Let’s begin with a thing about signs in photographs vs photographs of signs. If that’s not your cup of tea scroll down to the second bit where you will see a bunch of 4×5 portraits I’ve posted to illustrate some hype . . .


Signs. They advertise, direct, inform and clutter. They are used in official ways  by businesses and governments, and in unofficial ways by ordinary citizens. There’s no escaping them, they’re everywhere. Even, and sometimes especially, in photographs.

A sign in a photograph occupies some bit of the frame but is subservient to a larger complexity the photograph is pointing to. In other words, the sign informs the image but is not its point.

On the other hand, a photograph of a sign is, well, a photograph of a sign. We see the photo, read or look at the sign and maybe we grin or shake our head at the cleverness or the stupidity of the person who made the sign. But that’s it, it’s over.

Now, there are a lot of smart photographs with signs in them. After all there’s no escaping signs, they’re everywhere. Sometimes, too, a photographer will include a photo or two of a sign in a body of work. They have a place, if used judiciously, in any record of a person’s impression of the world they live in. Sure.

But heavily relying on photos of signs as a way to get your point across seems to me to be a shorthand way of making a one-dimensional point.

Of course, the surface meaning of the sign can be neatly recontextualized if they are smartly included in a sequence of photographs. Placing an image of a sign in a larger, complex string of images/ideas can subvert the initial meaning of the sign and move the thesis of the sequence forward.

I bring this up because of the time I spent on the edit/sequence of my new project. While I was shooting that project I didn’t really know what might be useful so it was important to have enough diverse, raw data to allow for options in the edit/sequence. To this end I shot some signs . . .

These all got edited out. In the end the final edit of my project contains two photos that feature signs . . . one of a sign, the other with one.


There are only 2 places left in the Portraiture as Experience Master Class I’m teaching this summer. Four Saturday afternoon’s in June that will change the way you approach creating portraits.

Besides that, this course will give you something to talk about at the dinner table. You’ll be recounting the stories that happen when you take one small step forward towards more intimate encounters. Nothing scary, just a swell, slow approach to closing the space between you and the person you are photographing.

Go here for details and to sign up.

And . . . some portraits I’ve shot over the past few years with my 4×5.


Author: Tony Fouhse

Tony is an Ottawa-based photographer.