It’s hard to imagine dating someone without first seeing their picture, but long before Tinder and OK Cupid and even Match.com, the LA Weekly ran a personals page in the back of their paper and singles, who paid for their ads by the word, attracted suitors with only a few lines of text.
I’d read these cryptic appeals for companionship and love and wondered about the people behind them; had the “beautiful, blonde, independent, sexy, brilliant and evolved SWF” seeking a “Goat, Pig, or Dog” (not actual animals, but Chinese astrological signs) met her match? Would “Chopped Liver’s” self-deprecating humor help him score a “lingerie model?” What drove the “VGL Guy, 30” to seek “older, muscular women” to “Teach Me Sex?”
I arranged to photograph a number of the singles who had more to offer than candlelit dinners and walks on the beach. I transcribed their ads to sign boards, carefully printing the text by hand. There was a vulnerability and intimacy in some of these appeals that would be jarred by the vividness and immediacy of the photograph. The young man looking for an older woman to school him reclines on a motel bed, earnest yet inviting. The Nude Dude has only his words to cover his nudeness.
We all want an audience for our declarations however brief or inconsequential. We propose in skywriting, we inform other drivers that our children are “A” students, we answer the scribbles of strangers in bathroom stalls, we announce that we’ve been saved. Looking back on these sign portraits, I see them as a step in the evolution of social media, satisfying our desire to be both exhibitionist and voyeur.