Looking Up to Look Back: The Fading Ads of New York

George Bodarky and Sarah Berson |
Author: Frank Jump
Publisher: The History Press
Publication Date: Nov. 2011

In 1986, when Frank Jump was 26 years old, he was diagnosed as HIV positive. It was a time when doctors still knew little of the disease. They estimated Jump only had a few years left to live.

The doctors were wrong. Nearly 10 years after his diagnosis, things started looking up for Jump — literally.

In 1997, he “discovered” an ad for Omega Oil, a cure-all tonic, painted on the side of a New York City building. It was the beginning of a quest to photograph old ads painted or glued to the sides of city buildings, ads he views as relics of New York’s past. The quest has consumed Jump ever since.

“New York is a never-ending process,” Jump explained in an interview with WFUV’s Cityscape. “Building and reconstruction and renovation of New York is constant. As new buildings go up and old buildings come down, there’s going to be new ads revealed. It’s exciting to watch. I think this will be something I do until the day I die.”

Click below to see Frank’s photos of fading ads and to read the stories behind them:

Jump has displayed his collection of photographs of faded ads in museums and recently compiled them into a book, “Fading Ads of New York City.”

As Jump entered his second decade with HIV, he said that the decaying ads came to represent the friends he lost to AIDS. “I’ve watched many, many, many, many people die. I even have address books with telephone numbers that I just stapled shut because everybody in it was gone,” said Jump.

Click below to hear Cityscape host George Bodarky’s interview with Frank Jump about the fading ads project:


The artists who painted the ads, some of which go back to the late 19th century, were called “wall dogs.” When Jump began publishing photographs of the ads on his blog, fadingad.com, several of the “wall dogs” contacted him from their nursing homes.

Jump, who is now 52, will stop at nothing in his quest to shoot the ads. He has scaled rickety fire escapes, pulled over on busy highways and walked along elevated train tracks. Jump admits to faking appointments in certain buildings to get up to the roof and even outrunning guard dogs to get the right angle in the right light.

“This book tells two stories,” wrote Dr. Andrew Irving, an anthropologist, in the book’s foreward. “That of New York City and its obsession with money, advertising and renewal over the last 150 years; and the story of the life of a teacher and photographer who has dedicated much of his time to documenting and archiving the hundreds of gigantic advertisements that were painted, often by hand, on the sides of walls and buildings.” Jump feels that the faded ads open a window into the New York of yesteryear and can change the way we see the city.

Does Jump think the city should restore the ads to their former glory? He says no. Just like every living thing, they were meant to fade away — or be torn down unexpectedly.


MetroFocus is made possible by Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, the Sylvia A. and Simon B. Poyta Programming Endowment to Fight Anti-Semitism, The Peter G. Peterson and Joan Ganz Cooney Fund, Bernard and Denise Schwartz, Barbara Hope Zuckerberg, The Ambrose Monell Foundation, Janet Prindle Seidler, Jody and John Arnhold, the Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, Judy and Josh Weston and the Dr. Robert C. and Tina Sohn Foundation.

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