STARING at walls is not really a habit reserved for the sane of mind but for ghost sign hunters, this act is right up their alley.
Ghost signs are the faded advertisements of yesteryear that were hand-painted onto brick walls within city landscapes.
As marketing guru Jonathan Cant discovered, Launceston was a haven for ghost signs, saved from the wrecking ball of development.
Frank Jump, in the US, captured some fantastic examples in his Fading Ad Campaign that described the vintage mural advertisements as "metaphors for survival", and in the UK and Ireland, the Ghost Sign Project has sought to preserve them on social media, through online photographic documentation.
During a stint in Tasmania conceptual copywriter Mr Cant said he would spend his weekends scouring the city to photograph the forgotten signs of Launceston.
He said he found more than 20 signs in and around the city surrounds, selling alcohol, bleaching agents, and soap, and documented a photographic essay for at+m marketing.
The reason behind their continued existence was the use of lead or oil based paints, that have survived decades of weather.
"I had always been fascinated with photographing old buildings and relics, and that often involved old signs," Mr Cant said.
"It was a bit of a hobby up in Queensland and when I moved down to Tassie, I found that it had so much preserved history," he said.
"Launceston has actually got some of the best pre-war architecture in Australia, and some of those buildings still have the faded ads and ghost signs.
"It was a photographers paradise ... it is literally a bit of a walk down mystery lane."
Mr Cant described the advertising relics as works of art that provided glimpses into the social history of another time.
The artists? Wall dogs.
In the US during the 1920s to the 1940s, the signwriters who used rigging systems and manual pulleys to move over the wall as they painted, made careers out of painting advertisements on walls.
"A lot of talent went into putting them up," Mr Cant said.
"The artists were literally up there on ladders, painting and hand lettering the signs. Advertising has lost that craft and those old skills. It is a bit of a shame."
Victoria University cultural research leader Stefan Schutt said the ghost sign trend was surging across the world, with people trying to capture images of the past, and take ownership over the places where they live.
Dr Schutt said this recording of history was important.
He said it did not matter if the signs were eventually painted over, or disappeared from view, it was the documentation that mattered.
"There is an element of discovery and an adventure in finding these things," Dr Schutt said.
"It makes you look at your own city in a different way, and a lot of people get quite obsessed by it. They send me photos of the signs they have found in the towns which they live," he said.
"People are really interested in their local history, and some of this could be interpreted as pure nostalgia but also as making a connection with the past."
Dr Schutt said the signs provided a glimpse into the previous life of our cities, and the places we now inhabit.
"It is a really nice way to get insight into how people lived and the things they used to buy," he said.
"The signs can tell you about the kinds of products that were imported during British Empire days from other countries ... from daily staples to exotic items like tea and coffee from Sri Lanka and India.
"They are the TV ads of their time, and provide a window into the past."
Dr Schutt said the signs were more likely to be found in the older working-class suburbs.
He said Melbourne, unlike Sydney, had uncovered some great examples because of its manufacturing history and traditional patterns of urban growth and decay.
"If you look at photos from the Victorian era the signs were plastered up all over the place. Melbourne expanded quite quickly after the gold rush, and in the 1930s you had this boom or bust cycle," he said.
"Things then get left alone for a few decades ... in the working- class suburbs things tend to get left alone a bit more, and not painted over, but we are now starting to see the signs appear with renovations, demolitions, or construction.
"A wall that has been covered up for 80 years (by a neighbouring building) suddenly gets exposed again."
Dr Schutt provided an example of an old advertisement recently uncovered at North Fitzroy in Melbourne after the demolition of a 1930s cottage in May.
It revealed a perfectly preserved advertisement of Dr Morse's Indian Root Pills, which was a North American medicine formula that was said to purify and cleanse the blood.
This sign was then covered up again with the redevelopment of another building in the same spot, but not before it was photographed by passionate ghost sign preserver John Hunter (http:/ /johnhunter2008.jalbum.net/), who on his website said he started to photograph the signs in 1979 to capture the signwriting craft for future generations.
Despite ongoing interest in ghost signs Dr Schutt did not believe formal heritage protection would be granted over the signs, although in London there are examples of some protection being granted to signs with aesthetic or artistic interest.
"(In some areas) it is cool to have them now but 20 years ago people would paint over them and even now, there are quite a few local ones that have been painted over recently," Dr Schutt said.
"They are not meant to last forever, they are meant to be etheral, and they advertise products with a commercial history which is different from the official sanctioned history of a town."
Mr Cant said he was hopeful that Launceston's ghost signs could be used in a tourism venture.
This has already occurred in Melbourne with the Ghost Signs Tour, that costs $55.
"It would be nice eventually if the council, or whoever, could allocate a dozen of the ghost signs, and make it so people can find them on their phones," Mr Cant said.
"For example, provide a QR code, that leads them to a location, and gives information on the brand and its history," he said.
"Hopefully these old ghost signs will continue to haunt us for a little while longer ... I believe there is much to love about their character (and they) all hark back to an uncomplicated way of life in a city that said no to high-rise a long time ago."
Do you know of any other ghost signs in your area?