Talisman

One day in 1979 I put a cowboy hat from a Johnny West action figure and a scuba diving mask from a G.I. Joe on a Timbit. Then I took a photo of it. Such was the boredom of my youth.

Since then I would happen upon this photo — a Kodachrome slide — every handful of years, and I’d chuckle at it and put it back in its box. It is a ridiculous and meaningless photo, but over the years it became a sort of talisman, and I couldn’t throw it away. Now, almost four decades later, I feel like it has time-warping properties, as if on every viewing, spacetime folds and those collected moments come together and touch.

In many ways I feel haunted by this photo. Between viewings I tend to forget it exists, and then one day I’ll see it and it all comes back, like the mixed emotions of seeing an old friend and realizing that the old friend is still an idiot. Why couldn’t I have an interesting talisman, like a spider encased in amber, or a jewel-encrusted monkey skull?

Let me remind you; this is a photo of a goddamn Timbit wearing a cowboy hat and a scuba diving mask. It is meaningless. Or is it? Perhaps this was the beginning of a surrealist art career, and in a parallel universe I’ve graduated to bagels wearing Hugo Boss suits. I’ll never know. But I feel it is finally time to break the spell of this mysterious image by showing it to the world. Here you go. Now I am free.

Don't laugh...

(Published simultaneously on Facebook.)

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.