Street Photography

‘Street photography’ means something quite different today… it often refers to photojournalists, documentary photographers or flanuers like Eugène Atget, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Fred Herzog, and the newly discovered Vivian Maier.  But back in the hey day of street photographers (1930s-1940s ) the term ‘street photography’ described a photographer who solicited strangers on the street offering to take their photos for a fee.

Foncie's Fotos photo

Vancouver street photo taken by Foncie Pulice of Foncie’s Fotos. Photo from: fonciescorner.knowledge.ca

In the ‘Great Depression‘, people barely had money for the necessities in life much less for any extras such as family portraits taken in a studio. During times of economic depression people often have to re-invent themselves and the way they do business. This is exactly what happened in the 1930s in North America, when studio photographers had to move from the refined space of the studio, to the expanse of the outdoors – they were literally, out on the street.

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Side by Side

Keanu Reeves presents an in-depth look at the ‘analogue vs. digital’ cinematic revolution in the 2012 film “Side by Side” – a documentary that asks how film-making is changing in the digital age. As the title, “Side by Side”, suggests the documentary doesn’t argue for one format over another.

Since the beginning of movie making, over a hundred years ago, there was only one way to make a movie — with photochemical film.  But over the last two decades a digital process has emerged to challenge photochemical filmmaking. According to “Side by Side” producer and presenter Reeves, “Our goal was to explore the spectrum of opinion in the industry at a time when both film and digital are still used to shoot.”.

It is a pivotal time in the production moving images (and still images for that matter) do we abandon a process that has served us well for over 100 years, for one that is unquestionably easier, faster and more accessible? Or, is there room for both in today’s increasingly digital world? If you like movies, and are interested in how they are made, then I strongly suggest you see this film.

Through interviews with directors, cinematographers, film students, producers, technologists, editors, and exhibitors, “Side by Side” examines all aspects of filmmaking — from capture to edit, visual effects to color correction, distribution to archive. At this moment when digital and photochemical filmmaking coexist, “Side by Side” explores what has been gained, what is lost, and what the future might bring.

Side By Side (Official U.S. Trailer) – YouTube.

Finding ‘Bunty’ Brennan, part 1

Visual literacy, the ability to “read” pictorial images, is a basic skill necessary for working with still and moving images. Reading images is the first step in researching images effectively – it is the start of the appraisal process. Sometimes the hardest part is figuring out the context of the photograph (or any historical artifact) and the relationship (if any) it has with other items found with it. At work, we referred to it as “forensic cataloguing”  – taking all the clues you have (visual, textual, etc.) and investigating them, until you have a clearer picture of what is in front of you. Sometimes all you have to start with is the artifact itself, and a brief (often vague) notation. In the case of the photo below, I had the name of the owner, but no other contextual information was found on the photo envelope.

Bunty in park

Eileen “Bunty” Brennan in park. ca. 1946. Photo: [Bertram F. Nobel]

Take for example the photo above, on first glance it is a B&W photo of a woman in a park-like setting. Look a little closer, and you might notice the mountains in the background; the clothing she is wearing; and the style of her hair. You begin to get a clearer picture (no pun intended) of how to describe this photograph.

What if you were to add into the mix, the following two photographs found in the same negative envelope along with the photo above?

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Polaroid SX-70, part 1

We have taken the speed of digital photography for granted; the digital camera allows you see the photo you have taken instantly. The image is there, but it is not tangible – just pixels on a screen. Imagine taking a photograph and then instantly having that photo artifact in your hands. In the middle of the last century, this was a revolutionary concept.

Edwin Land, a scientist and inventor,  founded the Polaroid Corporation in 1937. He is best known for developing the world’s first Instant camera, called the Polaroid Land camera.  In 1944, Land was inspired by his 3-year-old daughter’s confusion as to why a camera could not instantly produce pictures after they were taken – instant photography was born. It was the invention of instant film and the creation of the instant film camera that would make Polaroid a household name. The first Polaroid Land camera went on sale in 1948. More about Edwin Land and Polaroid can be found  here and also here.

Polaroid Land Camera

Polaroid Land Camera, ca. 1957-59. Photo: C. Hagemoen

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Rotary dial telephones

telephone

Rotary dial telephone. Photo: C. Hagemoen

I miss the old land-line, rotary dial telephones. There was something very tangible about holding the substantial handset up to your ear and dialing the number on the rotary dial.

Using the telephone was much simpler then. There was no such thing as call display, *69  or speaker phone. You picked up the handset, dialed the number (that you either remembered, or looked up in the telephone directory) and listened to the rings while you waited for someone on the other end to answer. If you got a busy signal you tried again later. If they weren’t home, you didn’t talk with to them. Simple as that.

You certainly don’t get that with a cell phone. Don’t get me wrong, I think the cell phone is very useful. It saves a lot of frustration of trying to get a hold of someone (or someone trying to get a hold of you), especially when you are out and about. But it really isn’t as fun to use as a rotary phone. In fact, other than quick calls on the run, it can really be a chore to talk to someone for longer than a couple of minutes. It is not as comfortable; not as palpable. There is something really engaging about systematically putting your finger in the hole for the corresponding number and then turning the dial. It isn’t the same when you simply push a button – besides, don’t we already push enough buttons everyday?

Another great thing about the rotary dial phone is that when you dialed only “0” you got connected directly to the telephone operator. Someone who was able to help you with your calling or information needs. The CBUT (CBC Vancouver) children’s show, “Follow Me” used young hosts to visit various businesses and industries around town. On this episode, host Sally Campbell gets a tour of the B.C. Telephone Co. Take a look back to the late 1950s to see how a long-distance telephone call was made, and what happens when you call information.

“Follow Me” – Telephone (excerpts), 1958 – YouTube.

Sarah’s Cafe

Sarah's Cafe

May 1960.  FL-158-2 (detail) (Franz Lindner/CBC Vancouver). Original image was a 120 medium format B&W negative.

This great image is from the CBC Vancouver Media Archives Still Photograph Collection. It sparked some curiosity amongst my fellow library and archives types — Where was Sarah’s Cafe ? Does the building still exist today?

With former VPL Special Collections Librarian, Andrew Martin on the case, it didn’t take long to find out:

  • By searching the Vancouver city directories and telephone books from the 1950s.  In the city directories Sarah’s Grill is listed at 218 E. Georgia.  It was run by a Sarah Cassell.   It was listed from 1957 up until at least 1961.
  • In the Vancouver telephone books there is a Sarah’s Cafe listed at 220 E. Georgia.  It is listed from 1957 up until at least 1960.
  • Looking at a fire insurance map it shows 220 E. Georgia on the south side of the street and beside (east side)  a north south alley (the one parallels Main St. on the east side).

Franz Lindner, a contract photographer for CBC Vancouver, took many pictures of the area … Sarah’s Cafe being one.  His assignment was to shoot publicity photos for the CBC Times (programming guide) feature on the radio documentary, “G.O.M.” (God’s Own Medicine).  A  radio documentary that aired June 5, 1960 on CBC radio. According to the CBC times, ”G.O. M. will offer the total picture of addiction in Canada, with emphasis on the seat of the concentration, Vancouver”. So it seems fitting that Lindner would choose the area then know as Skid Row, now known as the DTES – Chinatown.

Although this image was not published in CBC Times, it is part of a series of images shot for the assignment. One of the images from that series was ultimately used as the cover photo for the CBC Times for that week.

So, that just leaves one question. Does the building still exist today?  A quick check in Google Maps Street View for 220 E. Georgia revealed that the building does indeed exist today. A little worse for wear, perhaps, but considering it is over 100 years old, it is looking pretty good.

I was recently in the area, and took this photo of the building and alley today.

Sarah's Cafe today

March 2013. Photo: C. Hagemoen

It is interesting to note the difference the construction of the Georgia Viaduct had on the neighbourhood. In the photo from 1960, the neighbourhood seems to go on forever (or at least for several blocks). In the photo above, it ends abruptly a block away. Hard to imagine the impact that would have had on the people that lived and worked there.

Welcome to vanalogue

Celebrating the analogue in this digital world. I am a “digital immigrant” living in Vancouver. This blog is about exploring and featuring all things analogue (or ‘old school’) in Vancouver (and the rest of the world). Van (Vancouver) + analogue = vanalogue.