HOME‎ > ‎Photography‎ > ‎

Shot Road-Sign Art

In my "spare time" I produce art works that you might consider sculpture, outsider art, wall sconces, or even installations.

To give a meat-and-potatoes description, I take retired highway signs and penetrate them with .000 buckshot and mount light-boxes behind them, taping up 35mm slides to the light boxes, aligning each image behind its own bullet hole.
Most of them are designed to hang on a wall, but I have produced a few freestanding pieces, too.

Bullet Points
  • When I was living near Oxford, Mississippi, in 1999, I began making "wall sconces" out of damaged highway signs that the local Mississippi Department of Transportation field station had consigned to its recycle pile.
  • Some signs that I acquire already have bullet holes, but most of these holes have been rendered by my grandfather's Ithaca 12 ga. shotgun, using .000 buckshot, and occasionally 9mm or .45 rounds—depending on what kind of heat my little helpers are packing.
  • The large buckshot pellets make big holes, which comes in handy for viewing what's inside the sculpture.
  • I often cut lines into the sign, connecting the holes.
  • This dates back to my original idea of building a planetarium projector out of
    shot-up signs and displaying new constellations designed by rednecks (a term I use affectionately, being the first generation on my mother's side to grow up on a paved street) —Anyway, the lines make them look like constellation charts.
  • Once I shoot and cut a sign, I build a low-tech light box on the back of it and mount 35 mm slides (frames removed) on the white plastic surface.
  • Each fragment of film is lined up behind a bullet/pellet hole.
  • The whole contraption is framed out in scrap lumber or with more of the white Lucite sheets, deep enough to wire it with a couple of compact fluorescent bulbs.
  • The conceptual corner that I had painted myself into at one point was the lack of a photographic technique that matched this setting.
  • I wanted to get inside the heads of the sign-shooters, find out what they were trying to prove, and then prove the same thing with a camera.
So my other breaktrough came when a friend showed me the DVD of Masaki Kobayashi's 1964 film, Kwaidan (see clip below). One of the characters was a samurai, practicing the martial art of yabusame, or mounted archery. So while I was watching this guy shoot arrows at a post-mounted square plank while riding at a full gallop, I realized that the Southern pastime of shooting road-signs from a moving vehicle is basically the same sport.

While purists from both camps, in Japan and the American South, would protest any such comparisons, both sports involve steering with your legs, drinking rice-based beverages (saki and Busch Light), careful marksmanship and probably a lot of ancestor worship.

So now I shoot most of my photographs from the saddle of my Japanese pickup truck, often through the rear and side mirrors.

Subpages (1): pontifex