Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Edmund Vincent Gillon's New York

Not long ago, I chanced upon an online gallery featuring a great banquet of exceptionally fine New York street scenes by photographer Edmund Vincent Gillon, Jr, who died in 2008.   The photographs, housed at the Museum of the City of New York, date mostly to the 1970s and 80s.  Judging by their content, Mr. Gillon seems to have been drawn to the grand, the quirky, the ephemeral.  New York in those years must have been a wonderland for him.


From top: Schapiro's Kosher Wines, 143 Rivington St; Ratner's, 138 Delancey; Streit's Matzos, 148 (?) Rivington St. (Edmund Vincent Gillon / MCNY)

Says the Museum of the Gillon gallery:  "His photographs bring to life not only the countless readily apparent changes that have taken place in the city's urban landscape over the past several decades, but also the many subtle changes that transformed neighborhoods such as SoHo, Tribeca, and Dumbo as they transitioned, building by building, from gritty wastelands into the vibrant urban oases they have become."


From top: Loew's Delancey, 140 Delancey St; The Star Cafe, 167 West 23rd Street. (Edmund Vincent Gillon / MCNY)

Old neon signs - already old, even then, forty-odd years ago - often haunt the backdrop of Mr. Gillon's street scenes, as seen in the images excerpted here.  Like so much of what one finds in these photographs, all of the signs in this selection of photos are gone today.  Perusing the online gallery, I find that the photographs pose more questions than they answer.  With interests in the quirky and the ephemeral, where, I wonder, would a young Mr. Gillon point his lense in the city today?  

From top: Variety Theatre, 110 Third Ave.; Automat et al, East 14th Street, north side near Irving Place. (Edmund Vincent Gillon / MCNY)

The MCNY's gallery of photographs by Edmund Vincent Gillon Jr can be viewed online here.

SEE ALSO:

Edmund Gillon Jr's photographs are featured in a number of books published in the heyday of Dover Publications.  Some of these include "Cast-iron Architecture in New York: a Photographic Survey" (1974); "New York Then and Now: 83 Manhattan Sites Photographed in the Past and the Present" (1976); "South Street : a Photographic Guide to New York City's Historic Seaport" (1977); "The Lower East Side : a Guide to its Jewish Past" (1979); "Provincetown Discovered : the Fishing Village Where The Pilgrims First Landed" (1986); "Beaux-Arts Architecture in New York : a Photographic Guide" (1988); and "The Great Sights of New York : A Photographic Guide" (1991).

NEON WALKING TOURS: 

 Thursday, April 20, 2017
 May date TBD

Mark your calendars!  Tickets will be available at this link.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Porteño Neon Fantasmas

Amid the recent flurry of stress-inducing headlines here at home, this seems like as good a time as any for a little retreat down memory lane - more than 10 years and 5,000 miles down memory lane, in fact, south of the border, south of the equator, to Buenos Aires, where I found myself in November 2006.  


Restaurant Confiteria El Cervatillo, Arenales 1900, Buenos Aires. (T. Rinaldi)

Buenos Aires back then was a purgatory of beautiful people living among beautiful relics.  One couldn't tell whether this owed more to economic realities or to an ingrained reluctance to part with relics of the past.  From high-ceilinged coffee shops to the incandescent glow of century-old subway cars then still rolling beneath Avenida Mayo, Buenos Aires felt like a portal into an earlier time.


Hotel Los Tres Reyes, Pte. Luis Saenz Pena 284 CP, Buenos Aires. (T. Rinaldi)

Farmacia San Roque, somewhere around centro Buenos Aires. (T. Rinaldi)

This condition extended to the city's neon.  Old signs presented themselves around every corner.  After the trip, I found myself back in New York with a small album of Buenos Aires neon that became one of my favorite souvenirs of Argentina.  As it happened, I had just begun scouting New York's old signs for the project that eventually became the New York Neon book.  Buenos Aires and other towns on the way to Patagonia turned out to be a proving ground for the photographic approach I would take to record old signs back home.  


Zum Edelweiss, Libertad 431, Buenos Aires(T. Rinaldi)

I haven't been back to Argentina since that trip in 2006, leaving me to wonder what's become of these old places.  Like so many of New York's neon landmarks that have vanished in the years since then, these visions of Argentina flicker on in my memory.  

Luna Park, Av. Madero 420, Buenos Aires. (T. Rinaldi)

Dos Heladerias, Buenos Aires. (T. Rinaldi)

Teatro Gran Rex, Av Corrientes 857, Buenos Aires. (T. Rinaldi)

Bar Americano, somewhere near San Telmo, Buenos Aires. (T. Rinaldi)

Hotel Guido Palace, Calle Guido 1780, Buenos Aires. (T. Rinaldi)

Farmacia Pasteur, Bahia Blanca. (T. Rinaldi)

Harrod's, Calle Florida, Buenos Aires. (T. Rinaldi)

"Dali," Comodoro Rivadavia. (T. Rinaldi)

Hotel Central Cordoba, San Martín 1021, Buenos Aires. (T. Rinaldi)  

BsAs Night Neon. (T. Rinaldi)  


NEON WALKING TOURS: 

 Thursday, April 20, 2017
 May date TBD

Mark your calendars!  Tickets will be available at this link.



IN OTHER NEON NEWS:

 When in Mesa, AZ, don't miss "Mesa's Main Street Neon By Night," a guided bus tour led by Marshall Shore the Hip Historian and Vic Linoff of the Mesa Preservation Foundation.  Tour dates at the link.

 Via Jeremiah's Vanishing NY:  the shuttered Carnegie Deli's neon was spotted being carted off to points unknown.



 Neon in the backdrop of these supremely beautiful New York scenes from the 50s and 60s by photographer Saul Leiter, from the Ephemeral NY blog. 

 Lysande Skylt: A celebration of Swedish neon, at the Staadsmuseet Stockholm. (Here's the English translation - lots to peruse here.)

 In Los Angeles, the Museum of Neon Art is now displaying the restored Brown Derby sign.  

 "21 Iconic Upstate NY Places We Miss" - Bygone Upstate neon and other signs. 

 And finally, when in Liverpool, England - "The World's Largest Collection of Neon Signs is Ridiculous And Amazing" - via The Creator's Project.




















Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Fake Neon

You may have noticed a disturbing trend rearing its spurious head in various forms of media lately.  I write, of course, of the increasingly rampant proliferation of fake neon that has cropped up in TV and print advertisements and even team logos in the past few months.  I first started to notice the fake neon trend late last year.  Maybe it's one of those things that one notices and then suddenly starts to see everywhere.  


The Children's Store, Union Square East.  TNT's "Good Behavior." (T. Rinaldi) New logo for the Memphis Redbirds.

Fake neon is nothing new.  In researching my book New York Neon, I was surprised to find instances of fake neon signs as early as the 1940s.  In one early instance, sign boxes with plastic faces were designed to mimic the appearance of neon lettering when lit from within.  More recently, LED signs have contorted themselves to look like neon tubes - in some cases all too convincingly. 


Fake Neon, 1944.  (Signs of the Times Magazine, July 1944)

Time Out New York, Bloomingdale's, Hulu's "Shut Eye." (T. Rinaldi)

This latest trend isn’t fooling anyone:  improved printing technology and digital graphics seem to have given birth to a wave of neon-like letterforms used for catchy advertisements that have popped up all over town.  Could it be a spin off of the recent rise in popularity of real neon, which has turned up in just about every retailer on Broadway in SoHo in the last few years?  



Trader Joe's; Bloomingdale's. (T. Rinaldi)
Moonlight; Waitress; Riverdale. (T. Rinaldi)

Whatever the reason for it, those of us who admire neon can welcome this latest development as yet another manifestation of neon's undeniable appeal.  Imitation, after all, is the sincerest form of flattery.

NEON WALKING TOURS: 

 Thursday, April 20, 2017
 May date TBD

Mark your calendars!  Tickets will be available at this link.

IN OTHER NEON NEWS: 
 Via Jeremiah: keep an eye out for vanishing neon all over New York this winter.
 In LA?  Don't miss the Museum of Neon Art's Valentine's Day Neon Cruise.
 Old country neon, at Shorpy.
 An "Insta Worthy Scavenger Hunt of New York's Best Neon Art Signs" at Guest of a Guest.