My Periods

I recently posted a series of photographs on Instagram and Facebook. They were all pictures of me — some self-portraits and some taken by other people — from 1979 to 2000. I called them “retroselfies” and categorized each as being from a certain “period” of my life. I posted one a day for about two weeks.

I’m reposting the images here, on the Blork Blog, as an act of reclamation of ownership, since I don’t feel like I fully own what I post in the walled gardens of Zuckerberg.

So here, for my own sense of reclamation, and for the two or three of you who are not using Instagram and Facebook, is the series of photographs I call “My Periods” (hashtag #retroselfie).

My Periods (1979-2000)

(Not in chronological order.)

Me, in my centrefold period. (Corner Brook, Newfoundland. 1979.)

Corner Brooke, Newfoundland

.

Me, in my radio period. (St. Francis Xavier University, 1986.)

Antigonish, Nova Scotia

.

Me, in my “dark and stormy night” period. (Montreal, 1988.)

Montreal, Quebec

.

Me, in my top-hat period. (Nova Scotia, 1980.)

Halifax, Nova Scotia

.

Me, in my folk period. (University College of Cape Breton, 1982.)

Sydney, Nova Scotia

.

Me, in my Hemingway period. (Montreal, 1990.)

Montreal, Quebec

(It was suggested in the comments that this was more “Corey Hart” than “Hemingway.”)

.

Me, in my “Into the Wild” period. (Nova Scotia, 1984.)

Antigonish Landing, Nova Scotia

.

Me, in my Slacker period. (Cape Breton, 1979.)

Gabarus, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia

.

Me, in my Pablo Escobar period. (Otavalo, Ecuador, 2000.)

Otavalo, Ecuado

.

Me, in my sweater period. (Glenfinnan, Scotland, 1993.)

Glenfinnan, Scotland

(Loyal readers might recognize this photo from this blog post, and this related one.)

.

Me, in my Early Steve Jobs period. (Montreal, 1991.)

Montreal, Quebec

Note: there was no “Later Steve Jobs” period. (It was suggested in the comments that this was more “John Lennon” than “Steve Jobs.”)

.

Me, in my Tri-X period. (Prague, Czech Republic, 1995.)

Prague, Czech Republic

.

And in conclusion, me in my WTF period. (Montreal, 1989.)

Montreal, Quebec

Vivian Maier in Quebec, Part 2

Last week I wrote about Vivian Maier and how I had determined the exact location of a photograph she made in Quebec City at some point in the 1950s. I indicated that I know of another Vivian Maier photograph also taken in Quebec City, but that I could not determine the exact location. Well, dear readers, with a bit of additional digging, I have located that one too!

A bit of background: Terreau & Racine was a well known and very successful metal foundry, established in 1850 in Quebec City. They made, among other things, the stoves that were widely used to heat houses and cabins through the cold Quebec winters. The foundry was destroyed by a huge fire in 1919 but they rebuilt and continued to be successful until another fire destroyed the building in the 1950s. The site remains vacant of buildings to this day; it’s the parking lot at the corner of Quai Saint-André and rue Saint-Thomas.

The Vivian Maier photograph in question is below. You can clearly see the Terreau & Racine warehouse (entrepôt) in the background.

Photo by Vivian Maier, Copyright The Maloof Collection Ltd.

Martine, who first spotted this photo on the official Vivian Maier web site, did some research and found that Terreau & Racine’s warehouse was in a separate building, on the next street over from the one that burned. That street is the tiny Côte de la Canoterie, which is less than 300 metres in length. If you take a Google Streetview drive down Côte de la Canoterie you’ll see that none of the buildings on the north side look anything like the Terreau & Racine warehouse, although they are all quite old, meaning they would have been there looking more or less the same, when the Vivian Maier photo was taken.

So that leaves the south side, where we find only a handful of buildings and a few parking lots. The obvious candidate was this place:

31 Côte de la Canoterie

The proportions look right, but there are a lot of details in the present day building that are not there in the Vivian Maier shot. That’s easy enough to explain: renovations. The sidewalk is also very different, but that too could be due to municipal renovations.

This is where I had given up, as I figured there’s not much else I could do. The most likely scenario, I thought, was that the Terreau & Racine warehouse was probably torn down and the site is now one of the parking lots.

Then I started digging into the maps at the National Archives, thanks to a link provided in a comment in the original Vivian Maier blog post. Bingo!

Below you’ll see an “insurance map” from 1957 that firmly places the Terreau & Racine warehouse at 57 Côte de la Canoterie. Under that you’ll see the same location from Google Satellite view. You can see that the Terreau & Racine warehouse seems to be in the exact location as the building I’ve circled, which is the building at 31 Côte de la Canoterie (in the Streetview image, above).

1957 insurance map

Present day, via Google Satellite View

A confounding factor: in Streetview, we clearly see that the building is marked as being at 31 Côte de la Canoterie (you can’t see it in my screenshot, but if you go there in Streetview you’ll see it). Well, sometimes municipalities do re-numbering of street addresses, which seems likely in this case, as the numbering in the 1957 map seems sort of random, and in Streetview we can see that it is linear (which is how most street numbering is these days).

But the location looks exactly right. To prove it, I superimposed the satellite image on top of the 1957 map and got a perfect match:

1957 insurance map and present day satellite view mashup. (Click here to see it bigger.)

I think the visual matching trumps the number mis-match. So there you have it. We can pinpoint to within a few feet where Vivian Maier stood when she took that photograph of the Terreau & Racine warehouse: in front of what is now 31 Côte de la Canoterie.

The next challenge is to figure out when she took those photos.

Vivian Maier in Quebec

Vivian Maier was a street photographer who worked in obscurity from the 1950s until she died at 83 in 2009. Her work was “discovered,” quite literally, only days before her death, and since then much has been written about her and it. If you’re not familiar with the story, this roughly ten minute video from WTTW in Chicago (via YouTube) provides a nice overview.

[youtube width=”500″ height=”355″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HWEDOnBfDUI[/youtube]

(Direct link to the video on YouTube.)

I first heard about Vivian Maier in late 2010. John Maloof, who discovered her work, had been scanning and posting images to a blog he created to show the work, and was also showing it on Flickr in one of the street photography discussion groups. The Flickr group and other street photography online communities were abuzz with excitement over the work.

Maier’s work is held in two different collections; one owned by Maloof and the other by art collector Jeffrey Goldstein, both of Chicago. Prints have been making the rounds of various galleries in the United States and Europe, and in early 2011 came word that a book would be published from Maloof’s collection. I pre-ordered the book the second it showed up on Amazon. It finally arrived in early December.

I was worried about the quality of the reproductions, as John Maloof is a real estate agent, not a fine art curator nor an expert in scanning and reproduction technologies. Fortunately he’s young, seems very determined, and appears to be a fast learner. The book is gorgeous, and the scans and reproductions are beautiful.

A few days after the book arrived, Martine was looking through it and she noticed the writing on some signs in one image were in French. This was a bit odd, as the vast majority of Maier’s work that has been shown thus far (which is only a small percentage of the total body of work) is from New York and Chicago. But it is known that she traveled, and that she had family in France. We looked again at the image and it was obvious that the architecture was very North American. That could mean only one thing: Vivian Maier had been to Montreal!

©Vivian Maier, from Vivian Maier Street Photographer (2011 PowerHouse Books)

Or not. It turns out I was wrong. Or to be precise, I was wrong in thinking the photograph had been taken in Montreal. All of my attempts to locate the setting of the photograph came up empty. The scene looked like it could be along rue St-Jacques or even Notre-Dame, but the buildings didn’t seem familiar. I did historical research on the few recognizable business names, to no result.

Then it hit me: Montrealer that I am, I had fallen into the trap of thinking that all of Quebec (and thus, the world) revolves around Montreal. I kicked myself in the butt and started researching Quebec City. It took about five minutes to locate the scene as being on rue du Roi, between rue de la Couronne and rue Dorchester. That’s the street that runs along the north (i.e., back) side of the Bibliothèque Gabrielle-Roy in the working-class, rapidly-turning-hipster neighbourhood of Saint-Roch.

To find the location I searched for information about “Turcotte Letourneau,” the easiest to read business sign in the photograph. That lead me to a picture of a business card for Turcotte & Létourneau Ltée from the late 1950s in the PatrimoineQc Flickr stream. A Google Streetview search of that address immediately followed.

The scene looks very different now. The fenced-in lot where the people are playing ball has been replaced by the exit ramp from the library’s underground parking. Everything in the foreground has been replaced by bus and loading zones for the library itself, which opened in 1983.

Most of the buildings on the far side of the street – including the Turcotte & Létourneau one – are gone, replaced by a large hotel that extends all the way east to the corner of rue de la Couronne. The hotel opened in 1987.

I looked for some visual cues to verify the location and I found two. The first is the building at the left of the Maier image with the barber shop at the ground level and an array of six square windows on the upper two floors. That building is still there and can be seen in Streetview. It hasn’t changed much. The sash windows have been replaced by single panes and the barber pole is gone, but otherwise it’s clearly the same building:

The Street View view, April 2009.

You can see part of that building with the sashes intact in this 1981 photo of the hole being dug for the bibliothèque. Look on the right edge of the image; you can see two of the windows, as well as the little rinky-dink Hotel Dahlia that still exists just to the left of the building. (The photo in the link is from the Encyclopedia of French Cultural Heritage in North America’s article on the rebirth of Saint-Roch.)

The other point of verification is farther down the street (to the right) on the other side of rue de la Couronne. In the Maier photograph you can see a two story building, whitewashed on the ground floor with a brick facade on the second floor. You can see a sign written in script but you can only read the last three letters, “nie.” The giveaways are the distinctive corner window on the second floor and the ground-floor corner entrance. The building with that window is still there; it houses Restaurant Saigon Bangkok.

April 2009 vs. circa 1950-something.

This is all very fascinating on multiple levels. As not much is known about Vivian Maier and her life, information about her travels is sketchy.

1952?

According to Martine’s research, Vivan Maier was in Canada at least twice, once in 1951 and again in 1955. A confusing aspect of her photograph is the building to the right of Turcotte & Létourneau, which is clearly marked “1952 EDIFICE HARNOIS.” That is confusing because Martine’s research indicates Maier was in Quebec in 1951 but she could find no specific evidence of Quebec being on the itinerary for the 1955 trip. It’s also confusing because the building marked “1952” seems to be of a much older style that would be build that year.

Perhaps the most fascinating thing about all this, at least for me and Martine, is on a purely personal level. Martine is very familiar with that street, as that neighbourhood is where, as a girl, she and her mother would do the weekly shopping, and where she’d hang out with her friends. Later, as a CEGEP and then university student, she worked part-time at the Bibliothèque Gabrielle-Roy for several years.

You can tell by the cars in the scene that the Vivian Maier photo was most likely taken in the mid-1950s, long before Martine was born. But Martine’s parents and her uncles and aunts were around then. We’re wondering if there are other photographs from that trip in which a member of Martine’s family might be visible. Given the thousands of yet unscanned and unpublished photographs in the archive, it’s a fun idea to hang onto, but not one to hold our breaths over.

Update 1: I have found the location of a second Vivian Maier photo taken in Quebec City.

Update 2: According to a friend’s father, who has been working on Ford cars since the 1950s, one of the cars visible in the rue de Roi photo is either a 1952 or 1953 model, based on the chrome trim. That implies this photo could not have been taken during Maier’s 1951 trip.

References and further reading:

Street Scene: Montreal and Beyond

It’s 2011, so the natural thing to do is launch a new photo blog! Announcing Street Scene: Montreal and Beyond, a new street photography blog from yours truly.

I know you’re all just boiling over with questions, so I have put together this handy FAQ to handle all your WTFs.

Street Scene FAQ

Q: Where are all the faces?

A: Street Scene grows out of an earlier experiment called From the Hip – Montreal, which was an exercise in street photography that purposely excluded people’s faces from the images. The reason for doing so is based in Aubry vs. Editions Vice Versa, a Supreme Court of Canada ruling that essentially makes it illegal to photograph people in Quebec without their permission. You can read a bit more about that on From the Hip‘s About page.

Street Scene re-uses many of the images from From the Hip – Montreal but removes the prohibition against visible faces. (I do this at my own risk.)

Q: Yeah, but where are all the faces?

A: Even though Street Scene is free of the “no faces” rule, that doesn’t mean it will be all about faces. Typically, the subject of street photography is people, and the context is their urban environment. Street Scene flips that. The subject of Street Scene is the urban environment, and the context is the people within it.

Q: So are you going to start shoving your camera in people’s faces?

A: Hardly. My predominant technique will still be “clandestine” and from the hip. But I’m not going to worry about including faces, and when the situation calls for it I’ll be as forward and unclandestine as any other street photographer.

Q: Why are some of the pictures blurry?

A: Street Scene is my personal view of the urban environment and the people in it. Sometimes that view is fuzzy, such as when the photograph is taken at night, in low light. This is not some exercise in image clarity or pixel peeping. This is a personal, subjective, and sometimes fuzzy view that I hope some people will find familiar, startling, or evocative.

Q: How often will you post photos?

A: At launch time (January 2011) I have several dozen images that I want to post, and will do so over the following months. After that I’ll post ’em as I make ’em. Bear in mind that my “from the hip” technique has a very high failure rate, and I’m not prolific in the conventional style. Weeks may pass without an update. And in winter this will be a virtual dead zone, as I don’t walk around with my camera in my un-gloved hands when it’s -20.

Q: Are you the only person doing this?

A: Not at all. There are many active street photographers, including some who shoot from the hip, such as Joe Wigfall (Flickr photostream, YouTube interview about shooting from the hip). Other personal favorites include Magnus Fröderberg (Sweden) and Alex Coghe (Rome/Mexico).

Q: How long will it take before you cash in?

A: HA HA HA HA!!! In the entire history of photography, the number of people who have “cashed in” on street photography can be counted on one hand. A few more than that have found a bit of fame (primarily in the “golden age” of the 1950s, 60s, and 70s), but hardly anyone has made any appreciable money at it. Street photography – especially in the digital age – is something you do entirely for artistic and expressive reasons, and for fun. There ain’t no money in it.

Q: OMG where’s the HDR?

A: Shut the fuck up and read this.

Q: Who are your main influences in photography?

A: The long list is endless and is based more on individual images than the photographers behind them. But there is a short list, and all of the people on it are from well before the digital age. The short list includes:

Sharp observers will notice that not all of these artists are street photographers. In fact, a bunch of them are from the New Topographics landscape photography movement of the 1970s. The New Topographics did and does have a strong influence on how I think about photography, as do those photojournalists and street photographers.

As you might imagine, you could hardly find two more disparate styles in photography than New Topographics and street photography. That’s a bit like combining Strauss waltzes and death metal, or rococco painting with abstract expressionism. But that’s what moves me so that’s what I’m stuck with. I’m formally a mess, but hopefully some of the photos on Street Scene will make a bit of sense anyway.

For a peek at a few of my New Topographics inspired images that are not at all “streety,” check out the Monday Morning Photo Blog, under the tag “new-topographics.”