Jaimi Novak: Signs of the Time

"Tropicana Adult Hotel Hourly Rates" reads one of the signs in local photographer Jaimi Novak's first solo show, "Signs of Time," at the Minnesota Center for Photography. Novak photographed old signs in front of hotels, restaurants, and bowling alleys by combining digital photography with a scratchy viewfinder camera. The resulting images are colorful, scarred windows to the past.

CP: Can you explain to me how you combine digital photography with the viewfinder camera?

JN: It's a technique called "through the viewfinder." I bought an old Argus 75 viewfinder camera. When you look through the top, you can see the image, so I just pointed my digital camera into the top of the viewfinder camera, and it captures the glass, the dust, and the scratches; the dirtier the viewfinder camera, the better. I've been shooting in this method for about a year. You have to make your own little contraption to connect your digital camera to the viewfinder one and block out the light. I tried a variety of methods, but the one I like best is using a Pringles can and duct tape. It's not very fancy, but it works. I get a lot of strange looks when I'm shooting with it.

CP: How did you find such interesting signs? Did you go on trips to photograph them, or did you just happen upon them?

JN: I do both. I was living in Tucson, Arizona, where they have a lot of old '50s motels with these awesome signs. I noticed that more and more of the motels were being torn down and replaced with chains. So I wanted to capture the signs before they were all gone. Now if I'm going to a certain city or on a trip I try to look for the signs, or research them on the internet to find where the different ones are located.

CP: What do you think these signs say about the past?

JN: I think they capture the nostalgia of a happier time, a better time; the whole '50s optimism and car trips. They used to be cool places to stay at. I think that's what a lot of people like about it: this bit of nostalgia for a simpler time when things were more individual with fewer of the big-box places.

Aug. 2-20, 2008

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