Thursday, March 18, 2010

Local Profile: Mark Spurgeon of

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Preserve a website that documents old hand-painted building signage, serving as a permanent record of a dying craft and visual heritage of city life. Started by local graphic designer Mark Spurgeon, Preserve is a permanent photographic record of old signs that are slowly being erased over time - either worn away by weather, painted over, or disappearing as buildings are demolished or signage is replaced with modern equivalents. The collection is mainly made up of signage from New Zealand, but signs from other countries have been added over time, as people have learned about the site and have wanted to contribute to Mark's collection. I recently asked Mark to tell me why he started Preserve and what he enjoys about doing the site. Here's what I discovered:
  • When did you start the site and what motivated you? Even as a kid I really liked old buildings. There seems to be a charm about them that is not captured in today's modern structures. I can still remember in Wellington, where I grew up, seeing the large warehouses with advertising painted down the sides for various products from times past. These old buildings had a charm about them then, and even more so to me now as time has gone on. I see something special in a building with a really well-painted, large, weather worn sign. I guess its about the scale, size, and the hand crafted nature that attracts me. I also really love old type and its many forms. I started photographing signs on buildings about 4 years ago. The first sign was in Sydney and was a simple sign that read 'Beware of Traffic'. I remember thinking, when a saw it, that it wasn't only interesting because it was wearing away, but because it was a hand crafted creation - a work of art in itself. After taking that shot I began to build up a library of shots mostly from New Zealand. Initially I was keen to put them into a book but thought I'd start with a website. And that's how Preserve was launched, just over a year ago.
  • What do you enjoy most about doing the site? I guess there are two aspects which are linked. First, I really like the idea that Preserve is somehow capturing a fast disappearing craft. There aren't too many signage guys nowadays that hand paint signs (although there are still a few around that can do an 'old school' sign). Today, most signs are computer generated type, made of plastic, which don't have the same old-world aesthetic charm. And secondly, in some small way Preserve is archiving some of New Zealand's visual heritage, as it disappears right before our eyes.
  • Where do take most of your photos/how do you find the material you shoot? Most material I have shot has been in Christchurch. To date, there has been plenty of old signage to photograph here and it is also where I live. Having said that, I am finding it more and more difficult to find "Preserve-type" signage I haven't already documented in Christchurch and am now going about discovering the not-so-obvious signage. I find the really good ones when on foot - walking around the streets, not looking straight ahead, but really exploring high and low. There are a lot of great ones up high on building facades. I also normally head for the older parts of town, that are a little run down and where building owners may not have done as much upkeep on the buildings. To get some of the shots, I've had to hang out of windows three stories up, have managed to rip my pants climbing over barbed-wire fences, and have been chased by guard dogs.
  • Which is your favorite image at present? I have to say my favorite shot is called 'Use'. It is a part of a larger sign which reads 'Use Tai Tapu Butter', on the back of a building that borders the rail yards in Christchurch. I just like the composition, rich colours, and weather worn look of it.
  • When you aren’t doing the site (or at work), where are we likely to find you? I like the coffee at C1 or at Underground Victoria Street in the morning. I also enjoy having a beer at the Dux or Bangalore Polo Club in the evening. I think the best food in Christchurch is at the Joyful Restaurant on Colombo Street.
  • Fill in the blank - I do this website, because "it's a passion. I do it because I love typography and especially hand painted sign typography. I am always interested in collaborating on project that relate to this forgotten art of hand-brushed type. You can contact me at -".
To see more or Mark's photos go to the Preserve website. Also, note that Mark plans to soon release a limited edition range of posters portraying some of the large photographs that he's taken of New Zealand signage. You can keep up with the release of these posters through the Preserve website or by emailing Mark at the email address listed above.

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