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These Highway Billboards Show Trees And The Night Sky Where The Ads Should Be

An artist creates an advertising campaign that’s not trying to sell you on anything other than a beautiful image.

Instead of ads, two billboards along a crowded Boston highway temporarily showed images of nature instead. If you were stuck in traffic on I-95 in July, you might have seen a photo of a forest hanging over clearcut land. At night, one billboard showed the Milky Way–something that’s normally hidden by light pollution from the city.

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“I’d been trying to figure out how to simulate the effect of Photoshopping reality,” says artist Brian Kane, who teaches at Rhode Island School of Design. Like a real-life version of Photoshop’s Healing Tool, one billboard shows a picture of the tree that the sign is blocking. The other temporarily brings back trees that were recently chopped down. “It gave me the opportunity to play off this idea that we’re putting back what was there.”

During the month that the billboards were up, the images shifted throughout each day to match the light. At night, the signs matched the current phase of the moon. “If you’re a regular commuter, you can watch it, it’s not static and it changes,” Kane says.

The billboards faced opposite directions, so commuters saw one on the way into the city, and one on the way out. “They’re dead in the worst part of traffic,” Kane says. “It’s this idea sort of creating a moment of wonder or joy in an otherwise gloomy part of the day.”

Kane calls them “unvertising”–an advertising campaign without a message. “People are constantly being messaged: They’re supposed to do something, buy something, they’re supposed to feel a certain way,” he says. “And because of that, as soon as someone looks at something that’s supposed to be advertising, their mind thinks ‘what are they trying to sell me?.’ You take that away, and it opens you up to just being able to experience a beautiful image. Appreciate and think.”

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About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley, and contributed to the second edition of the bestselling book "Worldchanging: A User's Guide for the 21st Century."

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