Speaking of "then and now" views, check out the nice (if somewhat slow-loading—you have been warned) William Notman / Andrzej Maciejewski pairings at the McCord Museum of Canadian History website. Andrzej Maciejewski did a really nice job of matching the historical Notman photographs. Includes interiors as well as exteriors, and check under the "Photographer" tab for Andrzej's comments (there's even audio, if you mouse over the pictures). Ed Hawco told me about this.
It struck me as I looked that it's not an entirely fair way to appraise the progress of the city, for the simple reason that the early photographer—Notman, in this case—has a free hand to present the most comely views, whereas the modern photographer is constrained in what he can present by what the historical photograph shows. As is clear from one view (#3) that is now almost completely blocked by buildings, this in some cases leads to modern photographs that one wouldn't necessarily take or frame the same way if one had a free hand.
As I've no doubt said before (TOP will probably end when I've told all my stories at least twice), I've always wondered why cities don't have official photographers—just someone to wander around on a permanent basis capturing records of the way the city looked as it evolved. I suppose the politicians would find it an easy expense to cut, but if it were permitted it would be valuable for the historical record and for civic pride, identity, and interest.
(Thanks to Ed and several other readers)
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Original contents copyright 2010 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.
Featured Comment by John McMillin: "Years ago, I was briefly an 'official' photographer in Golden, Colorado. The local historical society hired and (barely) paid me to photograph each facade in a historical district. There's probably a little of this documentation going on at any moment, but not enough. When I came to Denver in the late '70s, it had a wealth of dilapidated post-industrial buildings downtown, and a busy railyard, that were far more colorful than today's designer-styled instant urbanist paradise. I documented those old relics a bit, but not enough. When they're gone, the photography stops but my memories remain, fading.
"Gotta put in a good word for Montreal here. I visited for the first time in October, and it was a visual delight. I was especially drawn to scenes of rooftops. There must be a law, or at least a custom, against leaving any roof flat or unadorned. Instead, they're steepled, ornamented, castellated in a most elevating style. Montrealers like to view their city from commanding locations, like the Olympic Tower, or the old church belfry by the Old Port. When an historic government building was being renovated, the whole structure and scaffolding was wrapped in plastic sheeting neatly printed with the building's windows and details. That's pride showing!"
Featured Comment by Jeff: "My favorite is the audio from #8, Notre Dame Church. Very 'TOPical.'"
Mike replies: I hadn't heard that yet when I read your comment. Made me laugh. Good catch.
Featured Comment by Andrzej Maciejewski: "Thanks for posting this. I agree that each city large or small should have a photographer who would document streets, buildings, parks, etc. It would not be such a huge expense to the city, but there would be something left in the archives. I was looking through the archives of a few cities in Canada and the state of them is rather less than poor (except for the Notman archives in Montreal but this is only because he was a successful commercial photographer who sold these city views at the time)."