Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Say It In Neon

Sign Of The Times

Mido Café: PBS writes: “A woman stands in the light of a sign for Mido Café at 64 Temple St., Yau Ma Tei,
Hong Kong.”
Photo Credit: Wing Shya, M+ Museum

Source: PBS News

An article, by Corrine Segal, in PBS News Hour looks at neon signs, which used to dominate urban centres around the world. Neon became synonymous with the success of capitalism since its invention more than a century ago by Georges Claude, a French engineer. It defined, in many ways, the business of the 20th century.
We’ve seen them glowing on New York City theater billboards, Las Vegas casinos and Hong Kong high-rises. They cast unbidden light and shadow into restaurants and homes and are a part of the daily scenery for millions. But neon signs, once a vital part of a city’s culture and barometer for its economic climate, are fading out of sight as the once-popular technology disappears from the streets.
French engineer Georges Claude created the first neon lamp in 1902, and in 1910 displayed his invention publicly for the first time at the Paris Motor Show. In 1912, Claude created what many believe to be the first neon advertisement: the words “PALAIS COIFFEUR,” which lit up 14 boulevard Montmartre in Paris. By 1914, more than 100 businesses in Paris followed suit, attracting attention to their storefronts with neon. Claude was awarded a U.S. patent for the neon light in 1915 and began selling licenses to others who wanted to produce them.
Neon did not come to the U.S. until 1923, when the Roaring 20s were underway and the automotive industry was booming. Claude sold a pair of neon signs to a Packard car dealership in Los Angeles, which stopped traffic among onlookers who reportedly called the light “liquid fire.” The U.S. auto industry had new visual shorthand for the consumerism that drove it.
“I think people really respond to neon,” said Kevin Adams, a theatrical lighting designer who used neon-imitating LEDs in a design for the Metropolitan Opera’s production of “Rigoletto” in 2013. “There’s a kind of cool factor related to it that people respond to.”
Who could forget the many landmarks, notably restaurants (like in the photo above), whose names were prominently displayed in neon on their facades—they were often in red. These included a few of my favourite Chinese restaurants. Yes, neon might have seemed garish, and it eventually became representative of cheap motels and unsophisticated neighbourhood “dive” bars, but it was bold and so much part of my childhood, a history of the city in which I grew up. What will eventually be lost is the artistry of making neon, now that lower-cost alternatives, such as LEDs and fluorescents, have taken the place that was once held by chemistry's noble gas, neon.

For more, go to [PBS News]

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