Palimpsests: Ghost Signs of Pittsburgh

Kelly Bogel, Photographer
Will Zavala, Project Director

Pittsburgh Filmmakers
March 14, 2014 to May 17, 2014

Upcoming Events:
Artist Talk: May 15 at 6:00pm, Pittsburgh Filmmakers Classroom Theater
Ghost Sign Hunt, Strip Edition: May 17, 9:30am, 21st Street Coffee, @ 20th St & Smallman St.

Open to the public, come on a scavenger hunt to find ghost signs in the Strip.  Bring a digital camera or device if you can, form a team of 3-4 or join a team there.  You’ll search for 2 hours, then meet up and head to the Filmmakers Gallery for lunch, counting photos, viewing the Palimpsests show, and getting prizes donated by businesses in the Strip.  More info at

Early in the last century, many of the large brick walls that dominate the Pittsburgh cityscape became canvases for advertising. But by the 1960s, freestanding billboards had largely replaced this form of signage, and most of these iconic wall signs have disappeared. The ones that remain have been transformed: the seasons have weathered the signs unevenly, with some pigments lasting, some disappearing to reveal earlier signs – or the original brick – that lay beneath it. “Palimpsests”   documents the complex and subtle beauty of these paintings, while providing a glimpse into the past.

Kelly Bogel, a Duquesne University graduate, earned her certificate in photography at Pittsburgh Filmmakers. She used a large format (4x5) film camera, then digitally scanned the film to make prints. The large analog photographs capture the decaying, ghost-like appearance on the architectural structures.

The project, which began in 2012, includes faded advertising signs from many local towns and neighborhoods, including: Arlington, Brighton Heights, Carnegie, Carrick, East Liberty, Hill District, Homewood. Larimer, Lawrenceville, Manchester, McKees Rocks, North Side, Polish Hill, Sharpsburg,Stowe, Strip District, Uptown, West End, and Wilkinsburg. The exhibit will include a map of all locations, as well as a monitor for digital viewing of the approximately 150 locations that were scouted for the project. 

Will Zavala is the ghost sign project director. As a documentary filmmaker he had been interested in documenting the signs before they were completely gone. He is an associate professor at Pittsburgh Filmmakers' School where he met with Bogel, and the two agreed to work together on the project.  Zavala is a also director of the community-based Documentary Salon exhibition group.

The website is:

Hours for Filmmakers Galleries are: Monday – Thursday 12:00 – 7:00pm; Friday 12:00 – 6:00pm;  and when films are shown in the Melwood Screening Room.