Kirsten Hively, the creator of Project Neon, travels throughout New York City photographing the vibrant signs that advertise the restaurants, shop repair stores, bars and places we often breeze past while walking at night. Her prints, which can be purchased through Project Neon’s Etsy shop, have been acknowledged by a number of publications which include The New Yorker, The New York Times, Gizmodo and now Untapped Cities. Neon sign seekers can discover Hively’s documented signs on their own via the newly-developed Project Neon free iPhone application.
Recently, Untapped Cities interviewed Hively to gain insight into the inspiration for Project Neon, the iPhone application, and of course, her favorite signs.
What was the inspiration for Project Neon?
There were a few different things that came together to instigate Project Neon. In late November 2010, I had started a new job in the Upper East Side, a neighborhood I didn’t feel a strong connection to so I was looking for a reason to love the neighborhood. It was also the depths of winter, so even though I get out of work fairly early, it was already pitch dark when I left. I noticed, though, that there were a couple of great neon signs nearby (Cork & Bottle and Goldberger’s Pharmacy). Since most of my free time was after dark, photographing neon signs seemed like a good project. I remembered a few other signs and went online to look up others. When I was looking for signs of working neon signs, though, I mostly found photos of signs that were no longer working, photos taken during the day. I couldn’t tell if the sign was working or photos that didn’t have locations. So I decided to walk around and see what I could find, and keep track of business names & locations. I ended up spending hours walking around and went out another night and another. I saw that people really seemed to like the photos I posted on Flickr, and it took off from there.
I’ve always loved signs, especially handmade signs, and I’ve often admired neon signs elsewhere, so it felt like it was more than time to pay attention to New York’s neon.
What was the inspiration for the Project Neon iPhone application?
The project has been a great way for me to re-explore the city I’ve lived in for years, both to go to neighborhoods I’d never had a reason to visit and to look at familiar neighborhoods in a new way. I wanted to share that with other people. I love maps, and one of the things I’ve used to most on my phone is the map. I decided that making it an app would mean it was portable and updatable, which were both important to me since, alas, neon signs sometimes disappear. An app also seemed like a fun way for people to interact with both the photos and the information.
Why did you choose Kickstarter to raise funds for Project Neon iPhone application?
I knew I could design the app, but I also knew my feeble programing skills weren’t up to the task of making a solid, reliable app. I did some research about cost and realized that there was no way I could pay for it myself. I had backed a couple of project on Kickstarter, and I liked the way it creates a sense of community for the backers of a project. The Kickstarter staff were very supportive, too, and made it the project of the day and did a Q&A with me on their blog, It helped that I had gotten some press before that, and my friends & family helped out a lot both by donating and by helping me spread the word. I also put some photos & posters in my Etsy shop to help pay for ongoing expenses.
What are your favorite Project Neon signs and why?
I often get asked about my favorites and I always have a hard time answering. There are a lot of wonderful signs! I know I’m also sometimes influenced by the places behind the signs. In addition to architecture, I also have some background in graphic design, so I really love signs with unique lettering. I’m also partial to certain colors. Among my favorites are the huge pink Hinsch’s sign in Bay Ridge (which was just happily reopened under new ownership after being briefly closed), the Subway Inn in Midtown and the incredibly colorful collection of signs at Nathan’s Famous in Coney Island. The ominous Sin Will Find You Out cross on 51st Street is great, and Russ & Daughters in pink and green with the two little fish on either end is wonderful. Block Drugs in the East Village is classic, Dublin House Tap Room on the Upper West Side is one of the most memorable in the city, and the anchor and fish at Sunny’s in Red Hook is so dreamy. I could go on and on!
For more information on Project Neon (including the Etsy shop and the iPhone application), visit projectneon.tumblr.com.