Preserving Disappearing Architectural Lettering in Austria

With the modernisation of the urban landscape, vintage architectural lettering disappears at a worrying pace. Beautiful commercial signs above shop windows make way for default letter shapes in plexiglass and neon. As the logos of international chains take over, the couleur locale fades, making the typical shopping street look identical to any similar street in every other every major city. Fortunately some people feel compelled to document these vanishing signs. Herbert Marker – freelance journalist, copywriter, concept developer and photographic flaneur in Vienna – has photographed over 4,000 examples of these commercial signs in Vienna’s public spaces between 2004 and 2006.

The complete series – which has taken the shape of a photographic conceptual work of art – can be viewed on Herbe’s website. Herbe spontaneously plays with proportions and surfaces, shapes and colours, light and shadow. He frames the images in such a way that the letters grab the attention of the viewer, focussing on the rich beauty and complexity of oft-overlooked typographic details in the urban living environment. As the signs are listed alphabetically specific types of businesses ended up grouped together, which makes for interesting successions of images that can be compared. Wildly varying styles range from scripts that look like commercial handwriting over Art Deco and straight sans serifs to almost experimental lettering, like for example the red neon Espresso sign below.

As about 40% of the signs have already disappeared, Herbe produced two large-scale works that preserve these vital signs of a rapidly changing urban landscape in an artistic context. What appears as a logo to the casual observer is in fact a game of shadows using nearly 2,000 and carefully arranged photographs. Click on the preview images on the sales page to reveal all the exciting details of the commercial lettering (allow for a short loading time).

Discover the complete series here.
All images © 2004–06 Herbert Marker

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  1. Cool find!

    It reminds me a bit of Store Front: The Disappearing Face of New York:

    (although Herbe focusses on the lettering obviously)

    Posted by Jan-Paul Koudstaal on Aug. 1, 2012
  2. dat ‘Es’ ligature

    Posted by Michael Barron on Aug. 1, 2012
  3. I know! Tripped out, isn’t it? :&#8202)

    Posted by Yves Peters on Aug. 2, 2012
  4. Good morning – and thank you so much for sharing this most valuable collection!

    Isn’t it nearly always the case that we don’t know what we’ve got until it’s gone? In years to come when all we see are Tesco, Lidl and – in the case of Austria – Hofer hoardings, so many will wonder why we let it happen.

    I know this gentleman’s work will find a preferential place on my website.

    Kind regards,

    Posted by Linda on Aug. 2, 2012

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