Polish Cold War Neon

Photographer Ilona Karwinska’s new book Polish Cold War Neon documents what remains of a once extravagant plan to ‘neonize’ the entire country during the 1960s, 70s and 80s…

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Photographer Ilona Karwinska ‘s new book Polish Cold War Neon (Mark Batty Publisher, £35) gathers together photographs taken over more than five years all over Poland, documenting what remains of a once extravagant plan to neonize the entire country during the 1960s, 70s and 80s…

The book features an excellent introduction by David Crowley who, regular readers may recall, wrote a feature on Karwinska’s neon photography project for our September 2007 issue (we’ve unlocked it for a few days only so non subscribers can read that piece here). Here’s an extract from the book’s introduction:

“The neon signs installed in Polish cities in the 1960s and 1970s were part of the international attempts to reconcile socialism and consumerism. Conferences in Czechoslovakia in 1957 and in the Soviet Union in 1958 set out to define a new kind of progressive advertising that would raise the tastes of consumers and rationalise their needs. Neon was given a key role in this new program. Illuminated images and words could denote a useful commodity or service (‘Save with PKO for your apartment’ or ‘Sewing Machines Here’). Permanent, fixed to buildings, and bespoke, neon was even claimed as a tool for navigating the rapidly changing city: a radiant ‘You are here’.”

There is much info about the design and manufacturing processes and even interviews with employees of some of Poland’s biggest neon manufacturers during the 60s and 70s. And then there is the sumptuous, full bleed photography by Karwinska… Here are some images:





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  • I love this, it makes me want to go out and take some photographs of the neon lights in my city.

  • very cool.. love the blueprint esq designs… im a bit of a sucker for diagrams

  • I really would like this book, The illustration on the signs in neon form are just beautiful and the type is formed so well. I like how they can be all run down and ugly in the day but when you flick the switch it becomes something completely different in the night time.

  • ludoalex

    there is an Instagram feed from Japan this guy just takes pictures of neon signs, this seems like a great book.