At the beginning of this year, a new law in São Paulo, Brazil, drastically changed the cityscape practically overnight: No advertisements, no billboards, no posters anywhere! In an attempt to clean up urban surfaces and crack down on illegal sticker action, everything had to come down. Though not the first city to introduce such drastic measures, it nevertheless is a beautiful sight for contemplating our beloved consumeristic habits. In the last couple of months, photographer Tony de Marco has documented the whole process of tearing down the billboards with his São Paulo No Logo collection on Flickr. PingMag went with him on a visual journey through his advertisement-free cityscape and let Flickr users give their comments…
Written by Verena
A stripped-down billboard in Sao Paolo. Next, the frame will be torn down. Photo by Tony de Marco.
Definitely no logo. Might be a nice field trip for Naomi Klein. Photo by Tony de Marco.
“What we are aiming for is a complete change of culture,” said City Council President Roberto Tripoli to the Herald Tribune late last year. So, all billboards, as well as other forms of distribution, have to come down eventually. Duh, no fliers anymore! No more visual pollution after peeling off the outer surface, unveiling a vast underlying layer of the city. Was that so-called “change of culture” meant to be a not so subtle hint towards a radical visual purism? Or just a practical need to improve the quality of life for São Paulo’s inhabitants?
In a vivid description of this visual revolution, Brazilian reporter Vinicius Galvao told On The Media about driving through the altered landscape this spring:
“São Paulo’s a very vertical city. That makes it very frenetic. You couldn’t even realise the architecture of the old buildings, because all the buildings, all the houses were just covered with billboards and logos and propaganda. And there was no criteria.” No visual standardisation so to speak…
Dismantling a billboard… Photo by Tony de Marco.
…and off it comes! Photo by Tony de Marco.
Space for fresh paint… Photo by Tony de Marco.
…after the displays are down. Photo by Tony de Marco.
But whereas residents once had gigantic ads as orientation to find their way through the urban jungle, people now have to find something else as their personal signage. Galvao said:
“It’s weird, because you get lost, so you don’t have any references any more. That’s what I realised as a citizen. My reference was a big Panasonic billboard. But now my reference is art deco building that was once covered with this Panasonic. So you start getting new references in the city. The city’s got now new language, a new identity.”
Okay, we wouldn’t go so far to praise the dawn of unified urban landscape. And the companies acted quickly anyway: “…big banks, like Citibank, and big stores, like Dolce & Gabbana, started painting themselves with very strong colours, like yellow, red, deep blue, and creating other visual patterns to associate the brand to that pattern or to that colour,” Galvao reported.
Now, we wanted to know from Tony de Marco how the São Paulo folks deal with their newly found freedom and whether they still like it after these last eight months:
“People are surprised because the ban is still working against economic power. The approval is rising,” says Tony, who likes the landscape much more now.
No logo as practised in Memphis. Camera phone pic by Lord of the Flies.
How does he as photographer feel when walking through a cityscape emptied of visual distractions then?
“I feel good. No words in every place, no giant disgusting pictures on the wall, no trash fonts (like Arial) polluting my eyes. When I go to another Brazilian city everything looks ugly. It’s all about visual pollution,” says Tony de Marco.
What do people think when they see these images online? See some user statements from Tony’s São Paulo No Logo set on Flickr:
This is surreal.
beauty is a blank billboard
everything looks strangely…real. as if a simulacrum had been wiped away.
these are like ghosts you are happy to see
It’s kind of a bummer when the most eerie looking thing I’ve seen in a while is how the world should be anyway
I’d love to see art put into these frames…
Vast surfaces, post-Soviet style? Photo by Tony de Marco.
This is Tony’s favourite image: “I love the contrast between natural and artificial forms.” Photo by Tony de Marco.
The skeletons of capitalism are showing!
The lack of visual clutter is refreshing.
It’s positively Soviet in lack of “visual clutter”.
All of this feels awfully conservative. The conceptual edge of advertising is interesting. This is not to say having a city without advertising is not interesting though I have room for both aesthetics to exist. Conceptual Art partially exists because of advertising.
Progress or human growth or evolution whatever you call it (for some demise) it natural.
What is going to happen to all the people whose livelihood rely on advertising…
Nice sight against the Brazilian sky… Photo by Tony de Marco.
… but how do all the painters make a living now? Photo by Tony de Marco.
Looks like North Korea. and who the hell wants to live in North Korea? Not me.
Muaddib: unless you suffer from “horror vacui”, you don’t know how is to live under strenuous, overwhelming and rapacious visual pollution. I love life in São Paulo now…
The removal of all the ads shows how dirty the city is. At least the ads add color.
soo, graffiti is ok but ads aren’t? How long till advertisers just start using spraypaint…
I love seeing the end of advertising.
Lord of the Flies
Now, want to get some street atmo? There is a nice spot for SkyMovies using footage of São Paulo streets!