Growing up in Carrollton, Ga., Tim McClain developed an eye for
“The more rustic and weathered, the better,” he recalls via
phone from his studio about an hour outside Atlanta. “Seeing that faint red
paint through the barnwood was a stamp of our history. I loved what it stood
Yet while the rugged, sun-dappled signs carried a certain
artistic quality, they were a clear indication that the once-ubiquitous advertisements
were quickly becoming an endangered species. Many were literally fading away with age,
and others were disappearing as old buildings were torn down to bring sleepy
Southern towns into the 21st century.
That’s why, upon returning home to Carrollton in the early-‘90s,
McClain decided to capture as many vintage
“I knew they wouldn’t be around much longer, so I wanted to preserve them,” he says.
He and his wife took out a map and outlined the secondary highways
and old country roads running alongside major interstates in Georgia, Tennessee,
Alabama and the Carolinas. Over the course of about nine months in 1995, they hit
the road on the weekends in search of
“You never knew what the next mile would bring,” he says. “We had to quickly figure out where to go and where not to go.”
They interviewed people they met along the way, including an elderly man
named Jack Ashmore in Carrollton. As a kid in school, Ashmore would prop up his geography
textbook on his desk so his teacher couldn’t see him drawing. In the 1930s, he
turned his passion into his profession, landing a job painting
“He couldn’t remember how many he painted,” McClain says.
Ashmore suggested several signs to track down, but most of the ones they ended up shooting were discovered by chance.
“On one particularly cold winter night, I remember pulling into
a small town called Newland, North Carolina,” McClain recalls. “It was
pitch-black dark and snow was on the ground. We looked up and saw this
beautiful mural of a main painting a
Nearly 40 of the images they captured were published in 1996
in a pocket-sized paperback book titled
McClain, now 45, has
been a professional photographer for more than 25 years. Today he dedicates
much of his time to portraits and weddings, and to creating high-quality giclée
Throughout the years, he has received countless photos and
letters from fans who bought his book and share his passion for
“I’m always on the lookout for those great signs,” he concludes,
“because you just don’t see stuff like that anymore.”
More On Journey
- #OpenUp: Coke's New Ramadan Campaign Encourages an Open Mind
- 10 Reasons Why the 2014 FIFA World Cup™ Was Truly the #WorldsCup
- What Does Happiness Sound Like? Hear Brett Dennen's Spotify Playlist
- Signature Statement: What Does Your Handwriting Say About You?
- Can the FIFA World Cup Bring Brazilian Music to the Global Stage?