First Take: Signs of the Times Print

Villa del Mar
Photo by Naraelle Barrows.
If all of Seattle’s streets were to compete in a beauty contest, Aurora Avenue would probably finish last. But a group of undergraduates with cameras discovered real visual poetry on the avenue—in its aging bent-neon signs and kitschy motor-courts. Their documentary project, Aurora Avenue: Highway Culture in Transition, can be found in the ever-growing Urban Archives, an online repository of city images. Developed as a research and teaching tool by three UW grad students, Irina Gendelman, Giorgia Aiello and Tom Dobrowolsky, it includes studies of everything from yard art to graffiti to “ghost signs”—fading billboard-size advertisements painted on the sides of buildings.