Painted by people who called themselves “Wall Dogs”, ghost signs or painted brick ads, once covered almost every available brick wall in cities and towns across the United States. They advertised tobacco, soft drinks, alcohol, patent medicines, shoes – anything and everything.
Starting in 2009, Dr. Ken Jones has photographed over 7000 ghost signs in over 4000 cities and towns in 48 states. He photographs the signs in ‘high resolution” – mosaicking dozens to hundreds of individual images to produce as close to an archival version as possible. He has acquired and mosaicked almost half-a-million individual photos. Many of the signs he has photographed are already gone – paint over, demolished, covered by new construction, or “restored.”
Dr. Jones, a graduate of Caltech and Brown University, is a long time Altadena resident. In the 1970’s, he was a member of the Mars Viking Lander Imaging Flight Team at JPL. He was awarded the NASA Public Service award for his work on the Viking Lander data. In 1979, he entered the motion picture industry, working as a Visual Effects Supervisor with credits on films such as Titanic, The Parent Trap, Frida, and Contact.
Using skills developed in both occupations, he has developed techniques to photograph ghost signs in difficult situations. The challenges include removing utility poles and wires that block the signs, and photographing signs in tight spaces, such as a three story high sign in a three foot wide alley. He has developed Photoshop techniques to bring out the hidden ghost layers in the signs, revealing the content of these signs for the first time in almost a century.
This exhibition represents a small sampling of ghost signs from Los Angeles and Pasadena, and as well as from across the United States. Some of the photographs include enhanced versions to show “hidden” ghosts.