of was in Sydney while I was there for work. It was just a simple sign thats says ‘Beware of Traffic’, I only saw it as it was at eye level and when I did see it I saw more than just a warning but a hand crafted creation, a work of art in itself. After taking that shot I began to build up a library of shots mostly from New Zealand. Initially I was keen to put them into a book of some kind but a website was the easier route to take and just over a year ago Preserve was launched.”

Off George St, Sydney, Australia (Photo: Dan Davis)

What do you enjoy most about doing the site?

“I guess there are two aspects which are linked:

  1. I really like the idea that Preserve is somehow capturing a fast disappearing craft. There are not too many signage guys out there that can hand paint a good sign now days although there are still a few around that can do an ‘old school’ sign. Most signs are now plastic computer generated type that have lost that old world aesthetic charm they once had and
  2. In some small way Preserve is archiving some of New Zealand’s signage heritage as it disappears before our eyes.”

Where do take most of your photos/how do you find the material you shoot?

“Most material I have shot has been in Christchurch as it has plenty to shoot and also its where I live. Having said that it is getting harder to find as most of the obvious signs have been photographed and you really have to look to find the not so obvious ones. Usually to find the good ones you have to get out on the streets and walk around not looking straight a head but usually looking up as thats where most on them are. To find them I also normally head for the older parts of town that are a little run down where the owners haven’t done any upkeep on the buildings. Over the years to get the shots I have had to hang out windows 3 stories up, manage to rip my pants climbing over barb wire fences and chased by guard dogs once over. All of the New Zealand shots I have taken are in large digital format and shortly I will releasing a limited edition range of posters on the site.”

As you can probably tell there are lots of parallels between Mark’s story and mine and it’s good to know that the Ghostsign hunting experience is much the same the world over. You will also find some examples from the UK on Mark’s site, for example the one below from Bob & Roberta Smith’s ‘Shop Local’ campaign.

Hoxton Street, Shoreditch, London, England (Photo: E. Lombardi)

Thanks for sharing your work with us Mark and keep it up. If you want to get in touch then visit the Preserve site or email Mark on mark@preserve.co.nz.

Subscribe to my newsletter for news, events and projects from the world of ghost signs. I curate the newsletter roughly monthly and welcome submissions.