Neon lighting and film photography share similar perceptions in their respective fields. Both, film and neon, were the principal form for what they offered until modern technology created more efficient means. The advent and ease of use of digital photography has led many photographers away of the wait and see aspect of film. Light emitting diodes, or LED’s, similarly disrupted the industry for small and large scale public advertisements and marquees. But each film and neon holds an distinct advantages over their more modern counterparts. Film, as I have preached frequently in the digital pages of this blog, offers a different perceptible feel to the viewer. The superior color tone and grain often entrances a viewer in ways digital photography simply cannot reproduce. Neon, in my eyes, replicates this exact feeling. The craftmanship involved along with the soft pull of the colors gives offers viewers a different sensory feeling as opposed to a LED panel.
The history of neon begins in 1898 when the element was discovered by Sir William Ramsay and Morris Travers in London during their studies of liquifed air. Four years later, French engineer, chemist and inventor Georges Claude made the first neon lamp by adding a electrical charge to a glass tube of neon gas. Mr. Claude showed the world his inventions in Paris on December 11, 1910. A few years later, in 1915, he received a patent from the United States marking the arrival of neon lighting stateside. The new technology did not spread like wildfire, initially anyway, with the first known commercial application being in 1923, used by a Packard car dealership in Los Angeles. After the signs’ installation the instant pull of neon lighting could not be denied, eventually spreading and becoming the lighting of choice for the famed Las Vegas hotels of the 1940’s and 50’s.
During this time Las Vegas became the model city for neon lighting which the lights played no small part in fueling the popularity of the desert town. People were amazed by the visceral natural of the lights often referring to it as “liquid fire”. Neon lights live on today mostly at off the Strip locations due to the switch to LED lighting but can still be found in abundance in Downtown Las Vegas. There is even a Neon Museum where old relics of Las Vegas’ past get to be seen and enjoyed by a new audience. The overlap of film and neon continues with both seeing a resurgence in popular culture. Neon is returning to be a popular choice amongst business owners who want to add more feel to their establishments. Film as well has seen an entire community form around the common admiration of its particular features. Both of their comebacks probably will not bring them back to their heydays as their field’s go to choice, but they both cannot be denied as quality visual representations.
“Worldview through a viewfinder.”