Sign People photo documentary

Steve: We just moved here from Indiana. I’m in ninth grade. I have nothing else to do on weekends—no baseball or anything. And it’s good money. I’m making nine fifty an hour. They give raises all the time. I know guys that make twenty bucks an hour. It depends on what you can do with the sign and they rate you. The better you are, the more money you make. This is only my fourth time out here. At first, I dropped the sign a lot. But I’m getting better. It’s fun and it’s exercise. And I get breaks. 45 minutes for lunch and ten minutes in between. I get great responses from the cars driving by. Honking and thumps up. Never any mean stuff. I don’t know what I want to do with my life yet. We’re here just temporarily, we’ll move back to Indiana.
Robert: I’ve been doing this for five weeks. It’s alright. Pays pretty well. I get nine fifty an hour. But if I find a better job I’ll quit. The guy who got me this job just quit. It gets pretty tiring—my arms hurt. I’d rather work at Baskin-Robins or something. I’m a Senior in High School, about to graduate. I’ll go to College of the Canyons next. I want to be an audio technician. I get all kinds of reactions out here. Some girls wave, people give me the finger. That’s the worst thing—being flipped off.
Java: I’m not from this area. I’m from Buena Park in Orange County. A friend told me about this job. This sign company always needs people—for car dealerships, furniture stores, you name it. I make eight bucks an hour. Sometimes I spin the sign or I just rock it back and forth. Yeah, it can get boring. I’m doing it for the money. It’s just for a couple of hours on the weekends. The cars don’t bother me. I just listen to my headphones full blast.
Pat: You wanna take pictures of me? I don’t even look nice… Okay, go ahead. Can you send me one? One of the good ones, though—not the ugly ones. Been doing this for long, long time. Is it fun? Would you stand here for hours in the heat? I need the money. It’s pretty good too—I can’t complain. Sometimes, I work five days a week. This sign is too heavy to spin. I spin smaller signs. Some people honk at me, some stop and ask for directions. Some give me the finger—I don’t care. I listen to my music. I’m not allowed to stand in the shade. Then the cars can’t see me. Do you smoke? [No, but I offer to buy a pack of cigarettes.] Get something without filter… […] Oh, you’re back. I honestly didn’t believe you. I thought, “he got in his car and took off.” Thanks for the cigarettes. I have a lighter. Yeah, I have a family: a daughter and a grandson. I’m a mama and a grandmamma. We live together in Buena Park. So what are you going to do with the pictures? A collage? I know collage—used to do them. No, not in school, after. I also was a model in Hollywood when I was young. I was a bad girl. Oh, here comes my boss. He’s bringing lunch. Time for my break…
Tony: Take pictures of me? Yeah, why not! Oh, you are married… good for you. No, I’m not. I have a girlfriend, but she’s in jail. She stabbed me. I’m going to court on Thursday. She stabbed me and they want to put me in jail. For domestic violence. Yeah, I pushed her a couple of times… I love her so much. I’m dreaming of her every night. I’m just a fool in love. I can’t go back to jail. I’m gonna be angry all over again. I was in jail for four years in Chicago. For murder—I’m not proud of that. They broke into my house. My life is so messed up right now. I need a break. I really do. I see angels all around me—I keep some water out here for them. I live in a hotel now. I’m happy for you, man. Love your wife with all your heart.
Tayler: I’ve been doing this for six months. It’s a lot of fun. I’m usually out here for four hours on the weekend. It pays well—you start with ten fifty an hour and the raises go up to fifteen. We help out at all kinds of places that need advertising in Valencia. Today we’re here for Terrace Apartments. I’m fourteen, just graduating from Junior High. I really like this job. Across the street is my step brother. We have the same father.
Garrik: I’ve been working for this job as long as my step brother. He’s across the street. What’s the name of the company we work for? [Thinks. Then calls his brother across the street.] Oh, it’s “Directional Concepts.” Yeah, our parents come to see us here. They film us and stuff—they’re real proud. We have a job and make money. I learned my tricks from my manager. He came out here and taught me how to spin. The first time you do it your arms get all tired. But you get used to it.
Ramiro: [Doesn’t speak English. I don't speak Spanish. All we are able to communicate are our names.]
Scott: This is only my second day. I saw an ad online at So I called. It’s a cool job. I can do whatever I want. I just listen to music, it’s AC/DC playing right now. I’m graduating from High School this summer. Going to the military afterwards. I’ve always been interested in that. I’ll go join the Coast Guards, I think.
Rachel: [On her cell phone: Come on dog—I was just kidding, don’t hang up on me. Come back, please! It was just a joke…] Take pictures of me? Okay. My brother is the manager of the company I’m working for. I’ve been with them for six months. It’s fun. You get nine fifty an hour, but I got a fifty cent raise. I’m in eighth grade. There’re not too many girls doing this. Sometimes people are stupid. They yell “go back to work” when I’m taking my break. So dumb! But there are nice people, too. They wave all the time. [Phone rings: Dude, this is sooo weird. This guy asked me if he could take pictures, he’s photographing me right now. It’s so random, I swear!]

Photographs and interviews


May 2004