My Toronto – Review of PHSC Presentation

Geoffrey James by Robert Lansdale

Geoffrey James was named Toronto’s first Photographer Laureate. Tonight Mr James moved quickly through a slide show titled My Toronto. Professing a lack of understanding of Photoshop and its like, he prefers to use a modern Leica digital camera and a single 28mm lens. Lightroom was used to balance colour, and fine tune tonality and exposure before presentation here. The slides give a remarkable view of the city through his eye. 

I found many shots arresting in the choice of topic and framing used. There was a nice mix of street scenes, architecture, found objects and people. The slides gave a rich colour and tapestry to our city. Once viewed it was easy to see why Mr James was chosen to be our first Photographer Laureate.

A number of early images taken downtown show the rapid growth of the city and the variety of architecture. There is even a shot of Joe’s Convenience, a store near his home – the image bombards the eye with colour and signs.

Geoffrey shows Dundas Square and its many citizens. He noted that the Yonge Street side of the square had the interesting people – the rest of the square was devoted to businesses and their advertising. It is the people that add interest. Included was an image of a woman street person’s back – “she doesn’t like anyone”, he said.

Meantime, up Yonge Street a short distance, he photographed the arrest of a bicyclist – by a large number of policemen, police cars, and police bicycles. Other shots show many people, head down, walking and texting on their smartphones (a sign the times). One shot had clusters of youths, some on steps, not unlike a famous painting (Mr James saw an exhibit of Caravaggio paintings the previous summer at the National Gallery in Ottawa) .

He took a number of images of Saudi men and women celebrating Saudi Arabia day at Dundas Square. The celebrants were obviously well to do and brought along their servants too. Everyone had smartphones and colourful head gear.

Showing a shot of a Massey Hall side entrance, he noted it looked like a Dickens’s version of an  Old Curiosity Shop. Sadly, the entrance no longer exists after the hall was modernized. He also took the front entrance and its familiar Massey Hall logo. Above the door in concrete you can make out an earlier sign Massey Music Hall, now partly obliterated by the addition of windows and fire escapes at some point in the life of the old hall.

Images of his garden, from his car in the rain, and even some random bits of graffiti and junk form interesting scenes. A pile of Ukrainian language books; a painting (looks Mediterranean) juxtaposed with a thick tree trunk, sidewalk and grass boulevard.

Store fronts and street scenes, graffiti and lanes – all are fodder for his camera, transformed into eye-catching scenes of our city’s hidden charms. A number of photos near the end of the talk record the way people handle an uncomfortable scene – a street person sleeping on the busy corner of a sidewalk. Geoffrey noted that only one person chastised him for taking photos of the  scene. That is, until he explained his intentions to her.

A final slide shows two tree trunks by a lane. The trees have been cut well up their trunks. Geoffrey quipped that someone in the night passed a half measures act… Everyone had a great time quizzing our speaker during his Q&A session, making it a very successful evening.

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