Photographs and text by David Crausby
edited by Victor Anton
It all started when I was a young boy walking around Manchester town centre in the Seventies. I marvelled at the posters adorning the numerous and enormous billboards scattered around the city. And I was fascinated by the results of the rain and weather slowly destroying the posters. They would peel and tear and reveal layers. They would gradually disintegrate and transform into something unique, ugly or beautiful, weathered, wind-battered, stripped away and soaked. Every time I saw one I would wish I owned a camera but I was just a kid. A kid that understood how visually stunning they were. I used to share these views with my family and friends around me but their responses invariably made me consider that I was odd for thinking about these street advertisements in such a way. For me the interest has remained. They amuse and entertain me. The colours amazed me during that time, considering we only had a black and white television at home. These gigantic advertising posters were the perfect antidote to the Victorian slate skies and the constant Mancunian drizzle. Explosions of colour and form and design in a world of drab greyness.
My interest in adverts strengthened again as an A’Level art student in the Eighties when I came across the work of Jacques Villegle. A French artist who had been collecting and stripping layers from posters on the walls of Parisian streets since 1949. I was gobsmacked on this discovery and couldn’t believe the obvious parallels. I found it remarkable that the Paris equivalents of these bizarrely beautiful billboard creations I had witnessed and admired in Seventies and Eighties Manchester had been used and framed and mounted and exhibited by Villegle. It was around this time that I first started to occasionally photograph billboards and adverts..
I am interested in the ephemeral and transitory nature of the scenes I discover. I can return to the exact same location a few weeks later and frame the identical image but the poster will have changed partially or completely. It could be a completely new image or could have been damaged, torn, scrawled upon or all of those things. Sometimes I find blank canvases and the billboard has been stripped clean but no new advertisement has been installed.
I treat the adverts as found objects and adhere to the principle of shooting as seen. I don’t like to change or manipulate what I find in front of me. To this day I still consider Villegle’s concept; “I like to save myself the creative agony…The whole world makes work for me. I only have to collect it.” In my case all I have to do is frame and photograph it.
In recent years I have also become more interested in how the billboard is situated in it’s urban setting and lately I’ve been photographing the adverts with more of the locations and surroundings included in the frame. There is definitely an element of documentary to this work and there is usually a social comment or viewpoint sometimes an overt or ambiguous stance on this capitalist and consumerist society. When I come across an advert I want to photograph I often select and listen to “Lost in the Supermarket” by the Clash. The lyrics of the song resonate with what I’m looking for in these photographs. It’s a series that has roots in my early childhood and I will most probably never conclude it. It is a work in progress that will be ongoing, probably just carrying on and on. As long as there are adverts and billboards on the streets I walk I’ll continue to find photographs in such environments.
David Lee Crausby (Manchester, 1965) is a freelance/agency represented commercial and editorial photographer based in NRW, Germany.
He holds an honours degree in International Politics from The University of Liverpool and he completed his postgraduate qualifications at The University of Warwick.
He is married with two young children and he is a lifelong and diehard supporter of Manchester City Football Club.