Photographs of broken neon signs.

Collected images.
Oct. 11 2010 4:12 PM

You've Lost Your Glow

Photographs of broken neon signs.

Slide Show: Extinguished Neon Signs. Click image to launch.

Extinguished neon signs, their tubes broken, the businesses they advertised for decades long gone, the people who walked below them dead or moved to the suburbs.

City officials try to remove them before they crash to the sidewalk. Youngsters pelt signs with stones; sparrows build their nests inside them. Some get a second life painted over as, for example, Evelyn's Taqueria in Oakland, Calif., or Pupuseria Flor Blanca in South Los Angeles. A tall rusted sign on Oakland Avenue in Detroit continues to tempt us to enjoy dark-brown ice cream. On windy days they swing, making creaking noises.

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Once upon a time, signs like these told us where we were, gave a sense of place to commercial streets. Today, they function as historical markers, nostalgic reminders of the businesses that once lined the streets. At night they cast sinister shadows.

Click here to view a slide show featuring extinguished neon signs.

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Camilo José Vergara is a 2002 MacArthur fellow whose books include American Ruins and How the Other Half Worships. You can see more of his photos on his Web site and can contact him at camilojosev@gmail.com.

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