Marrickville Mona Lisa

On an upstairs window of a long-closed shop on Marrickville Road is the fading painted sign for the Mona Lisa Photographic Studio. Its cracked silver lettering makes me think of a logo on a 1950s powder compact, silver letters on a pink plastic case. I imagine that the interior of the photography studio might continue in this powdery style: white carpet, chairs with spindly, gold-painted frames and fluffy pink upholstery, gladioli in a tall glass vase.

At street level, in a stripe above the entrance, are more signs, some in Greek, others in English: another for the Mona Lisa, and one for Finix Discount House, with an illustration of an ascending golden phoenix to accompany it. I peer inside. The two showcase windows to either side of the door are empty, but further back inside the store is a pile of leftover objects: chairs, debris, bedspreads compressed into squares and wrapped in plastic.

The yellow-striped wallpaper is peeling, and wires hang down from the roof, but the space doesn’t quite seem abandoned. A ladder and a broom are propped up against the wall as if at any moment someone might come in and resume the task of clearing out the store. I could see a row of signs on the windows for Blankets, Carpets, Gifts and Crystal. With each word I imagine the store in its heyday, the topography of soft or glistening objects that would have made up its interior. Things bought here would still be in people’s houses, or have recirculated through op shops, or remain at the back of cupboards, never-used wedding presents from decades before.

I am being watched: from the tiled stairwell at the side of the store hangs a framed print of the Mona Lisa. She looks in my direction serenely, with her seeing-but-not-seeing expression, from the wall-mounted glass cabinet lined with flocked wallpaper where she has been, for decades, encased.

A handpainted sign in English and Greek above the cabinet directs all photography enquiries to the shop downstairs. I stumble my eyes over ΦΩΤΟΓΡΑΦΕΙΟ, decoding it as “photography”. I don’t read or speak Greek so later, when I am back home, I type the words on the sign into an online translation site and they come out, after auto-correction of the text, as “information about the photography lost under the story”. I like it. For as I stand peering through the metal grille that seals the premises off from the street, I dream up stories about the Mona Lisa Photographic Studio. I think of the carefully dressed people who once climbed the stairs, walking up towards the portrait photographs that were soon to be taken of them, preserving that day, that moment.


(Those with Marrickville connections might be interested in the Marrickville Map  I made, which includes the Mona Lisa among other landmarks.)

14 Comments on “Marrickville Mona Lisa”

  1. Jennifer says:

    Reblogged this on Tasmanian Bibliophile @Large and commented:
    I love these wanderings and musings …

  2. nikkola1 says:

    I love your ‘eye’ for detail Vanessa- a ‘camera’ roving with flourish & style

  3. Justin Pooley says:

    I too have wondered about this photographic studio. What is surprising is how old the signs are. The phone number does not begin 9 and it is more than 20 years since all phone numbers began with a 9. Has the studio been empty for that time??

    • Vanessa Berry says:

      Yes it’s a gallery of the old, short phone numbers! The shop has been empty for as long as I can remember, which is perhaps 15 years? I’m not sure when it closed, but maybe someone who reads this will know…

  4. suecartledge says:

    Another delightful wandering, Vanessa. I always feel I’ve been there with you, peering through the dusty window. I love the translation of the Greek sign: “lost under the story” sums up the whole building.

    On another note, re Ligne Noire: I am reasonably sure I’ve peered into Ligne Noire’s window at some time. Or maybe it’s just that you create such a perfect picture of it that I feel I must have seen it.. Does it still exist on Parra Rd on the edge of Annandale? I only remember to look for it when I’m on the bus heading back to Leichhardt.

    • Vanessa Berry says:

      Thanks Sue, and yes, Ligne Noire is still there, though not in the untouched state it was in when I wrote about it for Mirror Sydney, the things in there started to get put into boxes. It’s on the corner of Macquarie St/Parramatta Rd.

  5. jim says:

    Thankyou very much again Vanessa for you postings .. like and thoroughly enjoy not only the pictures but the commentary as well. Many a time I have noticed not only this shopfront , but other vacant buildings with their hidden past and wonder how longer they will still remain not only in this state but remain in general as the property market and modernization sees the end of past eras. Thanks again Vanessa

    • Vanessa Berry says:

      Thanks Jim, I like to think about the significance of these places, they form part of our urban environment and history, and it’s important to record them as things are changing so quickly.

  6. Billy Bob says:

    I like how you actively defy the ‘it’s all Greek to me’ concession! Another wonderful post and as fellow blogger M.W says- “it’s your town, we’re all just living in it!”

  7. Ash. says:

    I love love love the “Finix” sign. Such an obvious way of spelling a confusing word that only a non English speaker could come up with. Long live the old school Marrickville.

  8. Richard D says:

    I live in Marrickville and go on several ‘walks’ every day and pass by the Mona Lisa Photographic Studio. I also wonder what it was like in it`s heyday, but now it is vacant and no
    longer in operation. It is a bit sad to see it in this condition, but it is a reflection of the past that
    that does interest some people and may not be there too much longer.

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