Monday, 21 December 2009

Blue-Collar Painters

These men are employees of the R. C. Maxwell Company, America’s oldest existing outdoor advertising company. On this occasion we see them enjoying a well-deserved ground level break from their high altitude brushwork, to accompany a carnival float celebrating the achievements of the Maxwell Company. Everything about this float is sheer delight from the gigantic palette to the threatening tone of the slogan Here and Everywhere. A generous selection from the Maxwell photographic archive can be viewed at the Emergence of Advertising in America website hosted by Duke University and presents a fascinating insight into this essential component in the all-American landscape.

Back in July 2007 we paid tribute to America’s billboard painters, (Billboard Artists – All American Heroes) blue-collar heroes of capitalism. The Maxwell cameras were on hand to record their epic risk-taking in the service of publicity as they crawled over the massive steel skeletons steadying their brushes to create images of joyful consumption. Another treat is the final image exposing what lies behind every billboard. The Maxwell photographer’s priority was to produce the best possible record of the company’s output, everything else was secondary. This dictated the point of view and composition with the result that some very unusual figure compositions that would have pleased the eye of Degas can be seen. Ralph Steiner, one of America’s unsung photographic heroes, noted the intimidating power these images exerted in the visual environment and made a number of photographs carefully calibrated to confront their massive scale.

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