Buying Signs From Homeless People Is Hot New Trend

An SMU professor started buying signs 20 years ago. Now a New York photographer is doing it.

Willie Baronet is an SMU professor who for 20 years has bought cardboard signs from homeless people. He has mounted exhibitions using the signs. Mike profiled Baronet in our September issue. Highly recommended reading. So it came as a surprise when a friend sent me this story in the Guardian (which first appeared here) written by a New York photographer named Andres Serrano. It begins thusly:

“Sign of the Times” was conceived in early October when I started to see what I perceived as a greater number of homeless people in New York City. As a native New Yorker, it surprised me because I had never seen so many people begging and sleeping on the streets. It occurred to me to start buying the signs that the homeless use to ask for money.

You can’t trademark the idea of buying signs from homeless people. And I’m not suggesting that Serrano saw what Baronet was doing and copied him. But, you know. Weird, right?


  • avose

    I photographed folk art collector, Hubert Achor, in 1996 for the Fort Worth Star Telegram. He had been collecting homeless signs for years, just saying.

    • Tim Rogers

      I photographed Achor in 1994. Just saying harder.

  • Danielle

    Three people doing it does not a trend make. IJS…

  • TheSlowPath

    I remember 1994. Just saying hardest.

  • OakCliff

    There was a ‘New Yorker’ article many years ago about a collector (Hubert Achor?), and the article’s author mentioned watching the collector buy a “homeless” sign for his collection. [N.b. The sign wasn’t homeless, the holder of the sign was.]