Vernacular signage is a joy

Put on a happy face

Published July 16, 2012 12:00AM (EDT)

This article originally appeared on Imprint.

[caption id="attachment_367731" align="alignnone" width="594" caption="“Big Fish Eats Little Fish”"][/caption]

I’m easy. Okay, not easy like that—you people and your dirty minds. Vernacular signage makes me happy, and so do objects that have been accidentally anthropomorphized. Not long after seeing an upside-down mop in my driveway turn into a smiling woman with gray dreads, I stumbled upon Ner Beck’s small show up at the New York Public Library. It made me happy.

[caption id="attachment_367801" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="“Ner & the Duck”"][/caption]

I know this isn’t breaking news. Lots of people take pictures of street scenes that turn into grinning Martians or crying babies. But there was something about Beck's little library show that made me feel all warm and fuzzy. Perhaps I was charmed by the titles of the pieces, or by the coincidence of Beck also being a fellow graphic designer. But I think it was the fact that looking for these wonderful moments on the streets of the Upper West Side was something that Beck makes a point to do every day.

“People have been seeing faces in inanimate objects for thousands of years and recording them,” Beck says. “That process is called pareidolia. A perfect example is the Man in the Moon. That image has been used by various cultures for thousands of years and still continues on product design and artworks.”

He continues: “Today, face-finding has become a worldwide obsession with amateurs and professionals alike. In all my exhibitions, the reactions have been wonderful and encouraging. So many people have left me comments that the images make them smile or laugh. Many people, including children, have said these pictures have taught them how to see ordinary things in a different way.”

I asked Beck if he’d considered creating a book or a blog, but he says, “The most rewarding part of the project is my interaction with the public.” That made me happy, too.

[caption id="attachment_367821" align="alignnone" width="594" caption="“Sad Sprinkler”"][/caption]

[caption id="attachment_367751" align="alignnone" width="594" caption="“Depressed Dumpster”"][/caption]

[caption id="attachment_367781" align="alignnone" width="594" caption="“Nature Wins One”"][/caption]

[caption id="attachment_367721" align="alignnone" width="594" caption="“Behind Bars”"][/caption]

[caption id="attachment_367871" align="alignnone" width="594" caption="“Terra Cotta Grin”"][/caption]

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="594" caption="“Yummy Manhole Cover”"][/caption]

[caption id="attachment_367851" align="alignnone" width="594" caption="“Stone Face”"][/caption]

[caption id="attachment_367831" align="alignnone" width="594" caption="“Screaming Spool”"][/caption]

[caption id="attachment_367881" align="alignnone" width="594" caption="“Tool Box Boss”"][/caption]

[caption id="attachment_367841" align="alignnone" width="594" caption="“Shut Your Trap”"][/caption]

Aspiring photographers can find numerous resources at—from the book Creative Careers in Photography to an MP3 of Julieanne Kost's presentation on the art of digital photography and creative thinking.

By Gail Anderson

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