The BlogTO interview, unedited: “Can you tell BlogTO about the origins of the project?”

[Second in a series. Questions by BlogTO editor Derek Flack for “The Kodachrome Toronto archive” story, published 25 March 2011. Prior instalment: part 1.]

Can you tell me about the origins of the project?

Registry of Deeds and Land Titles Building, ca. 1961 (future home of New City Hall)
[photo: F. Ellis Wiley, City of Toronto Archives, fonds 124, file 1, image 47]

In February 2009, I created a Flickr group to put my Kodachrome work there and to invite other people to add their stuff as well. After viewing examples from other users, I had a feeling there was probably a lot of amazing stuff which had not seen the light of day for years. At the very least, the Kodachrome Toronto Flickr pool could bring together two subjects I loved.

This was also whilst I was enrolled in Gunter Gad’s Historical Toronto course (during my last undergrad year at the UofT). Professor Gad, himself a longtime photographer and documentarian of Toronto’s built form from the late 1960s to the 2000s, peppered his lectures with slides of the city he had shot on Kodachrome. Although I’d been shooting with Kodachrome for about a year, to actually see examples of Kodachrome remain so stable over decades was brought home with his slides of Toronto.

It really didn’t take much to leave me in awe. When Gad would advance to the next slide, it really felt we were like staring through a window through which another year was happening right in front of us. I was awestruck by seeing Berczy Park when it was still a parking lot, or traces of long-demolished brick buildings around the core, or long-gone street signage, or the ways which people were moving about the city.

Another prof of mine during the previous term, (retired chief city planner) Paul Bedford, also used his own Kodachrome slides (albeit scanned for Powerpoint). These were of a dramatically less-busy 401 back in the early 1970s and (my favourite) photos of the Yonge Street Mall in colour.

Gad and I got along well and sort of bonded over Kodachrome (and, well, the city). That summer, I gave him a couple of rolls to shoot with one last time, with the proviso that I got to keep one of the rolls. He said he would shoot two of everything with a pair of cameras. Sadly, he fell critically ill about a year ago and may never get to return to his old livelihood. I miss him a lot. I am sort of dedicating this project in his name. I’m not sure what he might think of that.

OK. That’s the back story.

In winter 2010 after a year at McGill, I applied to three schools to transfer my masters research away from urban planning and towards urban geography. That didn’t go so well. I got negged with a triple-rejection and was feeling really, really dejected. A friend of mine was also rejected by one of the same schools (despite our close connections to its faculty), and we bounced a email conversation wishing we could, amongst other things, immolate ourselves from our misery.

After spending the morning of April 25th rooting through the city archives online and finding both F. Ellis Wiley’s V-Day parade photos and the Etobicoke borough fonds from the early 1960s, I was reminded of Gad’s slides and the Flickr pool.

Then an idea just sort of stuck: create a comprehensive retrospective of Toronto’s history in Kodachrome during its 75 years of availability — coinciding nearly with Toronto’s second century. Where possible, the photos would have a back story from the photographer. My supervisor and I held a meeting the following week, and he pitched a related project which also involved photography archival. This sort of dovetailed with the book idea, and it ultimately led to the masters SRP (thesis) research for “Kodachrome Toronto 1935-2010.” I’m sort of thinking well past “book” now.

More to come.

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