In this chapter
What emerged from the Kodachrome Toronto Registry’s survey was not just some foundation for Toronto’s surprisingly vibrant, vivid past. This survey also formed a proof of concept and rationale for the Registry’s continuation and expansion in both scope and functionality — a finding aid whose relevance and urgency will continue as inclusions from newly found collections are added. Without question, this project will absolutely need some kind of seed funding to continue the management, maintenance, and expansion of the Registry as proposed in Chapter 5.
Eliminating the dark
The Registry’s inceptive field research also brought to attention a “darkness” phenomenon with respect to the people who used Kodachrome to chronicle the city. What was — pun not intended — brought to light were two principal “darknesses”; both will need to be steadily chipped at: dark periods of time and dark areas of space.
These two darknesses uncover critical intersections which exacerbate further “darknesses”: feminist gazes; gazes by immigrant communities and visible minorities; gazes of poverty from a first-person world view (where film photography is not prioritized the way food and shelter essentials are); and queer gazes (particularly prior to 1981, the year of Toronto’s Operation Soap bathhouse raids). Scholarly gazes — those assembled by previous scholars like Dr. Gunter Gad (whose extensive career work in Kodachrome, while yet to be registered, was what inspired the Registry) — will also be needed. Sourcing these will be contingent on future requests for collections, such as what the Canadian Cultural Landscape & Architecture Image Repository (CCLAIR), a repository of image collections from Canadian academics, proposes to do for retired scholars across the country.
As a research lens, some temporal gaps of Toronto have been filled in quite well, particularly during the 1960s and 1970s — coincident with when Kodachrome’s popularity had reached its apex. This, however, is confined to specific zones within the city — and of these, only a scant variety of subjective gazes are experienced. These are, quite bluntly, disproportionately masculine (and white) gazes.
That is to say: should a researcher try to build a historical composite of a bawdier, yet more lively Yonge Street during the early 1970s using only Kodachrome sources, there is now enough known material — reviewed, described, and registered — to begin conducting a comprehensive analysis of that corridor’s changes. But should that same researcher try to critically review Yonge Street’s history through a feminist or possibly a first-generation immigrant lens, she would, at least for now, run into a dearth of material — at least, as seen from a feminine world view. While quite different collections, the works of Naylor, Wiley, the Staceys, and Young all share a very similar way of seeing the city — at times almost clinical. While this may be invaluable for architectural history, it is less so for cultural history. Gratefully, Naylor at least turned to retail windows to see what each of those revealed. It is this ephemera of the everyday — like the storefront displays — which are already challenging enough to come by; to have it as fresh as the day it existed is invaluable. One of the Registry’s future areas for expansion is to add more biographical details on the photographer(s) as it solicits a wider variety of photographers and filmographers whose experiences comprise a broader, richer, more complete tapestry of the city’s memory.
Similarly, some areas of the city remain spatially dark areas whose evolutions, as seen with Kodachrome, continue to be relatively unknown. Possibly the most pronounced of these is Dupont Street and Eglinton Avenue; to lesser degree, Spadina Avenue and newer parts of the University of Toronto, as well as the western and eastern reaches of pre-amalgamated Toronto all remain largely absent. Moving beyond old Toronto, the former boroughs become spotty — limited to just a few areas considered as destinations for local families and tourists. North York and Scarborough are two prominent cases for this Kodachrome “spatial darkness”; Etobicoke is the standout exception, since the township made frequent use of Kodachrome.
There is no doubt that what was so far assembled for this first round is only a tiny dent at something much greater: to find the many Torontos we have long lost. With Kodachrome, some of these lost Torontos can be restored and preserved for posterity, allowing us the privilege to see what we were given to work with by our forebears.
I pause at the close of this phase in the Registry’s evolution with a sense of optimism. Being raised on digital imaging, as many are today, makes for a necessary cynicism — knowing that almost anything can be mimicked, aped, or altered to show something which was never part of the original document. Kodachrome offers them a way to cleanse that digital palette with a newfound perspective: while the accessibility for photography in colour was less common during the 20th century, it was very much possible. It also came with an innocence that the record, as made, would remain permanent.
Should such digital cynicisms persist, even after looking at a Kodachrome slide or movie on a laptop screen (even a sample dated before World War II), the tangibility factor — that is, to visit a Kodachrome Toronto repository and actually handle a slide or reel — will dispatch that cynicism. That a dead chemistry made imaging like this was not only possible, but remarkably, that chemistry made it feasible for us to comprehend that Toronto (and the world) was always as animated and colourful and tangible as it might be today. It puts us in touch with our ancestors, our city, and our empathy for humanity — even when that humanity, now long gone, bequeathed us with problems we still face to this today.
Contents ©2012 Astrid Idlewild. Do not excerpt without written permission. A printed version of this SRP is filed with the Blackader-Lauterman Library of Architecture and Art at McGill University. The online version of this manuscript was edited and serialized in 2013.