This excellent article: Retrostalgia | hunters on the trail of ghost signs faded in time written by Jill Start featuring Stefan Schutt explains the nostalga behind ghost signs.
Retrostalgia | hunters on the trail of ghost signs faded in time
Like memories from a distant past, some have faded with time. Others reveal themselves in a riot of colour. Then, just as quickly, they are gone.
For those who hunt them, unearthing ‘‘ghost signs’’ is as thrilling as an excavation of ancient burial grounds.
A growing army of ‘‘urban archaeologists’’ say these hand-painted advertising signs from the 1940s and ’50s whisper to us from history.
Many have been hidden for decades, only discovered on walls exposed during demolition work.
For Stefan Schutt, a new-media academic and ghost sign fanatic from Victoria University, a new find is cause for celebration.
‘‘You kinda feel a bit like Indiana Jones,’’ he says during a tour of ghost sign sites in Melbourne’s inner north. ‘‘You have to be quick though because they might be hidden again, covered up by render, or if they’re on a building site where the building’s being demolished, then they go forever. But that’s part of the fun of it, because they’re meant to be ephemeral.’’
Hunting ghost signs has become a worldwide pursuit, with thousands of people sharing photos of their discoveries on social media.
On Tuesday, international experts on the phenomenon will gather at a Victoria University seminar to swap stories.
Dr Schutt believes the fascination is partly a response to rapid urban renewal, leaving people lacking connection to a sense of place.
‘‘In cities, things keep changing all the time and all the reference points go really quickly. You can call it folly or nostalgia, but I think there’s something beyond that – people’s desire for a sense of continuity and belonging, and identifying with brand names they grew up with when they were young. The word nostalgia actually means a longing for home in Greek, so it’s the sense of yearning for something that’s been lost. I think it’s interesting that people are using the internet to share these images to try and mitigate that in some way.’’
During a tour of North Fitzroy and North Carlton there are many examples of ghost signs on the sides of houses, in laneways and above shopfronts, advertising everything from tea to tonics.
Dr Schutt says the signs were more common in working-class areas because in wealthier suburbs, where buildings were regularly maintained, they were often painted over.
Sam Roberts, a ghost signs expert from London, says there is a growing debate about whether the sites should be afforded protection for their cultural and artistic significance.
However, other aficionados believe the impermanent nature of the signs is what gives them beauty and value.
‘‘Two of the ghost signs in my part of London have recently achieved listed status as being of aesthetic or artistic interest,’’ Mr Roberts says. ‘‘That means that if people apply for planning permission to make changes to that building or to redecorate it, the signs have to be considered in response to that planning application.
‘‘The older ones are now approaching antique status – some are 100 or more years old. They’re often very faded, so they’re not full-bodied, they’re ghostly in that sense, and then secondly, they’re voices from the past because some of the slogans they use and the language they use has gone into history.’’
The ghost signs trail is also popular with young people, and plays into a growing ‘‘retrostalgia’’ movement – the notion that in an era where nothing is new we have to increasingly mine the past to get a sense of meaning.
‘‘It’s also tied into the idea of things that are handmade, that are crafted by real people,’’ Dr Schutt says. ‘‘When you get close to these signs, you can see the strokes that the guys have made with the brushes and, obviously, in the digital era you don’t really get that any more and it has parallels with the new craft movement and yarn bombing, and that yearning for something that has a human aspect to it that you can see and is tactile.’’
Source: Jill Stark | TheAge – March 10, 2013 – firstname.lastname@example.org