Friday, October 10, 2014

Mount Dennis

'57 Lincoln Premiere, Brownville Ave., Mt. Dennis 2001

IN 2001 I WROTE AND ILLUSTRATED A FEATURE on Mount Dennis, the neighbourhood where I grew up, for Toronto Life magazine. This is the photo that ran on the double page spread that began the article. I spent a week or two walking around the area with my Rollei and a rented Widelux, looking to find a shot that summed up the piece. When it ran, the editors decided to give it the title "Happy Days," which explains why they went with the shot with the Lincoln and its declarative tailfins.

My income as a photographer was dropping steeply by this point, which explains the return to writing under my own name after over a decade. I had hoped that presenting myself as a complete editorial package - writer and photographer - would be a big selling point in my favour. I ended up having to work hard selling both editors and art departments on the concept that it was possible to do both - even for clients who'd hired me to do both in the past.

Nowadays, of course, it's a lot easier since the value of both words and pictures is a fraction of what it was fifteen years ago, now that digital cameras (and phones!) are almost foolproof and copy editing and proofreading are notional at best. You can provide the whole package for almost any client - in fact, they might insist on it. But you won't get paid nearly what it's worth.

Not to sound bitter or anything.

'64 Ford Falcon, Mt. Dennis 2001

Digging out these contacts again, I'm struck by how many cars I shot, and how lovingly I featured them in each frame. This Falcon, made the year I was born, is the star of the shot, and obviously the pride and joy of whoever lives in the shotgun-style house in the back.

In 2001, it would be a decade before I finally allowed my lifelong fascination with cars to have free reign again, sending me out to auto shows and car races with my camera whenever I had a chance. Back then, though, I was obviously having a hard time hiding it.

Honda CRX, Gray Avenue, Mt. Dennis 2001

Both sides of my family moved to Mount Dennis around World War One, and I finally left in the mid-'80s, when my mother was in a nursing home and we sold the family house - a wall of which is caught on the right hand side of the photo above with the hard-used CRX. When you live in a place for a long time, the past lingers in your mind, regardless of the changes. I spend a of time in the old neighbourhood these days, and even now I always feel like the past can be glimpsed out of the corner of my eye, abiding behind the present like a faint layer.

These three photos are like those layers - one from the neighbourhood's past, one from the Mount Dennis of my childhood, and one from the slightly less lovely place that I left, in search of life and adventure.

Mercury Cougar, Gray Ave., Mt. Dennis 2013
Corvette Stingray, Dennis Ave., Mt. Dennis 2014

In the last few years I've rediscovered a fondness for the old neighbourhood, and try to swing through at least a couple times a month, often on assignment. Since I wrote the Toronto Life piece, I've become the area's unofficial biographer, writing about it for whoever will let me as it stands on the verge of some major changes that might make it even more unrecognizable.

Right now, though, it's still the house-proud working class neighbourhood where I grew up, nowhere more so than when I see someone's project car sitting out front, in the elements, rusting and blistering while it waits for the TLC it desperately needs. I try to get a snap of every one, a job made much easier thanks to the increasingly superb cameras in my phones. Damn their black hearts.

But I haven't liked anything I've shot there in the last few years near as much as the work with the Rollei. They were shot just months before 9/11, which is probably why they seem to come from a place not only behind my analog wall but from some historical watershed that divides the contemporary from the historical - at least for me.

Perhaps it's time to go back to Mount Dennis with the Rolleis and see what happens.

 

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