Save the Landscape, Kill the Billboard!

Yesterday, while trotting along on the treadmill at the gym, I became absorbed in the LensWork Podcast Advertising and the Signal to Noise Ratio. Brooks Jensen was talking about the amount of advertising (noise) that we as a society generate in comparison to the signal (valuable content). After lamenting on how advertising free his life is (not an easy thing to do, so bravo Brooks!) he comments on how this relates to trying to raise awareness of your photography today…essentially trying to provide a high signal to noise ratio instead of the inverse.

Common to how most ideas form, this got me thinking about a posting that I saw back in April on goldengod’s blog about how the city of São Paulo bans billboard advertising. Apparently, São Paulo Brazil has had municipal guidelines in place to control the proliferation of billboards, but the advertisers were not following them so São Paulo’s government cracked down and went draconian with the enforcement.

I think this is great! One of my photographic passions is landscape photography. Nothing is more annoying that having a wonderful vista being ruined by a huge billboard. Living in the San Francisco Bay Area, we have our share of billboards along the highways and in the cities. However, on a recent trip to visit my parents in Wisconsin the number of billboards that litter the interstate highways as you travel through the scenic country side shocked me. I don’t remember that may billboards when I was growing up in Wisconsin…or maybe I just didn’t have the photographic eye yet and never noticed.

Outside of outright physical destruction of the landscape, the largest scare that we place on it is billboards. We decrease the signal to noise ratio of nature by placing huge 150 foot long billboards right in front of the beautiful forest, just so we all know that there is a McDonald’s at the next exit. While I understand the importance of marketing and messaging, I wouldn’t shed a tear if more locals in the US passed a law similar to São Paulo’s to eliminate billboards.

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