Early Photography in Kingston

Dr. Jennifer McKendry

Dr. Jennifer McKendry speaks on self publishingAward winning architectural historian and consultant, Dr. Jennifer McKendry spoke on the value of photography in architectural history. The basis of the talk was the content and creation of her book "Early Photography in Kingston". The revised 2nd edition of the book won one of the first PHSC publication grants.

Using a slide show, Dr. McKendry began her talk with a brief history of Kingston, Ontario beginning with its founding in 1673 by the famous French explorer, Sieur de La Salle. The map shows the town's original layout from 1783-4 with buildings in place as of 1815). Kingston's grand City Hall was built in 1843-4 when the city was the capital of both Canada East (Quebec) and Canada West (Ontario) (1841-4). In addition to this seat of political power, she noted the architectural elements of a wealthy citizen's home, churches, industry and of course the Kingston Penitentiary which opened as a provincial institution in 1832 and today is a federal facility. She noted the very narrow cells and the policy of absolute silence in the early days.

After introducing her hometown, Dr. McKendry proceeded to show a number of architectural examples where old images helped to identify the original construction and design of a number of its historical buildings beginning with her Kingston home built in 1860. She confirmed that like many heritage buildings, the wooden trim was replaced -- and "modernized" in the process. This shows in the triangular design over the door.

Using old photographs and architectural plans, she illustrated the evolution of the structure of another large home which today has a wing that fits nicely in with the overall design of the building. Plans for the British American Hotel didn't evolve from the design - instead a more modest building was appended to the original structure. Some "improvements" such as painting over the brick hides details which are later revealed when the building is restored as in this office block.

Her talk continued with a discussion of the use of photography for art vs documentation. In this segment she introduced us to a number of the original Kingston photographers and studios like Sheldon & Davies, Henderson, and Powell. She described how some studios used a combination of traditional artists and photography, offering painted "enlargements" of photographs created in the studio. Included were slides of some very appealing landscapes taken by Henderson.

A particularly poignant anecdote spoke of the risks of the day. Dr. McKendry projected the image of a pretty baby girl, Phyllis Lillian Bell. On the back of the photo, taken in her father's studio, was the notation "22 months old". Realizing it is difficult to trace the graves of many women due to name changes at marriage, Dr. McKendry searched for Phyllis Lillian Bell while she was working on a cemetery project. The little girl never married -- she died of poison the same month as recorded on the back of the photograph!

Completing her talk, Dr. McKendry offered advice to would be writers and publishers in the audience based on her experience in publishing books both traditionally and with desk top publishing software. Her caution was to balance the speed and control provided by self publishing with the need for sound editing and writing skills usually provided by a traditional publisher and to use Acrobat PDF files to minimize the headaches of transferring desk top publishing files to a printer.

the artist and the photographer Henderson studio in Kingston A moody image by Henderson Phyllis Bell - portrait by her father

The images on this page were captured off the screen with a Nikon 990 digital camera. Images were cleaned up and merged in Photoshop. Hover over an image to see its title. Click on it to see a larger image in a separate window. Close the window to continue.

Kingston - a key location in the new world
Layout of Kingston 1783 - 1815
Kingston City Hall - built in 1843-4
Interior of the City Hall
Kingston Penitentiary from the air
Inside the pen - narrow cells and no talking
1860 home - trim is most often changed over time
tracing the evolution of a home
British American Hotel and the plans that fizzled
how paint hides original architectural details

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