Light Capsules: Projections Bring Building-Side ‘Ghost Signs’ Back to Life

Exposed to the elements,
hand-painted signs
on building exteriors chip, crack and
fade over time, but one artist is shining a spotlight on these
historic illustrations, restoring them through animated and
layered projections.

is meticulous about his work on “Light Capsules,”
digging through archived newspapers, magazines and photographs
to find ads showing what these signs and their typogrophies
originally looked like (in some cases over 100 years ago). The
result of one such search recently helped him project over an
ad in Winnipeg, Canada for Porter & Co., crockery,
china, glassware, lamps, silverware, cutlery,
which then
switched to another projection for The Home of Milady
on the same spot.

And it isn’t just about recreation, but also spectacle and
preservation. People passing by, used to ignoring faded signs,
suddenly stop, look up and start thinking about them and the
histories they represent as well as their historic value to a

In the last few years, Winslow has brought his projections
to cities around the world including Detroit, London and Los
Angeles. A lot of the advertisements he projects over
provide insights into what was popular in the early 1900s when
hand-painted signs were common.

His projections are often layered, cycling through to highlight
different stages of ads (or overlapping ones) that have evolved
and changed over the decades. Importing digital images, Winslow
uses a suite of editing tools to fill in the gaps and create

And while some argue for restoring them outright (using paint),
that can be problematic — critics say repainting ruins the
authenticity, plus new paints tend to be more vibrant and would
be unlikely to represent the original. In a way, Winslow has
found a middle ground — his method lets people get a sense of
what they looked like without putting the originals at risk.

More from the artist’s
: “There’s an extra element of excitement in signs
that are incredibly worn or have multiple layers—The best
ghostsigns candidates to become Light Capsules have multiple
layers, called palimpsests, providing a compelling canvas which
digital recreations can bring a focus to specific layer in
time. Projection is ephemeral, non-damaging, and non-invasive,
providing a strong preservation solution that traditional
mediums can’t provide. Using light as a medium, we can visually
explore the stories of every layer, seeing how a building
changed throughout the years.”

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