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Toronto: Now & Then
Photography by Avard Woolaver

Photos of Toronto in the 1980s, along with those taken in recent years. The exhibition highlights the vast changes in Toronto's cityscape over the past forty years. 

Exhibition: July 4  -28, 2024

Artist Talk: Sunday, June 14, 2-3pm

Events are open to all.

There is a feeling of freedom walking around a city with a camera. At 65, I still have that feeling but it was more pronounced when I was in my mid twenties, studying photography as a student at Toronto Metropolitan University (formerly Ryerson Polytechnical Institute.) That was before marriage and kids and steady employment. I took a lot of photographs in my early years in Toronto, capturing street scenes and ordinary aspects of daily life that happened to catch my eye. American photographer Henry Wessel sums up my approach in this way: “Part of it has to do with the discipline of being actively receptive. At the core of this receptivity is a process that might be called soft eyes. It is a physical sensation. You are not looking for something. You are open, receptive. At some point you are in front of something that you cannot ignore.”


Back in the 1980s I would shoot a roll of film (usually black and white), process it a few days later and make a contact sheet. After that I might make an enlargement of one or two of the strongest shots, and then move on. The contact sheets may have been reviewed from time to time when I was preparing for an exhibition, but basically, I didn’t look at them for years and years.


For a long time, my photos were almost all black and white. I paid a great deal of attention to lines and form and the abstract qualities that monochrome provided. My influences had been Robert Frank and Lee Friedlander who were all about documenting the social landscape. It seemed that this type of photography was so much better suited to black and white, or as Frank called it, “the colours of hope and despair.”

I had no way to anticipate how significant these Toronto photos would seem to me 40 years later. They show things that no longer exist, even though it hasn’t been that long. Without necessarily trying to, I caught images of buildings, cars, fashions, gadgets that are no longer part of our world. Toronto’s entire skyline is utterly changed, part of the inevitable growth and evolution. So, I thought I’d go back and rephotograph some of the scenes to highlight these changes in the topography of the city. It was both fun and challenging, trying to find the spot where a photo was taken 40 years earlier, using the same focal length. It took me back to familiar places like Yonge Street, Queen Street, and the Junction.

Nostalgia is a powerful thing, and if nothing else, these photos make me nostalgic for those early days in Toronto—a city that is still near and dear to my heart.

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