How would it feel to walk through Piccadilly Circus and see no neon? What would it be like to gaze up in Times Square and not be blinded by Coca-Cola, Gap and Nike? How would a metropolis look with no billboards, no taxis daubed with slogans, no bus-stop sales pitches? How would a city sound, if it did not shout at you?
The people of Sao Paolo, in Brazil, do not have to imagine. As Tony de Marco's stark photographs show, their city has become an advertiser's graveyard. Last September, Sao Paolo passed its Clean City Act - whereby all "visual pollution" became illegal. Advertisers were given until 1 April 2007 to take down their hoardings. There has, naturally, been an outcry from business leaders in Brazil and abroad. But Gilberto Kassab, the populist right-wing mayor behind the changes, is unrepentant.
"None of the accords and agreements we reached with the advertising sector was ever complied with," said Kassab. "It is hard, in a city of 11 million people, to find enough equipment and personnel to determine what was and wasn't legal, so we decided to go all the way, to zero things out."
So Sao Paolo zeroed things out. And now the city is home to thousands of naked billboards. Their owners - hoping for a change of heart - are loathe to destroy them. De Marco's photographs chronicle this new Sao Paolo. It is a city of previously unseen views, and odd remnants of its recent, commercial past.
"I always hated those billboards," says the photographer. "The city was covered with them, and there was no law to organise their use. Anyone could rent his garden for a company to install a huge billboard, covering the sky, the landscape and the buildings. There was no design - we didn't have anything as elegant as Times Square."
Strange as it may seem, de Marco sees elegance in the new, muted cityscape. For him, the empty billboards are a potent symbol of how Sao Paolo has changed for the better. This, for instance, is how he talks about a photograph of one billboard, with its framework of neon lights still intact: "This picture shows the waste of electricity in Sao Paolo. …