|Paul McIlroy, via Wikimedia Commons|
I think my real fascination with ghost signs lies in their tangibility, their recording of something that no longer exists. Just as photographs or movies can capture the likenesses of people, preserving them for posterity, so the ghost sign reminds of us products or stores that more than likely existed before the days of Google and Yell.com, when a visible advert in a prominent place, such as the front or side of a building, was the best way to alert passersby to your presence, or products. The introduction of the billboard in the 1950s rendered such signs obsolete, yet they still exist - the switch from brick to glass or concrete as construction material of choice surely added to their demise, too.
Considering the ease with which a digital footprint can be erased, or at least misdirected, the continuing presence of these ghost signs is both comforting, and disquieting. They bring ghosts among us, a quiet testament to days gone by, reminding us perhaps of simpler times, while intruding upon a visual culture that has no place for hand-painted adverts on brick. They're particularly poignant in the paradox of their existence - the point of an advert is to tell us about something, but when that 'something' no longer exists, what use do we have of the advert? In addition, some of the signs now appear divorced from their context, as the world changes around them. Without their purpose, is their meaning now obscured, or do they retain a purpose, albeit a new one?
Often advertising mundane products, or homegrown businesses, the ghost sign is a monument to those who have gone before, and a fascinating glimpse into a world that all the websites in existence can never truly recreate.