Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Selling Space

Tucked away in Duke University’s vast archive of outdoor advertising, is a small group of photos about the selling of outdoor ad space. In addition to the expected blank billboards and “your ad here” signs, are a handful of altered photographic prints, artifacts of the sales process. 

Easily believable as a John Baldessari series—swap out faces for buildings and apply rectangular rather than circular color patches--these photos from a Columbus Ohio real estate company, showed advertisers exactly where their ad would appear. As for the choice of using red (as opposed to the obvious white), there’s no way of knowing if it was inspired by the latest shade of nail polish, Russian Constructivism, or Dorothy’s ruby slippers.

It’s entirely possible, too, that the bright red color went beyond identifying the available space. It may have offered the subliminal suggestion that with an ad in that spot, your business could achieve a status of living color in the otherwise dreary black and white landscape of ordinary commerce.

John Baldessari, The Fallen Easel, detail, 1987

 Gustav Klutsis In Memory of Fallen Leaders, 1927 (via MoMA)

There's alway's an office wise-guy who has to be different!

It kind of makes me want to go out, buy billboard space, and actually paint it red. 

But wait ... It looks as if someone has done that already!

Wall space available in Trenton, c.1920.

Blank Highway Billboards
These road photos out-Hopper Hopper for stark, abstract loneliness.

Atlantic City Billboards

Whited-out billboards, above, from 1942 and below, 1951.

Cool “invasion arrow” is added to this 1926 day/night composite with crowds.

Separate day and night scenes from 1923.


  1. Very interesting collection of images.

  2. This is fascinating and the first time I've seen images used to support the selling process. Did they have anything that gave details of the prices paid for different time periods on these different types of hoarding? At the History of Advertising Trust archive in the UK I found an invoice that gave a figure of £30 for one year's use of a site in central London.


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