For those of you who follow along over on Project Neon, it’s not exactly a secret that I like neon signs, and I’ve certainly talked about them in a lot of places. Still, though, the “Thing I Like” series wouldn’t be complete without a few words on those magical glowing tubes.
I started the project as something to fill my Flickr feed, a way to keep taking photographs when the days were too short, and a project to reignite my love for New York, which had dimmed. I also started it as a way of placing something good squarely on the anniversary of a particularly painful romantic breakup. Creative projects, though they are no substitute for love, romantic or otherwise, have a way of providing solace for life’s disappointments. I learn something new with every project I start, whether it continues to consume me or quickly fizzles, and, as Merlin says in The Once and Future King:
“The best thing for being sad,” replied Merlin, beginning to puff and blow, “is to learn something. That’s the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then — to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting.”
I’ve certainly learned a lot by looking closely, you could say obsessively, at New York City’s neon signs. I learned about neon, about New York neighborhoods I didn’t know, and I learned a new way of looking at neighborhoods I thought familiar. I learned to navigate by glow and to make nighttime photos come alive. I learned to wait patiently for sunset instead of racing to beat it and to appreciate long winter nights. I learned to celebrate some of the small shops with big hearts and big neon, and, of course, to mourn the loss of others.
As I walked the streets of all five boroughs at night with my camera, usually alone, I spent a lot of time thinking about New York, about neon, about neighborhoods, and about sidewalks and all the things you can see there. If you could watch me on a neon walk, though, you would see all these moody meditations fade in the glow of a great neon sign — whether it was new to me or a familiar sight — to be replaced by an irrepressible grin. I can’t help it, the glow of a lovely, handmade neon sign just makes me happy. Maybe there’s some vitamin my body generates from neon light, the way other people make vitamin D from the light of sun. I don’t know. I just know that beyond the intellectual appeal of the lettering and graphics and my deep appreciation for the craft of neon bending, I have a visceral reaction to the deeply saturated colors, the particular, welcome quality of neon glow, and the ties, channels, and porcelain panels that frame it.
Beyond my own enjoyment of New York’s neon, I’ve also been really happy to see how many other people appreciate it, too. I have especially liked hearing all the stories people have associated with neon signs they know and love. I’ve also been really pleased to hear that some other people have been inspired by Project Neon to start projects of their own, neon-related or otherwise. So thank you to all the Project Neon fans — you’ve made me double-like neon, for itself and for all the people it inspires.
The Projet Neon website: http://projectneon.tumblr.com/
The Project Neon set on Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/catasterist/sets/72157625399190929/
The Project Neon Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/projectneon
Project Neon on Twitter: https://twitter.com/heyprojectneon