Frank H. Jump
Fading Ad Campaign is a photographic project documenting vintage mural ads on building brickfaces in New York City spanning nearly a century. It has become a metaphor for survival for me since, like myself, many of these ads have long outlived their expected life span. Although this project doesn't deal directly with , it is no accident I've chosen to document such a transitory and evanescent subject. Of the hundreds of ads I've photographed, many have already been covered up, vandalized, or destroyed. But still many silently cling to the walls of buildings, barely noticed by the rushing passersby.
In 1986 when I found out I was since 1984, I was immediately thrust into a midlife crisis. At age twenty-six, with possibly four more years to live according to the experts, fifteen would have been midlife. Being told my life expectancy would surely be foreshortened caused the curvature of space-time around me to get more curved. My angular momentum increased relative to the decrease of my radius. I started to spin faster as I pulled my arms in towards my center, my speed increasing towards infinity- I approached the speed of life.
I raced so quickly, others around me seemed to grow old and die before my eyes. My urgency to leave my mark as an artist became intensified. I spent lots of money. None of it mine. I accessed all of my available credit lines and bought a home recording studio. I furiously wrote lyrics and music for underground theatre and film. Much of my material was based on my experiences as an activist with the newly formed New York City based group ACT-UP. (Read the transcript of the interview from the ACT-UP Oral History Project or watch the video!) LISTEN TO LILYWHITE LIES (An ACT-UP RAP ANTHEM (lyrics/music) - written & recorded in 1987 by Frank Jump with friends Isabel Dawson and Francis Grant playing and singing backup.) Listen to TAKE MY LIFE (lyrics/music) written & recorded by Frank Jump in 1988 for the musical Hotel Martinique by Kevin Malony (TWEED), Frank Jump & Anne Pope.
Long term plans inevitably started to creep back into my consciousness after being banished for almost a decade. In 1995, I returned to college to finish my Bachelor of Arts in Music, Theatre and Film after almost a twenty-year hiatus from academia. In February of 1997, when I first encountered the vintage sign Omega Oil in Harlem, a gong went off in my head. I realized then that this was to be my documentary photo project for a class I was taking with Mel Rosenthal at State University of New York/Empire State College. What I did not realize was to what extent this project would alter my life's trajectory.
At first I was reluctant to exhibit this work in a public space as an artist for the annual VISUAL AIDS Day Without Art event. I was always used to being political with my viral seropositivity. But this project for me was more of an historical documentation devoid of personal expression. And although I tend to personify the signs when photographing them, almost like photographing an aging diva whom I admire greatly- trying to capture her best side, the focus is still the signs, not my life condition. These images are windows to our commercial and industrial past. They represent a time in our history that was filled with enterprising ideas and burgeoning global marketing. I didn't see a context for them in this venue.
Many of the artists I've known who are categorized as artists either by themselves or the world, express their experience with accelerated life in profound and daring ways. It wasn't until my mentor Lucy Winner at Empire State said, "Frank, there's a connection between your survival, the survival of these signs, and your fervent passion to photograph them," that it all clicked.
Subsequently, I was included in the Visual AIDS archive of past and present artists with , which has recently been launched on the Internet on a site called the Estate Project in conjunction with the Museum of Modern Art. Due to this site, I was made aware of a vast body of work I never before would have encountered. I am proud to be included in such a collection and grateful to be associated with such talented visual artists. Their brave expressions of personal grief and augmented mortality in compressed time document an historical event in this century- the age of .
A new urgency to capture the marks left by artists over twenty-five, fifty, or even a hundred years ago, marks that never were expected to survive this length of time, supplanted my now waning exigencies to produce art and music. After accumulating an abundance of vintage ad images across the country (and in the Netherlands), I knew I was dedicated to this project for the rest of my long life.
Within the last century, we've witnessed the constant rise and fall of countless businesses. Some have left behind popular products that are still being produced while others have only left behind their name on the side of a building, slowly fading in the sun. A number of the vintage ads I've documented have been preserved by buildings being built next to them, only to be revealed years later when the adjacent building has been torn down. Some images have survived by the sheer luck of having a northern exposure.
These images provide a visual archaeology that reminds us of a by-gone era in advertising and illustrate past styles and social trends in New York City, and by extension much of America. The project also addresses current advertising strategies, historical contexts for the rise of commerce, and socio-economic trends. These graphic landmarks must be publicized in an effort to foster interest toward their preservation.
Recently, I gave public testimony before the New York City Landmarks Preservation Committee where I compared historic ads with today's ads. I believe this project has the potential to encourage an open dialogue between ad agencies, local artists, and preservation groups. Such collaborative efforts may produce site specific, culturally sensitive advertising in historic districts.
The aim of this book is to present a photographic archive of vintage mural advertisements representative of the five boroughs of New York City with each image serving as a window to our past. The text of this archive opens these windows and reflects on the impact of large outdoor signage on New York City's early population and how it continues to define today's urban landscape. Some archival photographs as well as the information gleaned from interviews of the five borough historians, local sign painters, advertisers, and product historians will help evoke an image of what our society and environment was like at the time each sign was painted.
The journey on which the Fading Ad Campaign has taken me has been filled with wonder. The July 9th, 1998 New York Times front page Metro section spread publicizing my exhibit at the New-York Historical Society catapulted me into an excited energy state. I jumped orbitals. After the show came down, I wanted a permanent home for this collection of images that would receive a much wider audience.
WWW.WORD.COM, a webzine or online magazine, designed a website to feature me in their October 1998 issue. I was given the original design of twenty images and expanded it myself to over 48 pages of images. It was on the Internet at WWW.FADINGAD.COM that my images found their new home.
The work has been subsequently featured in many online and print magazines, and search engines including: Archaeology Online, POZ Magazine Online, USA Today, Yahoo, The Chicago Sun Times, The London Guardian/Observer Magazine and several radio and TV spots with the BBC, Canadian TV, NPR and PBS. This August, I will be interviewed for a documentary produced by the BBC called "The Wealth of Man," tracing the history of money.
Cyberspace, however, has afforded me a much wider audience and has facilitated an incredible network of correspondence with fading ad enthusiasts. These correspondences and links to other related sites have opened up a whole new perspective of "lost America" and made me aware of the growing interest in historical ad images in the urban and roadside environments. It has also lead me to some incredibly supportive people around the globe whom I am sure will be lifelong friends and colleagues.
When I try to fathom humanity reaching out across the vast electronic ocean of the internet in search of each other, finding like minds, finding one's self, and sometimes finding beauty, I get moved to tears. Never before have we been so isolated from nature and desensitized of violence and callousness as in our urban environment, yet we still are searching for connections to a greater population, a global voice.
To share my vision with our global community is at the same time titillating and humbling. It truly is like putting a message into a bottle and tossing it out on a sea of electrons. It seems so vast, yet it feels like home.
Today we can look at a vintage Reckitt's Blue or Omega Oil mural advertisement and feel transported. Back when they were freshly painted, I'm sure they were eyesores. A century ago, there was a public outcry in New York City against the proliferation of billboard advertising not unlike today's acrimonious battle against the new "Times Square" scale ad campaigns along Sixth Avenue (I still can't call it Avenue of the Americas), Houston Street bordering SoHo, and in lower Manhattan.
I don't think it is a question of whether or not we should continue to surround ourselves with larger than life images whose sole purpose is to move us to consume. It is a question of what images we may find enduring or possibly want to endure.
Nonetheless, today's gargantuan temporary backdrops are disposable and very portable. Images woven or silk screened in digitally pointillist perfection onto sheer canvasses stretch across building faces the size of football fields (which possibly may be used in the future to protect older painted signs). A walk up Sixth Avenue from West 23rd Street to 34th Street is like a stroll through the land of the giants. Although unnerving at times, it can be humbling and almost comforting. I feel like a grain of sand on an endless urban beach.
When you are using a large advertising space in a landmark neighborhood, in Manhattan for example (which soon will encompass the majority of neighborhoods in NYC), why not be smart about the approach. If it's SoHo, an area known for its art, draw attention to its placement and make a statement. There are some ad agencies that meet the challenge to produce images that are not only enduring but also provocative- and at the same time- classy. As in some liquor ads (Absolut) who walk the thin line of poking fun at the art world and homage. Some new ads even copy the styles of ancient ads.
The allure of past expressions in ads runs deeper than nostalgia. It is more of a clutching onto the familiar before we plunge headlong into a new millennium. They are still something we can physically touch. They are markers of the passing of time. The rate at which technology is growing is greater than our social expansion. These signs are closer to us on a scale of time and corporeally than our grasp of what may come. The Internet can either augment or attenuate the impact of advertising depending on how much more or less prominent they become on the web.
And what forms will advertising take in the next century. Will they be even more temporary? Will they impact the environment in monumental ways or will they become even more tenuous and miniscule. Or will they be projected, holographic, canyon sized images that disappear with the flick of a switch. Will they continue to beckon to us the things we need; the things we don't have; or the things we can't do without. And will we ever again use or believe words like "the purest and the best?"
I am committed to continue to express my experience as a survivor with the images of the Fading Ad Campaign. These enduring images represent a surviving culture, shell shocked by wars and famines, scourges and over-the-top ad campaigns. They are living proof that we have survived capitalism. It is almost as if the human race was told we only have a few good years left. We are all living like it is the last days- strangely anticipatory and post-apocalyptic. Fortunately, I've gained a lasting view of my life and the life of this project, from more than just the sheer luck of a northern exposure.
This project is also featured at ARCHAEOLOGY ONLINE, VISUAL AIDS, WORD.COM, and throughout the Internet (just do a search for Fading Ad Campaign and see what comes up!). This site was chosen as Pick of the Week by Yahoo! in February 1999, pick of the day by USA Today, and has been featured by other cool websites and publications like FORBES Best of the Web , THE NEW YORK TIMES (Metro Section Front Page - July 9, 1998 and City Section Front Page - December 10, 2000 ) The Daily News in December 2000, Yahoo! Internet Life, and a spread in the The Guardian/London Observer in May 1999. See the Fading Ad Press Page.

Britannica Online has recently honoured this site as a site of the day!

Thank you all for your recognition!

Special thanks to my patrons and friends, Tama Starr at ArtKraft Strauss - Donn Middleton (MACK Signs) - Andy Hughes - Frank Ligtvoet & Nanne Dekking - Isabel & Rosario Dawson - Sean Strub - Jay Lesiger & Tom Klebba - David W. Dunlap - Tod Swormstedt at the American Sign Museum in Cincinnati - Dr. Erik Marzano - and Vincenzo Aiosa.


Another cool site where you can visit some great fading ads is Forgotten NY by my friend Kevin Walsh.

You can visit some great fading ads from the Midwest by James Lileks at LILEKS .

Another great site by another fading ad buddy where you can see some cool fading ads and other ephemera is PETE ANDERSON's site .
Yet another hub for International ghost signs by Marc Voelckel is RUAVISTA .
OH YEAH! And my husband Vincenzo Aiosa, the Rennaisance man, who shows me where a lot of fading ads are and then some- has his site @ Third Millennium Ventures, Inc.
Check out Phillip Buehler's site called Modern Ruins and Walter Grutchfield's
My mentor Lucy Winner's husband, Tim Connor has a great song-cycle of photos at Not Dot Com Pix
And the official Joni Mitchell site that my late friend Wally Breese created has always been fabulous.
Visit The American Sign Museum for some great links to sign-related websites.

And check out my friend and collaborator, anthropologist Dr. Andrew Irving- who has studied HIV/AIDS artists in Europe, Africa (Uganda) and North America. Dr. Irving can be seen lecturing at the Tate Museum UK site and a short bio in PDF can be accessed there as well. Irving uses some of my images during the presentation.


This site is dynamic and is maintained by Frank H. Jump. All images and photographs are solely owned and copywritten by Frank H. Jump. Reprinting by permission only from owner.


Peace. j-U-M-p!

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