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.

Street photographers, also referred to as ‘sidewalk photographers’, would take (often candid) shots of individuals, couples, families and other groups walking down the street. The photographer would hand ‘the subject’ a numbered ticket with an invitation to drop by their shop later to buy a copy of the picture. The trend continued into the 1940s, during the war years, when film was in short supply and service men on leave would want photos of themselves in uniform to send home, or have a photo memento of their sweetheart.

The most common style of street photographs were commonly known as ‘walking pictures’ – in which the photographer captured people as they walked down a city street.

Foncie-Baiseden

[Vancouver or New Westminster] street photo taken by Foncie Pulice of Foncie’s Fotos. Photo from: fonciescorner.knowledge.ca

A new exhibit at the Museum of Vancouver (MOV) celebrates the era of ‘street photography’, and one photographer in particular, Foncie Pulice. Foncie’s Fotos runs from Thursday, June 6, 2013 to Sunday, January 5, 2014.  Foncie was undoubtedly the most famous and prolific of Vancouver’s street photographers…most likely due to the fact that he stuck around the longest. He created about 15 million images in his 45 year career (1934-1979) as a street photographer.

Foncie's Film

A sample of Foncie’s film negatives from the ‘Foncie’s Fotos’ exhibit at the MOV. Photo: C. Hagemoen.

Much has been written about Foncie recently, so I won’t go into detail about him in this post. You can find great information about Foncie  on the History of Metropolitan Vancouver site, and more of his photos at the ‘Foncie’s Corner’ site – including details on a new documentary on Foncie Pulice to air on the Knowledge Network.

But, Foncie wasn’t the only one, there were a number of street photographers working in Vancouver in the 1930s -1950s. In fact, Foncie’s first job was as an assistant for street photographer, Joseph Iaci who was proprietor of ‘Kandid Kamera’ at 612 West Hastings.

Kandid Kamera photo

Vancouver street photo taken by Kandid Kamera (612 West Hastings). Photo courtesy of: Ephemeral Heritage Archives

There was also a company called ‘Movie Snaps’ which operated from 1939 to 1950 from 541 Granville Street. A check in the Vancouver and New Westminster City Directory from 1940, lists the proprietors to be Earl R. Jones and Roy S. Craig. Curiously, the 1950 directory lists Alphonso (Foncie) Pulice as the proprietor of ‘Movie Snaps’. Which is very interesting as the same directory has a listing for ‘Foncie’s Fotos’ at 955 Seymour Street.

Vancouver street photo taken by Movie Snaps (541 Granville St.) . Photo courtesy of: Ephemeral Heritage Archives

Vancouver street photo taken by Movie Snaps (541 Granville St.) . Photo courtesy of: Ephemeral Heritage Archives

These images reveal a sense of formality in the way people dressed while out and about on the city streets. Whether they were conducting business, shopping, or going to the cinema – in those days people would dress up to go downtown.

Movie Flash photo

Vancouver street photo taken by Movie Flash (West Hastings St.) Photo courtesy of: Ephemeral Heritage Archives.

Two other ‘street photography’ companies were apparently operating in Vancouver during this era – ‘Movie Flash’ (on West Hastings St.) and ‘James Photo Service’ (#23 -441 Seymour St.). Unfortunately, I was unable to find out much information about them – more research will be needed!

James Photo Service

Vancouver street photo taken by James Photo Service (#23, 441 Seymour St.). Photo courtesy of: Ephemeral Heritage Archives

This type of photography didn’t stick to just the sidewalks. In the 1940’s and 1950’s,  it was common for nightclubs to have a photographer on the premise to snap patron’s photos as a memento of the great time they were having (my family has several great photos taken inside The Cave Supper Club). There were also itinerant photographers (not unlike traveling salesman) would travel around town (often with props) taking photos of children, in hopes that they could convince the parent to purchase a photo of their child.  This photo of my mother on a pony was taken near her home in southeast Vancouver – the cowgirl gear and pony belonged to the photographer.

girl on pony

Photo of my mother taken by an unknown itinerant photographer in southeast Vancouver, ca. 1946.

I find it a little sad that family photos are sometimes abandoned or lost, and often end up in second hand shops, flea markets, and vintage shops. But, I guess one could look at the collecting of orphaned family photos and memorabilia as a second life for the images – a renaissance of appreciation and of value. Projects like the MOV’s ‘Foncie’s Fotos’ exhibit is certainly evidenced of that.

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7 thoughts on “Street Photography

  1. Pingback: Newsie Jack | vanalogue

  2. Hey – it’s a long shot but it’s worth a try ….I have a photo from 1944 of my grandparents from Movie Snaps. I adore the photo & am curious to know if the building is still standing. It’s the same back drop/building in the background as the 5th photo in your article with the two ladies.

    • Hi JP,
      The building looks like the Rogers Building at 470 Granville Street. I’m happy to report that it is indeed still standing! Construction on the building started in 1911 and it opened in 1912.

  3. How can I find out who was the street photographer / photographers in Greenville, SC who took photos of people on Main St, Greenville, SC about 1930-1940s?

    • Hi Audrey,
      Since I am in Vancouver, Canada I’m not exactly sure where you could look for this information in Greenville, SC. I used old city directories found at my local library and archives to get some of the information about street photographers in Vancouver. You should try asking at your local library, archives, or historical society…they would likely be able to direct you to where you could find this information in your area.
      Good Luck!

  4. Hello,
    I too have a Movie Snaps photo of my grandfather in front of the Canadian National TICKET OFFICE. Do you know what address that would be and when period of time it existed?

    Many thanks,

    • KR, well that is hard to say…but Movie Snaps was in operation from 1939 to 1950…so I would say the 1940s would be a good guess. I’m also not sure what CN ticket Office had 3 locations apparently… 724 Burrard St, 527 Granville, and 536 Granville (according to the City Directories) I guess the photo would likely be on Granville St… because that was also the location of Movie Snaps (541 Granville). Hope that helps.

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