a flash of colour

Brownie Holiday Flash camera using 127 film.

Toronto. In mid last century amateur photography was quite different than today with ubiquitous smartphone cameras. The small camera phase (mincam) was in full swing. Black and White films ruled – colour was very expensive and even slower than B&W. In fact, the slow speed of fast B&W film meant most amateur photos were taken outdoors.

Colour film and flash bulbs were common to professionals but amateurs still favoured B&W films, usually without flash and its relatively expensive one-use bulbs. The manufactures tried to persuade amateurs to move to smaller cameras, colour film, and flash. An example is this 1955 LIFE magazine ad (page 27) for the so called Brownie Holiday Flash camera – simply  a dressed up pre-war Baby Brownie with a flash gun bolted on the side and shutter synchronization. Like all Baby Brownie’s the diminutive camera used 127 film – a slightly wider “35mm” film without the sprocket holes – and a curved film plane to help correct the lens geometrics (curvature of field) just like the far more expensive Minox camera. While the cameras were small, they were just box cameras with a flash gun feature.

A big thanks to George Dunbar for spotting this marvellous advertisement amongst the pages of the July 4th, 1955 LIFE magazine.


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timely notice

PHSC News – a free newsletter for all fans of photography

Toronto. Journal editor Bob Lansdale created the PHSC newsletter in November 2001 to promote the monthly meetings and other current events between journal printings, plus offering a more economical means to publish articles better suited to colour images. The newsletter is distributed free each month in pdf format both on our web site and to a growing number of folk who have submitted an email address.

To increase distribution, we began to solicit email addresses at our events using a form created by Bob Lansdale. I did the distribution via my own email. At one point the distributions stopped and I contacted Bell Support. The company had unilaterally decided to block all emails exceeding 100 addresses. If a customer wished to exceed the limit, blocks of 100 addresses were allowed every 24 hours. Fortunately Support gave me clearance for up to 5,000 addresses per document. Continue reading

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communication counts!

Photographic Canadiana

Toronto. No matter where you are; who you are; what you are, communication is important. October 23, 1974 at an informal meeting in Toronto, a small group of collectors met. It was decided then and there that Canada was ready for a photographic collector’s organization  and the Photographic Historical Society of Canada was born.

The following March 1975, a key element saw the light of day. Volume 1-1 of the newsletter Photographic Canadiana was mailed to members. It was a typewritten, mimeographed document folded in thirds for mailing. The editor of the first two volumes was member Terry Wedge. Mostly text, the articles were single column, spanning the width of the letter sized paper. That year, 10 issues were distributed. The following year,  the newsletter dropped to six issues. The tag line was “The Newsletter of the Photographic Historical Society of Canada“. It was very important to advise all members of events, ads, and society activities making the newsletter a critical part of the fledgling society.  Continue reading

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a time machine in your pocket

Julia Austin c1900

Toronto. You really do have a time machine – its your camera or smartphone! Really! Think about it. For example, if someone didn’t have a camera, Carol would never have known what her great grandmother (her father’s grandmother) looked like, or that she was an aspiring thespian. Less than a decade after 1900, Martha Julie Austin, as she was named when born about 1849, was photographed in costume as a character in what looks to be a Shakespearean play. Carol’s great grandmother Julia lived to an age of 80, dying in the fall of 1929 at Bury St Edmonds in England.

A few years after 1839, when the negative – positive process was announced, it became possible for the average soul to purchase a print of a famous person, event, or just a workaday scene. For the first time in history, almost anyone could have a likeness done at a reasonable cost. Before 1839 you had to have some wealth to afford the cost of a unique painting, even a miniature. And the larger the painting, the greater the cost.

Once photography thrived, and technology and invention enabled a decent half-tone process, illustrated books, journals, newspapers, etc. became commonplace (there was a broad overlap with woodcuts of illustrations as well to capture distant events, people, celebrities, etc.).

For future generations, be sure you take your camera/smartphone with you and record everyday scenes at work and at play, people important to you, special events, ceremonies, etc. Some day when you have departed this existence, others will discover your efforts and be thrilled to see what it was like in years gone by.  You can help by making an eye-friendly print of selected images rather than relying on future generations being capable of reading today’s media and file formats.

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an Antique market for all

St Lawrence Market Sundays

Toronto. Every Sunday, the city hosts a Sunday antique market at 125 The Esplanade from 7 am to 5 pm. Check out their website here for more details or give the folks a call at 416-410-1310.

One of our members, Hans Kotiesen, is a regular there, Drop by to see his bargains and say ‘hello’.

Some of our other members have dropped by and found collectibles at this downtown, east end hall famous for over a century now.

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London Vintage Film Camera Show

Summer 1980 in Fanshawe Village London Ontario Fire Truck

Toronto. One of the better shows west of here is the London Vintage Film Camera Show. Just a couple of hours away by car on the 401, the next show is in a few weeks on Sunday, April 14th from 10 am to 3 pm.

You may have met Ron and Maureen Tucker  from Tucker Photo at one of our shows. Go for a pleasant ride down the 401 and take in the show. April is a great month for a drive – not too cool and not too hot – just right!

You can read or print a poster with details here. or check the website here. For more information, give Maureen or Ron a call at 519-473-8333 or an email.

And the image at left? A photograph I took while camping on holiday in London’s Fanshawe Pioneer Village the summer of 1980. Its a vintage fire truck that once served that area.

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a fair deal

Old Woodie Plate Camera c1900 by Robert lansdale Spring Fair 2014

Toronto. From the very start of our society, we held fairs. Initially to allow members more access to rarities, and later to also augment our treasury since the fairs provided steady revenue allowing us to bring in speakers while keeping the membership fees low. We also encouraged our members to use free tables at each monthly meeting.

Initially we held two day fairs each spring in various venues under different volunteers.  As the daily fees increased, we were forced to move locations – halls, hotels, arenas, etc. – all where options. As the society matured it had to cut back the fairs to a single spring day.

Under the guidance of Larry Boccioletti, a new fall fair was started with a specific focus on photography students.  Larry began holding a one day show in his own backyard each summer. A few years after his death, we resurrected this show in his memory as our trunk sale, held outdoors each summer, first at the Soccer Centre and later at the Trident Hall.

We spent some years at the Lions Bingo Hall in Etobicoke until the provincial government decided to help out the bingo folk prompting many halls to close doors or repurpose as office space as our hall did to our shock one Sunday fair day when we found the wide open hall all cluttered with the beginnings of partitions into offices.

We moved north to the new Soccer Centre for a number of years. A bus service was started between the Kipling Subway station and the Soccer Centre. While the price was right, we had to wait until the soccer schedule was finalized before we could confirm the date of our next event. As we were on the playing field, special steps were mandatory to protect the artificial grass including thick boards under table legs. Eating on the field was also verboten and if the kitchen forgot us, we were out of luck for food. We finally found the Trident Hall location and moved back on the TTC line eliminating any need for a special bus service.

In the early years, some others branched out and offered fairs too, always careful to avoid colliding with our show dates. In recent years, we have taken a shot at an Image Show, moving the location downtown to the Arts & Letters Club on Elm Street. The team who run the fairs has been in place for many years now making the setup, admissions, and take down much simpler. Advertising has shifted, sometimes helping us, sometimes not. Parking has been free for many years, and recently students with school ID can get in free too!

The shows have evolved with a growing emphasis on user and studio and darkroom gear, Digital equipment has become common mixed in with lots of film and film cameras. In spite of the shift to digital, there are still film, glass plate, and antique items offered. Well worth the Sunday outing each spring and fall.

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under the hammer

March 2019 Auction

Toronto. You can’t have a society without volunteers and funds. Enthusiasm covers the first and events and fiscal conservatism the latter. To bring in funds beyond membership fees (which are far less than costs) we host fairs and auctions.

Auctions began as a means for members to move the inexpensive and no longer needed items in their collections. The earliest affairs were evening or weekend events organized by members for members. A modest admission fee was charged and sellers paid a small percentage of the sold price (or reserve bid for unsold items). Advertising of the events was minimal.

We began accepting goods from anyone, member or not, and encouraging the general public to attend and bid. As the annual auctions grew in popularity, the closing payout became a bottle neck solved by a computer system and a limit on the number of lots auctioned in an afternoon. A changing of the auction staff prompted a reversion to manual processes and formal documentation.

When the late Christine Mackie joined the society in the late 1980s, she initiated a silent auction at each Toronto meeting. These events were eventually discontinued in the 1990s and then resurrected at the December meetings a few years ago using lots made from items donations to the society.

Over the years, the auction barely paid its way. To add national members as potential bidders, two major mail order auctions were held to disperse collections. The Bill Mair collection in the summer of 2000 and three years later in the spring of 2003, the Walter Shean collection.  Both mail order auctions took too much time and effort resulting in a discontinuation.

After a particular run of low pay-off events, the auctions were cancelled and then resurrected using modern techniques offered by Doug Napier that proved both profitable and shocking to old timers! Lots were vetted and limited to high end items; there were no reserves; winning bidders received their lots and paid only on leaving; sellers were paid a few weeks later by cheque; both buyers and sellers paid the society a fee; all lots were sold; and admission was free.

Auctioneer since 2010 is Clint (Lewko Hryhorijiw – currently our president too). Vetting and sequencing of lots was performed first by Doug Napier (previously PHSC VP) and later by John Kantymir (currently PHSC VP). The runners and recorders vary from event to event while the cash out of buyers and auction reporting is by Sonja Pushchak and John Morten (currently newsletter editor and PHSC Treasurer).

Under the new concepts, the society accepts estates as well as member items for auction with estates paying a higher fee to the society for storage and lot photography. Selected lots are displayed here on the website using thumbnails and a slideshow a few weeks beforehand.  Auctions are held more frequently based on availability of goods. Over time the auctions have shifted from inexpensive old collectibles, to more expensive cameras and accessories, and increasingly on to darkroom gear, studio lighting ,and backdrops as the profession shifts focus to accommodate digital gear.

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get wit da program

Stephen Brûlé on Wet-Plate Photography

Toronto. The PHSC has hosted photography related speakers for over 4 decades. Our location or time seldom changes… third Wednesday every month but July and August at Memorial Hall in North York (Toronto). If the venue or times change, we post it here on the web and send out a newsletter well in advance of the event.

We run the whole gambit of speakers – old processes like daguerreotype by Dr Mike Robinson and wet-plate by Stephen Brûlé; new processes like digital printing or here; early colour like Autochromes; histories like that of Niagara Falls – one of the most photographed locations ever, by Dr Norman Ball. Photographers in India like Raja Deen Dayal by Dr Deepali Dewan of the ROM and Samuel Bourne by Julienne Pascoe, a Masters Graduate from Ryerson.

This month we heard about Japanese photography from the mid 1800s on and the Yokohama school from the expert Celio Barreto and the concept of video editing from a professional in the field, Mark Holtze. In earlier months we heard from the university theses writers each of whom won our award for an outstanding post graduate thesis. Printing, magazines, photographers, manufacturers, collectors, and more.

Best of all,  these talks are free and usually come with coffee (or tea) and cookies. Speakers from the present back to September 1995 are on this site under PROGRAMS in 5 year increments. Often more details and speakers before September 1995 are in our journals and on the searchable DVD that goes to members  (you are a member aren’t you – see upper right sidebar on most pages)?


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there is white – and there is white

home processed colour print c1971

Toronto. Years ago, black and white processing was a piece of cake. The choice of paper grade determined the basic contrast to match the negative; a wide choice of paper tones and textures could be made; dodging and burning modified areas to give detail in the highlights and shadows; paper surface choices of glossy or matt could be made; You could print an artistic high key or moody noir shot; etc. In an evening, a roll or two of film could be developed and printed.

Colour was another matter entirely. As time went on colour negative film moved from a dense orange filter background to a more neutral background. My earliest experiences were taking an entire night to develop a film and then colour balance and correctly expose a single print! Worse, the colour chemicals quickly lost their potency and the next day a new batch was necessary to print again. It was simpler to have the film processed commercially and returned so you could make prints. Continue reading

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