Gary Blakeley: Zeitag

Gary Blakeley by Robert Lansdale

Toronto photographer Gary Blakeley has spent thirty years as a graphic designer for arts, academic, and business communications. He has lengthy expertise in print production, computer graphics, and information technology. Running through his photography are themes of architecture, travel, and militaria.

The Zeitag app is currently a hot topic and we were honoured to have the man responsible as our guest speaker. Gary Blakeley is a member of the society as well as a graphic designer. He described an application for the iPhone and iPad that shows views of the city intersection you are located at. The app is called Zeitag. Zeit is German for time and tag is for tagging or locating. He worked with Valentina Vogman and Sveta Fedarava to source the images.
Zeitag MapHe started by showing images with people and asked the audience where and when they were taken. They could figure out the place for one, and the time for the other. This is what Zeitag does. It uses the location you are in and then brings up archival pictures with date information so you can see what the area used to looked like.

The idea came to him in 2008, when he took his family to New York City and showed them where the World Trade Centre had been. But it was a construction site and there was no easy way to show them what used to stand there. He needed a photographic time machine to be able to stand at the site and view what it once looked like.

Abbott's NYC: under the elevated, bus station, the radio shops, people crossing the street.
Click image to see slide show

He used New York to show the building of the World Trade Centre as well as the completed structures. Then, looking through archives he found pictures of what was there before as far back as the 1930s or 40s. He used the scanned images from the Bernice Abbott collection of the New York Public Library and over 500 photographs, from various parts of the city have been added to the Zeitag NY database so far.

Since Gary is based in Toronto, however, it was the first city he made the app for, using the extensive photo archive of the City of Toronto of which 50,000 have been scanned at the optimum resolution to be viewed on an iPad. Some images were also obtained from Heritage Mississauga, Library and Archives Canada, as well as the National Film Board.

Toronto: the armoury on University, old Fort York, building the Royal York, Ingls helps the war effort.
Click image to see slide show

People have asked whether the photographs can be married to Google Street View but Gary wants people to get out and see for themselves what is there now as well as what came before. Over five hundred photographs have been tagged of Toronto to date. Zeitag shows various pictures of buildings, some of which do not exist anymore. Locations include Hanlan’s Point, the Royal York Hotel, The Armory, Fort York and the Inglis factory. Sometimes what is there now is just a few trees or a nondescript building.

Hanlan's Point: the whip ride, map of Hanlan's, the car ride.
Click image to see slide show

When you open the app you get a Google map view of the city with icons showing that images of the selected intersection are available. Where there is more than one image, they are displayed in chronological order. Zeitag uses the built-in GPS function in the Apple device to pinpoint where you are. Also the date when the picture was taken is shown. Original caption, photographer, copyright, reference number and coordinates, are entered whenever possible.

Trying to find where the images were taken can be a puzzle in itself. At well-known intersections, there can be many photographs from different times in the 20th and 21st centuries.

Gary has also been working on Detroit and New York apps, which will be available before the end of this year. He is also developing an Android version. The Zeitag app contains no information and pulls everything in from a website so updates are easy. The Zeitag apps are free (for now) and will expand as time permits. The hardest part is trying to find photos which have been already scanned and also are in the public domain.

Brandenburg Gate: c1910, c1932, and post WW2 from East Germany.
Click image to see slide show

It was an interesting talk and a new way to view old photographs.

Mark Singer
From left: Scott Rickard, Gary Blakeley, Valentina Vogman, Sveta Fedarava, Clint. Click for a larger view.

This page was designed in WordPress on an iMac running OS X 10.7 (Lion). Clint, Rick and the team were taken by Bob Carter after the talk. All other images were taken by Bob directly from the projection screen with a Sony NEX-5 digital still camera and subsequently adjusted in Adobe Lightroom V3.3 and Photoshop CS 5. Presentation images are ©2011 by Gary Blakeley and may used only with his permission. Contents and all other images are ©2011 by the Photographic Historical Society of Canada and may be used freely provided the source is clearly indicated. Copies of photographs displayed during this presentation may not be used without the copyright holder’s permission. Contact PHSC at if you would like more information on the items discussed in this post.

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