It’s interesting to think about how shrewdly and often free still photography is used to get us to pay to watch motion pictures. Still photographs—often shot by special photographers on sound stages or on location, just after the live action has been captured on film—are essential and raw materials for the entertainment industry. They fuel our anticipation for movies that are about to open. They encourage fantasies about the performers who star in them. While most of those still images are small and encountered in newspapers and magazines or online, some others—depending on marketing budgets, real estate opportunities, and cultural preferences—grow in scale to become as big and attention-grabbing as the movies they’re designed to promote.
New York has Times Square with its glitzy barrage of images and light. In Los Angeles, an ever-changing procession of billboards lines the Sunset Strip in Hollywood, promoting this star, then that one, this movie, or that one. But more monumental in scale and melodramatic in content are the huge hand-painted and vinyl signs that, tower above busy urban intersections in India, one of the world’s leading producers of feature films. To understand what makes these signs so eye-catching, mind-boggling, and distinctive, we invited Preminda Jacob, associate professor of art history and theory at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, to investigate the historic intersection of photography, painting, and the movies.