Looking for a Sign: Flirting with nostalgia and semiotics.


I recently went back to Aspendale to retrace my steps from the last visit. My Mamiya C220 twin lens reflex camera is in need of a service so this time I took along a DSLR with a decent zoom lens. It must be said that I much prefer to work in square format, infact the world seems to make no sense at all to me when its framed in a rectangle. The purpose of this recent field trip was to document the area I grew up in and start to look for connections and ideas to expand upon in my Phd research.

The results of my walk were interesting in many ways. Flirting with nostalgia, I took time to walk along the old back track from Mordialloc railway station and through to my old family home. The old railway bridge across Mordialloc Creek is long gone, and in it’s place a concrete bridge, but the old timber bridge was knocked down when I was a child. I can still remember how the the old timber sleepers would rattle when a train crossed the bridge, a jingle jangle that served as a reminder of the many components that held the bridge together. I took a quick look under the bridge and I was surprised to find an old armchair there, a sign that someone had been occupying the space.

armchair under bridge

The paddocks behind the houses in Aspendale had been flooded to create a kind of lake. The paddocks were on the creek bed, so perhaps it was time that the area was reclaimed and used for for wildlife rather than an extension of the industrial estates and suburbia that was slowly encroaching upon the last of the remaining disused land. I stood under the bridge on Wells Road for a while and listened to the sound of the cars crossing overhead. The drone of traffic echoed through the concrete pillars as I photographed (see below) the secret world that exhausted underneath the road bridge. As I continued to walk I became aware that the area was a kind of ‘non-place’ (Auge) that people would occasionally pass through whilst walking their dogs or on the way to the local shops.

42 Gale mailbox 42 Gale street

I was quite shocked to see that the house that Mum and Dad built is now in a poor state, the front garden cluttered with old motor vehicles and a boat. I’m not even sure if anyone lives there anymore. As I walked the streets, I looked for photographs, but no matter what I snapped it seemed that what I was looking for failed to materialise as an image in the camera. How does one go about capturing historical time in the present? I am starting to think that it’s a figment of my imagination, or is it that I am yet to find the right combination of place and technology, or am I simply expecting too much of the photograph?

Barthes suggests the “every photograph is a certificate of presence” (2000, p.87) and I think that in order to work through my project I need to understand place through the lens, to be able to track my journey via the photographs I have taken, to see the world photographically rather than just through the lens of my personal memory. The places in the photographs, my memory and what I see with my eyes seem to have very little in common. Working with the digital camera this time, I felt hampered by what I perceive to be the shortfalls of this technology, such as algorithms that bump up colour saturation and contrast, limited dynamic range and an overall flatness and lack of depth in the images when compared to film based photograph. Anyway, I can’t blame the tools but I generally didn’t feel very inspired using a DSLR and I much prefer to use my trusty steed, the Mamiya C220 twin lens reflex camera.

So what did I glean from my recent visit to Aspendale? I need to keep photographing but experiment more with heritage media and alternative processing techniques. What I am looking for has a connection to the process, it is linked to the actual construction of an artefact. It’s back to the books and regular photography sojourns to suburbs around Melbourne. I really need to lock down what I am looking for and what technology will best allow me to capture and communicate that vision.

Below is a sample of some of the photographs. All were shot on a Canon DSLR but I have cropped the bulk of the images into a square format to get an idea of how these shots might look captured on my square format camera. Looking at these images it is clear that many more photographs need to be taken and a lot more reading is needed,  but theses images play an important role as visual experiments at this stage of my Phd research.


Barthes, R. (2000) Camera Lucida, Vintage, London.

Train line Beach bridge crossing 2 crossing Drains paddocks paddocks2 Soccer


~ by Dean on July 19, 2014.

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