For the second time, I’ve been featured in a gallery on the website of popular photography magazine, Popular Photography (see what I did there?). So it’s time for some more shameless bragging, tempered with a mild introduction to one of Toronto’s more colourful and interesting streets, Spadina Avenue.
Oddly enough, both gallery selections have been film, rather than digital photographs, taken with the same 1958 point and shoot camera. This example is on black and white Arista Premium 400, a rather more modern, sophisticated and predictable beast than the ancient film stock I wrote about recently. The previous one was in colour. It’s enough to make me begin to wonder why exactly it is that I own two digital SLRs and a bagful of lenses.
I’m not sure what it is about this photograph that seems to have struck a chord with viewers, and presumably one or other of the editorial staff at PopPhoto. It was featured in Explore, a collection of photographs selected each day by photo sharing site Flickr’s magic interestingness algorithm. It’s been marked as a favourite more than fifty times, far more than any other image I’ve posted. It certainly feels nice to be Explored, although photos do drop in and out, since each one’s rating can change from day to day. To date, 33 of mine have been featured at one point or another; this one is the second-latest, preceded by an ice-skating one you can see at the top of my Happy Holidays post, and followed most recently by a barrel. But Explore isn’t really an indicator of what makes a good photo, nor necessarily of which ones will be generally popular. I’m beginning to think that perhaps the film itself is adding some magic quality, although I wouldn’t rule out that using the old camera is forcing me to visualize and photograph in a more creative way than I do with my digital beasts.
The picture has human interest, which is unusual for me, and the reflections in the glass make it a little more visually interesting. But overall, I’m not convinced this is composed or cropped particularly well – that panel of building stones to the right hand side seems a little awkward now that I’ve lived with the photo for a while, for example. But the most obvious feature, I guess, is the words “Open Dumpling?”, which although they make no sense, seem to have caught a lot of people’s attention. I cheerfully confess that I had no idea I’d captured them like this, especially since “Dumpling?” is a fragment of the phrase “Got Dumpling?” in the right-hand window, and the “Open” sign is just that. The words don’t even go together, for goodness’ sake, which you can verify for yourself on Google Street View.
Those misgivings aside, I’m actually quite pleased with how this turned out, since it was just a grab shot on a quick jaunt through Toronto’s Chinatown. Spadina Avenue is the heart of this neighbourhood, and is bustling most of the time, becoming jammed in summertime with shoppers frequenting its street-side markets. It’s been an interesting place for a lot of years, and older heads than mine remember it as previously being a vibrant Jewish neighbourhood. Look hard, and vestiges of that history can still be found, in an old theatre building, and some of the storefronts. But nowadays, from College Street down to the theatre district, it’s an unruly conglomeration, its southern reaches even including a block or two of leftovers from the fur fashion industry, all dominated by a delicious mix of Asian food markets, specialty stores and restaurants. In late December, it’s still busy enough to provide plenty of street shooting opportunities.
Although I’ve spent most of my weekdays over the last 25 years downtown, and I’ve walked Spadina and its side streets many times, I’ve never photographed here very much, so shooting off a roll of black and white film was good fun. I even made a detour across parts of the University of Toronto campus, pausing for the alchemical symbols on the side of the chemistry building.
All in all, I’m rather pleased with this low-cost black and white film, and might run another roll through the Silette, which is currently loaded with generic, drugstore-brand colour film. In the meantime, my urban exploring has largely given way to the pursuit of pioneer-era cemeteries and other buildings in rural York Region, dating from roughly the same period as the lime kiln I’ve written about before – which I’ll tell you about another time.