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Victoria Street

Posted by
Damon Schreiber (Toronto, Canada) on 8 August 2007 in Cityscape & Urban and Portfolio.

Non-series-related: Jason has passed on the message that an Am3 member called Soph is organising an impromptu theme this Friday. You just have to photograph somthing with "I love you" in the language of your choice and post it on Friday. I'll try and I may interrupt this series if I can just for that day, but in any case, I encourage you all to participate. Her page is here.

Sakamoto/Schreiber - Toronto 1977-2007 series starts here.

On the importance of positioning the camera.

It's not, I suppose, hard to explain the importance of positioning the camera correctly when attempting to reverse-engineer an existing photo: of course you need to do so if you wish to reproduce the scene. The harder thing is to identify exactly how to find the right spot within the three dimensions.

What I've found, is that it's a whole lot easier when there are a number of common overlapping elements from the original photo in the current scene. Take the photo on this page: similar elements are the tracks, the building on the left, the Imperial Optical building, and two buildings on the right side of the street past the intersection. There are also the wires overhead, and the various lights and posts. The trick is use these as guides and line them up in such a way that the perspective and angles are the same.

So I had my approximation of a 28mm lens, I had my approximation of the original centre point (somewhere near that Stop sign), and now I had to put the camera in the right position... The left-right dimension was fairly easy: somewhere in the middle of the tracks. Up-down was fairly constant: I'm as tall as I am, though I could try straightening up as far as possible to keep the camera as far off the ground as it had been in 1977. But distance was the real challenge here. Using the tracks as a guide was impossible for me: in the photo they look like lines of perspective - converging at infinity, but in real life, they just look like straight lines. So I tried using the buildings and street lamps.

One of the first problems I had was trying to align the street lamp on the right at the corner of the intersection with the building behind it: I thought that if I went back far enough so that the height of the lamppost relative to the height of the building was the same as in the 1977 photo, everything would be correct. But it wasn't. Only after going back did I discover that that lamppost had been replaced by a new, taller one. Very tricky!

And it was the same everywhere I went: Trial and error was a frequent nemesis. Eventually I found a combination of posts and buildings in this scene that were old enough to rely on for the composition. On photos where there didn't exist two objects from the original that aligned in such a way that I could use that alignment as a guide, my success was much lower (see yesterday's image).

Note: Probably the most notable thing about this photo is that it's taken from a point in the middle of the street. Dangerous work! Luckily, now as in 1977, it's quiet enough that with a bit of patience it is quite possible to execute without loss of life or limb. I'm pretty sure I looked funny to the people on the sidewalk as I would dart to the middle, snap a quick few photos, and then dart back to the safety of the sidewalk.

Other notable points are that this was probably the hardest location to find, but once I remembered where the Imperial Optical sign used to be, I figured it out soon enough. Also the building on the immediate left is Massey Hall, a storied stage, venue of the Greatest Jazz Concert Ever with Charlie Parker, Dizzie Gillespie, Bud Powell, Max Roach, and Charles Mingus.

Also interesting from a historical point of view: the building on the right of the street just past the intersection is the same one as in the 1977 photo. It was being torn down as I snapped this photo. You can't see it, but just a bit further up the street, parts had already been demolished. So I imagine that in another year, this scene will look quite different from today, even harder to recognise as that same place.

Top image copyright Shige Sakamoto - 坂本政恵

High-res here (my image) and here (1977 image). The entire 1977 series can be viewed in context starting here.

[Victoria & Shuter, Toronto]