This article originally published on July 24, 2014.
New York City, the advertising hub of the world. Everyone here is keen on the effectiveness of advertising, even so far down the line as bodega owners with those classic food posters with pictures of what’s supposed to pass for delicious looking food. They have become an unmistakable staple of delis and bodegas, and have become so ingrained in the city’s landscape that they’re one of the many awesome definitive characteristics of the city. So much so that one man has devoted his time to photographing and mapping out all these signs and posters on his Tumblr, Deli Grossery. Depending on your perspective, this could be art, but at the very least it’s interesting.
Michael Silber, a local graphic designer, artist and photographer, is the man behind Deli Grossery, an in-depth photo essay chronicling the different food picture posters in delis and bodegas across the five boroughs. The Massachusetts native, now a resident of Windsor Terrace, has been living in New York for over a decade and began capturing photos from bodegas and delis of sandwich collages and different food adverts back in 2013. He told us over email that he’s usually looking for “something strange, aged and faded, horribly Photoshopped or artfully hand-crafted…anything that will tell a story or make me laugh.”
Deli Grossery stands out not only because of the excellent quality of the photos themselves, but also because the personality portrayed by the signs are shown in a sort of narrative created by Silber, telling a story of the city and giving the viewer a taste of the tone and atmosphere of their respective neighborhoods.
Silber calls the Tumblr a “digital preservation project,” an attempt to “capture a glimpse of these local stores and their gritty charm before they disappear.” Beyond just filling Deli Grossery with pictures, Silber also made an interactive map to note where the posters exist in real life. The posters themselves are immediately familiar to someone who’s lived in New York City for even a couple of months, and also serve as a window into the unique world of New York City convenience, a glimpse of what life is like here to an outsider who can’t quite grasp what it means to be able to get pizza, chicken, a Philly cheese steak, waffles, burgers and bagels all at the same store.
Silber told us that Deli Grossery is an attempt to, “encapsulate the character and culture of a neighborhood,” as well as, “a response to the current food porn craze that pervades the internet.” He’s managed to portray the otherwise unremarkable ads displayed in these hole in the wall places with a sense of warm nostalgia and a playful reminder of what we appreciate in New York City and why.
Silber wrote that he intends on continuing to, “collect great images and spread the word,” documenting the strange and outlandish images until he has covered all 5 boroughs. You can follow along with him as he continues his journey. It is a project that he works on whenever he possibly can, “between commuting, seeing friends, and ‘deli walks’,” he fills his free time with his voyeuristic style of capturing a culture. We asked about his favorite bodega sandwich that he came across in his travels, but he told us he doesn’t eat them, in an attempt to stay removed from his subject, but the man still knows the deli scene in this city. Especially Brooklyn, which he told us has been his favorite borough to photograph.