Pentagram Papers 39: SIGNS


A completely independent publication, Pentagram Papers is the work of the eponymous design studio (a CH favorite and home of Michael Bierut, who spoke at our 99% Conference). Produced regularly since 1975, each issue takes one of their designers and lets them explore "curious, entertaining, stimulating, provocative and occasionally controversial points of view." Incredibly broad, past subjects have included Harlem's Savoy Ballroom, Australian mailboxes, Mao buttons and the architecture of Wildwood, New Jersey.

The latest issue — number 39 — was helmed by Texan designer DJ Stout and focuses on the plight of the homeless through the medium of their signs. Particularly topical on the current economic climate, SIGNS takes a Dickensian look at our society's least privileged through intimate portraits and their hand-scrawled signs.

The the large-format photography of Austin-based photographer Michael O'Brien turns an unforgiving lens on the destitute, where subjects look at once forlorn and innately peaceful. The portraits are interwoven with images of homeless people's signs, which were meticulously collected by Joe Ely, who offers a particularly illuminating introduction to the volume. Occasionally homeless himself, Ely has lead a vagabond's existence for much of his life. The author and musician has played with acts like Bruce Springsteen and the Clash, and also hitched rides on freight trains and cars across much of America and Europe, encountering the homeless along the way and oftentimes purchasing their signs for his personal collection.


Alternating between messages of humor, pride and sorrow, the signs are intensely personal mementos. Coupled with the faces of their creators, they make a powerful statement about the current state of homelessness. You can read an adapted version of Pentagram Papers 39 online, where the creators urge you to donate to a handful of homelessness charities.

View more images after the jump.