160609 FD Flexity - matthew piers robertson • photography writing creative toronto

4405 rounds southbound Spadina Crescent with a friend.

It wasn't so long ago that Bombardier's Flexity streetcars looked freakishly long and shiny, but familiarity and grime are helping them fit in. They've almost completely taken over the 510 Spadina service, making it the first fully accessible streetcar route in the city's history, but they should have been running through much of the downtown core by now.

4420, the newest streetcar as of early June, southbound at Harbord.

While film photography has never been my main medium, and never will be, I'm glad that I have the option and enjoy being able to find excellent older cameras for affordable prices. I'm able to scan my own negatives, which also keeps the cost down, but even so my new-to-me Canon A-1 and 50/1.8 FD lens cost less than buying and developing six rolls of film. While I didn't pay the sticker price, I couldn't really bring myself to haggle with the man I bought it from.

As with all of my black and white film, these were taken with Ilford XP2 Super, which is processed in colour chemistry and is very easy to scan. I'm not a purist, and even with a film camera I remain an inherently digital photographer. This is the process I know.

4417 southbound toward Spadina Crescent.

The Flexity cars are much larger than the CLRVs that they have replaced, so the TTC uses fewer of them to carry the same number of people. This reduced frequency means that there are often no cars in sight on the northern section between Spadina Crescent and the portal at Sussex Avenue. With the old streetcars that almost never happened, even if the law of public transit meant that all of the visible cars were going in the opposite direction.

4403, the first Flexity in service, on Spadina south of Nassau.

To some extent using film, and this Canon SLR in particular, is a way of connecting to a past that I never really had. I didn't take photos until digital cameras became accessible; as a kid the cost of film meant that my point-and-shoot would stretch two rolls of film through an entire year. I'd certainly never use an entire roll just to photograph streetcars. A camera was just something I had to record important moments, few of which seemed to merit the action, and wasn't something I used with any sort of intention or expression.

4420 northbound on Spadina at College.

But a Canon AE-1 was what my mother owned, so it was the first camera I knew, and its shape and experience imprinted on me at a very early age. When I took up photography with a digital camera it was a way to reconnect to that history of hers, and in turn she returned to photography with a digital camera as a way to reconnect with me. And now, facing the summer that marks the ten year anniversary of her death, I'm intentionally seeking out that original experience again.  

So photography, for me, has always been about making connections with a history that was never really there. And sometimes that means a lot of photos of streetcars.


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