The Bois & Charbons (wood & coal) sign-writing on this Melbourne building suggests advertising from another age.
The building is part of the Abbotsford Convent Arts Centre, though it is neglected and apparently unused. When I took the photo, I did wonder how a French coal merchant came to have premises within an Australian convent, but stranger things have undoubtedly happened.
Although I took the shot over a year ago, I’ve largely ignored it. The presence of air-conditioning units, steel barrels, and other signs of modernity detract from the assumed authenticity of a piece of Melbourne’s past. They interrupt a nostalgic, romanticized reading of the scene.
What changed my mind is knowing that the Bois & Charbons signage is fake. It was painted in 1987 when the building was used in as a location in the filming of a TV series about Nancy Wake, a WWII heroine of the French Resistance.
As a medium, photography allows and encourages us to play with notions of reality and authenticity.
Something we all need to remember when we consider the old idiom “a picture paints a thousand words.”