A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America
The Photography of Frank H. Jump
Amateur photographer Frank H. Jump has made it his mission to document the advertisements painted on building walls that are fading from New York's cityscape. His territory ranges from Harlem, where he photographed Omega Oil, Inc. on West 174th Street, to Washington Avenue in Brooklyn, the location of a ca. 1898 ad for Reckitt's Blue, a laundry product. Jump sees himself as a visual archaeologist, preserving a lost advertising medium through his photographs. He has also researched the histories of the companies advertised through the signs. "Within the last century, we've witnessed the constant rise and fall of countless businesses," notes Jump. "Some have left behind popular products that are still behind their name on the side of a building, slowly fading in the sun."
The office manager for a dentist in New York's Chelsea neighborhood for the past 11 years, Jump uses an old Minolta 35 mm camera. His fascination with vintage advertisements began in 1997, when he took a course on photography while completing a bachelor's degree he had left unfinished in the late 1970s. When in Harlem with a photographer, Jump saw many old signs that had not been obliterated the constant rebuilding as elsewhere in the city. "It was kind of bizarre, but I felt an instant need to start photographing these things," he recalled in a New York Times interview (July 9, 1998).
A native of New York City, Jump, now 38, grew up in Far Rockaway, Laurelton, and Howard Beach. HIV positive since 1984, he had been told he would not live to see 30. "When I stumbled on this project, it became another urgent matter for me,
because a lot of these signs are around you, most people don't even realize
they're there, and for all you know the following day, Mitsubishi will buy
that spot, and it will be gone. Part of my urgency is I want to get these images documented before they're
gone," he told the Times, adding "And I would like to get the project noticed before I'm gone. Not that I have any plans of leaving anytime
soon." So far, he has compiled more than 500 images of signs from throughout the city, and his work was featured in an exhibition titled Fading Ad Campaign: Vintage Painted Signs at the New-York Historical Society this past August 4 through November 1.
Some of his vintage advertisements have been preserved through buildings constructed next to them: when the building is torn down, the sign is revealed. "What is remarkable about these murals," says Jump "is that they've been left relatively untouched by graffiti, almost as if they radiate an aura of protection and respect."
Not shy about his mission, Jump has scaled razor wire and Federal Express trucks to photograph old advertisements. His colorful clothes and open manner disarm most objections. He has even talked his way into
the apartments of total strangers and convinced them to sit on
his legs as he leaned out their window to snap a picture--no small feat in a city like New York and a measure of his dedication to preserving on film these monuments of by-gone eras.