11 Apr 2012

Walls by Deidi von Schaewen

Walls by Deidi von Schaewen book cover

Deidi von Schaewen’s ‘Walls’ is a lovely hardback book that documents hand painted advertising on walls in the 1960s and 1970s.  It’s geographical coverage is noteworthy with examples from Berlin, London, New York, Paris and elsewhere in France.  Most of the photography is in black and white with a handful of colour images, all of very high quality.

The author developed a fascination with photography, specifically of walls, in the early 1960s.  She refers to them as her “inner map” with her interest in their “intrinsic quality” as manifested through “traces, different materials, lettering, advertising, people’s idiosyncracies, decoration, destruction”.

Her accounts of finding locations has some similarities to my own experience, with friends tipping her off about good spots and her interest affecting journeys due to frequent stops to capture noteworthy walls.  She also appreciates the archival value of her work, recounting places where the location has since been destroyed or compromised in some other way.  One vivid example is a large sign with a picture of the ‘Blendol Lady’ which, ten years after being photographed, had “a window cut through her chin”.

Perhaps the most eye opening piece of text in the book relates to her approaching the marketing departments of some of France’s big alcohol brands:

“I once approached the men in charge of advertising at Saint-Raphael, Dubonnet and Byrrh and suggested that something be done about their old advertising walls.  A national contest, maybe, around photographing those walls.  The answer was: ‘We are in 1973.  We want to be modern.  We would prefer that those dirty old walls did not exist any longer’.”

This is an interesting rejection of part of their adverising heritage, something which now provokes much more interest than it perhaps did in the early 1970s.

This is a fantastic photographic book, of importance to the topic of ghostsigns because of the date of the photography within it and the variety of locations inside and outside Europe.  The accompanying text is fairly minimal, relating much more to the author’s personal relationship with the walls and signs, but this doesn’t detract from the excellent collection of images included.  Recommended, and not too expensive to buy on Amazon.

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