Meet the Self-Described "Sign Geeks" Keeping Neon Alive
An international photography group captures the illuminated nostalgia of neon signage with their most recent show at The Museum of Neon Art.
Carlos Vargas “Saints and Sinners” Española, New Mexico. Image courtesy of #SignGeeks
No matter what era you were born into, the alluring warmth and flickering glow of vintage neon signage is undeniable. Our attraction to these bent and illuminated glass tubes is due, perhaps, to an appreciation for a craft that seems inaccessible to most—they're science meets design meets applied urbanism. While the existence of classic neon signs is slowly disappearing, self-described "sign geeks," with the intent to document and share these beautifully crafted pieces of art, are keeping the glow alive. The international photography group exists primarily in the digital realm, aiming to capture these historical neon works in their natural habitats, to share amongst themselves and enthusiasts alike.
The Creators Project caught up with Sharlynn Vee, one of the members of Instagram's #SignGeeks to talk about their most recent group exhibition at The Museum of Neon Art (MONA) in Glendale, CA, and how the social media group is formed. “#SignGeeks came together through appreciating for each other’s work in the early days of Instagram, sometime in mid-2011,” Vee tells us. “We had a small group of friends who were vintage sign obsessed and by interacting with each other on Instagram daily, we got to know each other. Lennie Locken suggested that we start our own hashtag because we’re all such geeks about signs, and #signgeeks was born.”
“Popularity has never been our goal.” Vee tells The Creators Project, “Our hashtag was initially a means to keep track of our close friends’ posts, but #signgeeks has become a popular hashtag. The hashtag is a helpful tool in locating cool shots of vintage signs, but now you may have to spend a little more time filtering out unrelated images and porn. There are a lot of people on Instagram who post photos of vintage signs, but not everyone is cut out for our group. There are currently 79 members in the #SignGeeks group.”
While their focus is mainly on vintage neon signs, Vee admits that sometimes it's difficult to deny some of gorgeous, psychedelic lettering and design of plastic or crafted signs from the 60s and 70s, even if they aren’t shaped out of neon glass tubing. “We come from all walks of life, ages, and nationalities.” Vee explains, “Photographing vintage signs is what brought us together… The worst feeling for a Sign Geek is to arrive at a location to shoot a beautiful sign and that sign has been removed or replaced with a hunk of poorly designed backlit plastic. Maintaining neon is expensive, so we always praise business owners who keep up their signs.”
The relationship with the MONA goes back to 2014, when the Sign Geeks had a show at SPACE Gallery in Pomona. Shortly after, Vee tells us that Museum director Kim Koga had approached her to put on a collaborative show with MONA soon after the museum’s grand opening. “I immediately contacted Marc Shur, was the design genius behind our Pomona show and also the genius art director and design wizard behind our current MONA exhibit, and we started having brainstorming,” Vee explains. “Marc Shur, Carlos Vargas, and [I] accepted submissions and made the selections that are now hanging in the exhibit. The process took about seven months from beginning to end.”
“Seeing our group’s work hanging in MONA, along with all those beautiful glowing pieces of history, feels amazing,” Vee says. “We even have our own #SignGeeks neon sign at the entrance of the exhibit, crafted by my favorite neon artist in the world, Michael Flechtner. This experience has been the ultimate dream come true and the response has been incredible. Over 300 people attended our opening reception, and it was the largest attended #SignGeeks group event in our history. About 85% of our exhibitors flew in from all over the U.S. and abroad to attend and to spend the weekend shooting signs all over the L.A. area in organized group outings. It was truly a memorable and emotional experience for us all.”
The Sign Geeks' exhibition is on view at the MONA until June 19th, 2016
Click here to visit #Signgeeks on Instagram